HP (Hewlett Packard) is offering a "virtual house call" service to US-based users with PC problems.
HP Instant Care provides personalised service over the internet, allowing customers to sit at their home PCs while remote workers defragment a hard drive or speed up booting time by deleting extra files in the Startup menu.
HP's move follows remote IT services offered to business customers by Dell and Intel. As PC prices continue to fall, some vendors are using improved customer service to differentiate their products in a crowded marketplace.
Dell has been expanding its customer service in the US in an effort to turn around poor earnings results. In June, the company launched "DellConnect", an expansion of its TechConnect service allowing Dell service agents to troubleshoot customers' PCs using a broadband internet link instead of a personal visit. Dell claims the approach will save time and money compared to the cost of dispatching technicians.
Likewise, remote monitoring is one of the cornerstones of Intel's vPro technology bundle for business desktops, launched in September. One ingredient of the bundle, Intel's Active Management Technology, allows IT managers to make fewer time-consuming "desk-side" visits by booting and repairing PCs remotely.
HP, Gateway and Lenovo are among the companies to have adopted the vPro platform in their business desktops. Dell offers a similar package in the OptiPlex 745 PC.
HP Instant Care is free for US-based HP customers whose computers are still under warranty and have purchased either PC Tune-up for $99 (£52) or SmartFriend for $59 (£32).