Computers have become essential elements of our daily lives – when they break down, so do we. PC Advisor looks at the best places to turn for the critical support that can get our systems up and running again. We explain warranties, offer simple call-centre tips, compare repair firms and show you where to go for online advice.

Four years ago, I was considering an interesting-sounding business partnership. We'd talked it through on the phone, agreed it had merit and decided to meet up at my place for a proper chat about how his invention would work and how I'd fulfil my end of the bargain on the marketing side. We planned to spend an hour or two trawling the web for startups with similar ideas and generally doing our research.

So it was that I opened the door to my friendly, 50-ish would-be business partner, gave him a coffee, dispensed with the small talk and turned on my PC, ready to talk money. My gunk-laden system whirred and groaned into life, but the internet connection failed to catch fire. No matter what I did to restart the router, confirm my broadband settings and check for service issues, the PC was no longer able to get online. Something was clearly very wrong with it.

That's pretty much where my career as an entrepreneur ended. No PC, no investment – and no nice kickback. I was stuck with a virus-infected system and a load of hassle.

Computer problems can strike without warning – my PC, for instance, had been working perfectly well the night before. When they do, the effect can be disastrous.

In hindsight, of course, there were almost certainly telltale signs, and I should have been more careful about checking the effectiveness of my security setup. An antivirus application alone wasn't enough to stave off the might of the Sasser worm (in my defence, it was a new and almost unknown threat at the time) and the settings on my firewall were somewhat lax.

Thankfully, I was able to talk an understanding neighbour into letting me use his PC to access my computer remotely and undo the damage from the safety of a few doors' distance. Like any other PC user, I was keen to troubleshoot my own problems rather than head down the route of spending hours on hold to a tech support line, wondering whether they'd even be able to help when I eventually got through.

Many of us speak the words ‘tech support' through gritted teeth. I certainly wasn't hopeful, following experiences with BT trying and failing to troubleshoot a dodgy broadband connection.

NEXT PAGE: Getting help

  1. What to do, where to turn when your PC dies
  2. Getting help
  3. Have you got a warranty for that?
  4. To extend or not to extend
  5. Private lines: tech support
  6. Written response, and request a callback
  7. Charm school, remote assistance and online angels
  8. Home support - BT Home IT Support
  9. Home support - Dell Presto
  10. Home support - Geek Squad
  11. Home support - The Tech Guys
  12. Calmer computing
  13. Fantastic forums
  14. Restoration comedy
  15. Is Linux next in line?

Computers have become essential elements of our daily lives – when they break down, so do we. PC Advisor looks at the best places to turn for the critical support that can get our systems up and running again

Getting help

Not all PC problems are catastrophic, of course. I lost some business and looked inept, but it was only a sideline on my home PC rather than my work machine. Many other people have it far worse and feel totally lost when faced with a puzzling, frustrating and obstructive problem. It's no surprise that phone rage often sets in when we finally get to offload it all to tech support.

Customer care and aftersales support still top the charts when it comes to people's gripes about owning and using PCs. Given the difficulty of the process – working out where to turn, getting through and persuading someone to give you a diagnosis – it's no wonder that troubleshooting IT problems is such a touchy subject.

Warranty

It's also a difficult subject to quantify and report on. Our forums and those of tech vendors highlight the frustration involved in getting a PC fixed and getting satisfaction from the company that was only too glad to take your cash a few months ago. But the tales of bad service are over-represented on these sites, since people are more motivated to complain than to praise.

Nonetheless, it's clear that there's far too much confusion about customer rights and how to get things fixed when your system goes awry. So we decided to spend the next few pages explaining the ins and outs of getting the support you need.

NEXT PAGE: Have you got a warranty for that?

  1. What to do, where to turn when your PC dies
  2. Getting help
  3. Have you got a warranty for that?
  4. To extend or not to extend
  5. Private lines: tech support
  6. Written response, and request a callback
  7. Charm school, remote assistance and online angels
  8. Home support - BT Home IT Support
  9. Home support - Dell Presto
  10. Home support - Geek Squad
  11. Home support - The Tech Guys
  12. Calmer computing
  13. Fantastic forums
  14. Restoration comedy
  15. Is Linux next in line?

Computers have become essential elements of our daily lives – when they break down, so do we. PC Advisor looks at the best places to turn for the critical support that can get our systems up and running again

Have you got a warranty for that?

Given the scope of what a PC can do, it's unsurprising that using it can occasionally throw up a few issues. But will a warranty help?

Unless you buy something secondhand from an auction site or private sale, you should check for and expect a warranty to cover any item you buy.

In addition, you should be covered by the Sale of Goods Act for anything bought in the country and the Distance Selling Directive for items bought within the EU. The law states that goods must be fit for purpose, and vendors must give you the right to return goods unused and claim a full refund.

Once you've received your items and are happy with them, the warranty takes over. These are usually country-specific, but it's possible to purchase overseas or international warranties if you're buying abroad.

Warranty

Warranties vary in duration and scope. In many cases, you're encouraged to 'activate' or register them. It makes sense to register your item since, when it comes time to make a claim, you may not be able to find the sales receipt. If you can't prove when you bought something, it's far harder to make a claim under warranty stand up.

Another reason for registering is that the company will be able to advise you of any known issues that crop up and let you know about critical driver updates, firmware improvements and so forth.

Taking it as read that you'll be registering your product, be sure you know what you're getting into and how long for. Does that bolt-on cover run concurrently or start once the standard warranty expires?

Be aware that buying a warranty for your desktop PC or laptop doesn't entitle you to ongoing support, regardless of the sorts of problems they encounter. Your PC warranty covers you for just that: your PC.

Usually, this extends to the operating system and any peripherals that came as part of the deal. A support issue relating to any of these will generally be covered by the retailer, but your monitor will be subject to a separate warranty from the main PC unit – three years is fairly standard. Remember to register the separate warranty for this with the monitor manufacturer.

NEXT PAGE: To extend or not to extend

  1. What to do, where to turn when your PC dies
  2. Getting help
  3. Have you got a warranty for that?
  4. To extend or not to extend
  5. Private lines: tech support
  6. Written response, and request a callback
  7. Charm school, remote assistance and online angels
  8. Home support - BT Home IT Support
  9. Home support - Dell Presto
  10. Home support - Geek Squad
  11. Home support - The Tech Guys
  12. Calmer computing
  13. Fantastic forums
  14. Restoration comedy
  15. Is Linux next in line?

Computers have become essential elements of our daily lives – when they break down, so do we. PC Advisor looks at the best places to turn for the critical support that can get our systems up and running again

To extend or not to extend

Be cautious about accepting an extended warranty. Will your PC really seem like the number-crunching beast capable of taking on any application you care to install five years from now?

Judging by how much we find ourselves grumbling about seemingly ancient office kit that's just two or three years old and hasn't been too heavily taxed with processor-intensive programs, we're unconvinced that anything doing desk duty in 2008 is likely to be a warranty-worthy piece of equipment come 2013 or beyond.

The other issue is that PCs really don't stand still. They're custom-made for adding to, updating and improving – a process that instantly renders a warranty invalid. Upgrade the hard drive, switch the graphics card or do any other tinkering under the hood and your warranty will almost certainly be toast. This is why it's such a good thing that the hardware PCs are made of is so easy and inexpensive to replace.

Despite all this, it's definitely worth having a warranty in the first place. If your PC works fine for the first month but then starts playing up, or its hard drive has intermittent hissy fits and refuses to read your DVDs, you've probably got a case for a claim. If it didn't work at all from the moment you unboxed it and plugged it in, it's classified as dead on arrival (DOA) and the vendor is obliged to take it back.

If you can make a successful claim under warranty, you don't need to bear the costs of a repair and should receive your duly repaired hardware in working order within a stated time frame.

If it turns out you aren't covered by a warranty for whatever reason, you still have plenty of options – although some will cost time, money or both. We look at out-of-warranty options in the following pages. In essence, these involve DIY online troubleshooting, asking for help from friends and willing volunteers, using a remote-access service for a nominal fee and paying a third party to fix your PC.

NEXT PAGES: Private lines: tech support

  1. What to do, where to turn when your PC dies
  2. Getting help
  3. Have you got a warranty for that?
  4. To extend or not to extend
  5. Private lines: tech support
  6. Written response, and request a callback
  7. Charm school, remote assistance and online angels
  8. Home support - BT Home IT Support
  9. Home support - Dell Presto
  10. Home support - Geek Squad
  11. Home support - The Tech Guys
  12. Calmer computing
  13. Fantastic forums
  14. Restoration comedy
  15. Is Linux next in line?

Computers have become essential elements of our daily lives – when they break down, so do we. PC Advisor looks at the best places to turn for the critical support that can get our systems up and running again

Private lines: tech support

Let's face it: calling PC support lines isn't fun. When you decide the time's come to pick up the phone and ask for professional help, you know you're looking at an hour or two on the phone. Not an enticing prospect, even without the annoying hold music.

However, if you approach things with your eyes open to what's involved and have done some groundwork yourself, it needn't be as painful as all that.

First, gather together as much information as you can; have this to hand when you call tech support. You'll need details of the PC itself – any records of when you bought it should include a reference number you may need to quote – and should check whether it's still covered by a warranty.

Depending on the sort of problem you need to call about, consider how well the PC or laptop was working before the problem arose. What changed in its behaviour and what telltale signs have there been?

Support lines

Note down any attempts you've made to diagnose and fix the problem yourself. Have you consulted the built-in or online Help menus on your PC, and what has been the effect of any recommended troubleshooting attempts you've tried?

Have you gone through the FAQs directory on the company website to see whether the problem you're experiencing is a known issue for which a fix exists? Many computing problems tend to follow a similar pattern or crop up time and again.

If the PC itself is reporting errors, try and get a note of the error message. Ctrl, Print Screen will take a snapshot of your Windows desktop. Press Ctrl, C then Ctrl, V to paste this into a text document and save it. Vista has a Snipping Tool for taking screengrabs.

Also record whether the error resulted in an automatic reboot. Useful information can be gleaned from this too.

Now consider what might have triggered the issue. The majority of PC problems are caused by installing new software or by a piece of hardware that doesn't work nicely with the existing setup. So it may be you – or something you've installed – that's at fault.

Software issues aren't covered by your warranty. This is why it's so important to create a restore point on your PC prior to allowing a new program to install. This way, should it conflict with an existing item on your system or prove unstable, you can undo the damage by rolling back your PC to its former, functional state.

Have you installed a new hard drive or upgraded your RAM or graphics card? In many cases, a firmware or driver update may do the trick. The same applies to malfunctioning external devices such as USB memory drives, cameras, scanners and so on.

NEXT PAGE: Written response, and request a callback

  1. What to do, where to turn when your PC dies
  2. Getting help
  3. Have you got a warranty for that?
  4. To extend or not to extend
  5. Private lines: tech support
  6. Written response, and request a callback
  7. Charm school, remote assistance and online angels
  8. Home support - BT Home IT Support
  9. Home support - Dell Presto
  10. Home support - Geek Squad
  11. Home support - The Tech Guys
  12. Calmer computing
  13. Fantastic forums
  14. Restoration comedy
  15. Is Linux next in line?

Computers have become essential elements of our daily lives – when they break down, so do we. PC Advisor looks at the best places to turn for the critical support that can get our systems up and running again

Written response

Armed with all this detail, it often pays to register your problem with customer care prior to (or instead of) calling tech support. Go to the contact section of the company's website and fill in the email form. This means both you and the PC company have a record of the fault and the tech support team have a headstart on what's wrong.

You should get a confirmation email of your query, along with an outline of when the company is likely to provide a response. Often, support staff will email you useful details or download links to a relevant knowledgebase.

If email support doesn't help, live support via instant messaging or a call to the tech support line are a good next step.

Written response

Request a callback

If you're going to call, choose your time carefully. If you need to pick up the kids from school in half an hour's time, or you make the call the second you finish work, you'll come away disappointed – either you'll run out of time or everyone else will choose the same time to call. Mid-morning, mid-afternoon and mid-week tend to be the quietest times, if you can manage it.

Some vendors will schedule appointments for phone calls so you can select a time and day that suits you.

Be realistic. While interminable phone queues are far less common than they used to be, describing a problem over the phone and getting an accurate diagnosis is never going to be a quick process.

And be prepared to allow the support staff access to your PC. The easiest way for them to see whether a suggested fix is working is for them to be able to see your screen. We discuss remote assistance below. If you're not comfortable with that, an instant-message chat session where they talk you through the fix may suit you better.

NEXT PAGE: Charm school, remote assistance and online angels

  1. What to do, where to turn when your PC dies
  2. Getting help
  3. Have you got a warranty for that?
  4. To extend or not to extend
  5. Private lines: tech support
  6. Written response, and request a callback
  7. Charm school, remote assistance and online angels
  8. Home support - BT Home IT Support
  9. Home support - Dell Presto
  10. Home support - Geek Squad
  11. Home support - The Tech Guys
  12. Calmer computing
  13. Fantastic forums
  14. Restoration comedy
  15. Is Linux next in line?

Computers have become essential elements of our daily lives – when they break down, so do we. PC Advisor looks at the best places to turn for the critical support that can get our systems up and running again

Charm school

In the case of internal upgrades, you may have to lay on the charm. While tech support may be willing to help you get to the bottom of the problem, you may also have voided your warranty. It's best to be upfront, recognise that you are in the wrong and be genial when asking for assistance.

You may also find the technical support staff willing to help with a software issue, but bear in mind that there are many permutations of every kind of software.

If you can't get help this way, or by using any of the services listed overleaf, you may have some success consulting the forums and FAQ pages at the software vendor's site or our own online Helproom. Beyond these options, there's always the dreaded hard-drive format or Windows reinstallation.

Remote assistance and online angels

LogMeIn

You'll see lots of mentions of remote assistance throughout the pages of this feature – and with good reason. It's the next best thing to being there when it comes to seeing what's the matter with your PC and being able to do something about it.

However, remote assistance can be an off-putting idea to the uninitiated. In essence, you provide a tunnel through which the other person can access your PC: have a look around, probe and tinker. It's a bit like keyhole surgery, in that the remote engineer is able to gain access through a small opening (with your consent), leaving the rest of your PC intact. Your system is in effect inert while they work, but you can view what they are up to. Sounds trickier – and more dangerous – than it is.

It's possible to get remote assistance without paying for it, too. Established software such as LogMeIn and GoToMyPC can be used to access one PC from another, which is handy if you've forgotten your homework or a critical report and your home PC is switched on. It can also be used to offer troubleshooting help to a friend. As with the versions used by Geek Squad and BT Home IT Support, the PC is taken over and you're locked out while they fix it.

A small industry has grown up around one well-respected remote-access program: CrossLoop. This is used by advanced PC users to offer assistance to others and works on a reputation basis. Read our CrossLoop tutorial here.

To initiate a remote desktop session, both parties need to have the software installed. The person needing assistance can request it or, more commonly, the helper will send a request by email or an instant messaging-type window asking to log on. You need to accept the request in order for a session to start.

A direct connection is then established and work can begin.

NEXT PAGE: Home support - BT Home IT Support

  1. What to do, where to turn when your PC dies
  2. Getting help
  3. Have you got a warranty for that?
  4. To extend or not to extend
  5. Private lines: tech support
  6. Written response, and request a callback
  7. Charm school, remote assistance and online angels
  8. Home support - BT Home IT Support
  9. Home support - Dell Presto
  10. Home support - Geek Squad
  11. Home support - The Tech Guys
  12. Calmer computing
  13. Fantastic forums
  14. Restoration comedy
  15. Is Linux next in line?

Computers have become essential elements of our daily lives – when they break down, so do we. PC Advisor looks at the best places to turn for the critical support that can get our systems up and running again

Home support

A handful of consumer support services will lend a hand and troubleshoot your PC – for a fee. Which should you choose, and why?

Over the past few years, a number of support services have sprung up that are specifically aimed at consumers. Some of these help you to set up your PC after purchase; others help you get to the bottom of a problem with your machine. Still others help you make the most of your existing setup, ensuring your security settings are suitable and your web connection is working.

Unlike PC support in the 'I've bought this product from you and it's down to you to make it work' sense, such services are designed to help iron out the niggles that everyday computing throws up.

In some ways, they're more suited to the novice or cautious PC user. Not everyone needs to be shown how to check for the presence of a firewall, for example.

Home support

BT Home IT Support

bt.com/homeitsupport

From £9 per month or £25 per incident

BT's Home IT Support team is on a mission: it wants to be ‘your best friend in IT'. The service must be doing something right. It's clocked up more than 10 million minutes of support time and 10,000 home visits.

Contrary to expectations, the service BT offers is not just about getting customers.

"Most people aren't aware that PCs go wrong very infrequently and that most problems stem from the way people use their machines," a company spokesman said.

However, there's a big difference between a PC going catastrophically wrong and one simply not working as well as it ought. If it's a minor problem, many users don't seek official help, either living with it or asking a friend for assistance – but there's a limit to how often you can go to the same friend.

This is where a home support service comes in. It offers the guarantee of a fix for your ailing PC, and does so for either a fixed one-off price or on a subscription basis.

There's a certain amount of crossover in people's minds between warranties and PC support services, and it was here that BT decided there was a market to be explored.

According to BT, setting up wireless networks is one of the most common worries. The other big concern is viruses. Many users are worried about whether they might have a virus and how to resolve the issue and clean up their PC. Worryingly, according to BT, 90 to 95 percent of callers don't know where viruses have come from.

"We won't take your money until we know we can help," the service's spokesman assured us.

"We won't take virtual control unless we can help."

Issues dealt with by the company range from setting up a PC and web connection to getting it to work with a digital camera or other piece of kit. Getting PlayStations and Xboxes online are other popular requests.

BT Home IT Support claims a 98 percent satisfaction rate. The firm says that in many cases customers are happy to have a support engineer assume control of their PC remotely and make the necessary changes in order to get it back in working order.

NEXT PAGE: Home support - Dell Presto

  1. What to do, where to turn when your PC dies
  2. Getting help
  3. Have you got a warranty for that?
  4. To extend or not to extend
  5. Private lines: tech support
  6. Written response, and request a callback
  7. Charm school, remote assistance and online angels
  8. Home support - BT Home IT Support
  9. Home support - Dell Presto
  10. Home support - Geek Squad
  11. Home support - The Tech Guys
  12. Calmer computing
  13. Fantastic forums
  14. Restoration comedy
  15. Is Linux next in line?

Computers have become essential elements of our daily lives – when they break down, so do we. PC Advisor looks at the best places to turn for the critical support that can get our systems up and running again

Dell Presto

dell.co.uk/presto

From £19 per incident

Dell Presto is a paid-for support service offered by the famous PC vendor. It operates on a per-incident basis, priced according to the type and complexity of a given issue. It's primarily for Dell PC customers and is an adjunct to the hardware cover the firm provides as part of its standard warranty terms. Non-Dell customers can use it too, but only for troubleshooting third-party applications and PC peripheral issues.

To get started, you run a system audit by downloading a System Auditor applet, agreeing to the terms and conditions.

Be sure to read these carefully.

Once Presto knows the current state of your PC, it offers suggestions of how your setup could be improved and tweaks that it could apply. You receive a PDF status report, along with suggestions of what to do next.

As with the other home support services, Dell Presto doesn't charge until it's been established that staff can provide an effective fix. Unlike Geek Squad and BT Home IT Support, there's no support for non-Windows PCs.

Make sure you know what sort of problem you need addressing before calling, because the headline prices of £19 and £39 for phone support disguise slightly steeper charges for relatively simple-sounding issues. Talking you through Wi-Fi setup will cost you £59; it costs £89 to have someone do it for you.

It costs £19 to get any OnCall advice or a simple fix. Most mid-level problems will be in the £39 category. Standard fixes include ridding your PC of viruses and advice on ways to prevent data loss. This is the sort of advice PC Advisor's excellent forums excel at, so try these first.

Setting up your PC and any associated peripherals it came with costs £89. We think this is over the odds – you could almost certainly sweet-talk a PC-savvy friend into doing this for you in return for dinner.

That said, Dell is a specialist PC company that knows its onions when it comes to hardware. If you need professional help and are happy to pay for a specific fix, its experience and geographic coverage make it a good bet. Click here for the full breakdown of charges.

NEXT PAGE: Home support - Geek Squad

  1. What to do, where to turn when your PC dies
  2. Getting help
  3. Have you got a warranty for that?
  4. To extend or not to extend
  5. Private lines: tech support
  6. Written response, and request a callback
  7. Charm school, remote assistance and online angels
  8. Home support - BT Home IT Support
  9. Home support - Dell Presto
  10. Home support - Geek Squad
  11. Home support - The Tech Guys
  12. Calmer computing
  13. Fantastic forums
  14. Restoration comedy
  15. Is Linux next in line?

Computers have become essential elements of our daily lives – when they break down, so do we. PC Advisor looks at the best places to turn for the critical support that can get our systems up and running again

Geek Squad

geeksquad.co.uk

From £10 per month or £30 per incident

Geek Squad is a US home support service best known for its association with retailer Carphone Warehouse. This firm sells a range of consumer electronics including PCs, Macs and laptops, as well as phones and games consoles.

Given its connection to Carphone Warehouse, we were unsurprised to learn that the Geek Squad is expanding into smartphone support. Indeed, it already acts as a recognised support arm for RIM BlackBerry handsets. More big-brand phone manufacturers are being courted.

Its core business is in providing troubleshooting support over the phone; the firm uses remote assistance wherever possible. Plenty of explanation is given to customers about how remote access works, soothing any worries they might have about a stranger logging into their PC and having a giggle at their desktop wallpaper.

CEO Les Wadeson expected it to be a challenge convincing home PC users that it was safe for them to grant such access to his support team. But the setup seems to have gone down well. "It allows the client to put the phone down," he said.

Once the user sees remote assistance in action on their own PC, Wadeson added, they are often more wowed by the way it works than anxious about the process.

In situations where there's an intermittent hardware fault – the thorniest of all PC issues, since there's no telling when symptoms will reappear – a field agent is more likely to be despatched. Geek Squad is currently going through an accreditation program so more vendors recognise them as approved installers. In general, however, most manufacturers are happy for them to replace items such as hard drives without voiding an existing warranty.

Since launching in the UK, Geek Squad has assisted more than 40,000 customers. While it's difficult to put a timescale on how long it takes to fix someone's PC, Wadeson said most routine problems are fixed in around 45 minutes.

Like other services of its type, Geek Squad operates a 'no fix, no fee' policy, establishing in advance the likely cause before agreeing to take on the problem. Those signing up to its annual service get 15 percent off home engineer visits.

NEXT PAGE: Home support - The Tech Guys

  1. What to do, where to turn when your PC dies
  2. Getting help
  3. Have you got a warranty for that?
  4. To extend or not to extend
  5. Private lines: tech support
  6. Written response, and request a callback
  7. Charm school, remote assistance and online angels
  8. Home support - BT Home IT Support
  9. Home support - Dell Presto
  10. Home support - Geek Squad
  11. Home support - The Tech Guys
  12. Calmer computing
  13. Fantastic forums
  14. Restoration comedy
  15. Is Linux next in line?

Computers have become essential elements of our daily lives – when they break down, so do we. PC Advisor looks at the best places to turn for the critical support that can get our systems up and running again

The Tech Guys


thetechguys.com

£90 per year or from £15 per incident

High-street retailer PC World was one of the first to offer a consumer tech-support service, in the form of PC Healthcheck. As the name suggests, this was a pitstop service that involved PC World's specially trained team peering into your system and telling you how to improve the setup.

Secret-shopper trials PC Advisor ran at the time revealed that these covered little more than a routine scan, followed by updating drivers and security software. All useful stuff, but hardly a fully fledged technical-support service. In fact, it seemed like a cunning way to persuade you to buy a larger hard disk and more RAM in order to boost performance.

The Tech Guys, an associate service promoted via PC World and also part of the ailing Dixons Store Group family, offers more in-depth troubleshooting and performance enhancements. However, it's really more of a service to help consumers get the kit they've purchased up and running.

You pay a set amount for each item that needs addressing: £15 for downloading drivers is the cheapest offering, while setting up your Wi-Fi network will cost £89. Performing useful tasks such as backing up your data or transferring it from your old machine costs £30.

Technical support and troubleshooting are also covered. For this, you need to buy a year's subscription to the TechFriend service or take your PC for one of the £50 Healthchecks we've described above. This involves booking an appointment and taking it to the nearest store that offers the service.

TechFriend does at least cover you around the clock. If you're nervous – or perhaps a little too gung-ho – in your PC use, it could prove money well spent. You can elect to have a technician access your PC remotely if you choose, but the service doesn't use this approach as a matter of course. Again, this will suit some users with privacy uppermost in their minds.

NEXT PAGE: Calmer computing

  1. What to do, where to turn when your PC dies
  2. Getting help
  3. Have you got a warranty for that?
  4. To extend or not to extend
  5. Private lines: tech support
  6. Written response, and request a callback
  7. Charm school, remote assistance and online angels
  8. Home support - BT Home IT Support
  9. Home support - Dell Presto
  10. Home support - Geek Squad
  11. Home support - The Tech Guys
  12. Calmer computing
  13. Fantastic forums
  14. Restoration comedy
  15. Is Linux next in line?

Computers have become essential elements of our daily lives – when they break down, so do we. PC Advisor looks at the best places to turn for the critical support that can get our systems up and running again

Calmer computing

We've reached the point in this feature when we trot out the inevitable line about prevention being better than cure. It's true: there's plenty you can do to prevent your PC going wrong in the first place. But we've also got a few more pointers about where to go for help if none of the advice we've offered so far has proved effective.

Observe some basic housekeeping rules: install applications with your eyes open and keep your defences – antivirus, two-way firewall and antispyware – up to date. Use Windows Updates, take advantage of software and driver updates and never, ever let your antivirus definitions lapse.

Calmer computing

Don't open emails from unknown senders, always paste links into your web browser rather than clicking the link and scan incoming messages before opening them.

Don't be afraid to ask for help, paid-for or otherwise. For the quickest, free response, visit the PC Advisor Helproom, or for a more personal touch mail us (with Helproom as the subject line) at [email protected] to pose a technical question for our in-house IT guru Chris Byers to tackle.

NEXT PAGE: Fantastic forums

  1. What to do, where to turn when your PC dies
  2. Getting help
  3. Have you got a warranty for that?
  4. To extend or not to extend
  5. Private lines: tech support
  6. Written response, and request a callback
  7. Charm school, remote assistance and online angels
  8. Home support - BT Home IT Support
  9. Home support - Dell Presto
  10. Home support - Geek Squad
  11. Home support - The Tech Guys
  12. Calmer computing
  13. Fantastic forums
  14. Restoration comedy
  15. Is Linux next in line?

Computers have become essential elements of our daily lives – when they break down, so do we. PC Advisor looks at the best places to turn for the critical support that can get our systems up and running again

Fantastic forums

Not every PC issue is serious enough to take down the machine itself or knock out your web connection. This is great news, because the internet is just about the best place to start if you want to find a speedy fix.

The most obvious place to issue a cry for help is our online forums. It's the first place some people start when faced with a PC dilemma – and we can see why. You're already on PCAdvisor.co.uk, so simply click Helproom or one of the other forums to see for yourself just how much knowledge and support awaits.

Use the search bar within each forum to enter a query and see whether other users have come across the same problem that you are experiencing. More importantly, you may be able to see how they fixed it.

It's the busiest and most successful IT forum in Europe and a testament to our loyal forum members' knowledge and willingness to help out.

NEXT PAGE: Restoration comedy

  1. What to do, where to turn when your PC dies
  2. Getting help
  3. Have you got a warranty for that?
  4. To extend or not to extend
  5. Private lines: tech support
  6. Written response, and request a callback
  7. Charm school, remote assistance and online angels
  8. Home support - BT Home IT Support
  9. Home support - Dell Presto
  10. Home support - Geek Squad
  11. Home support - The Tech Guys
  12. Calmer computing
  13. Fantastic forums
  14. Restoration comedy
  15. Is Linux next in line?

Computers have become essential elements of our daily lives – when they break down, so do we. PC Advisor looks at the best places to turn for the critical support that can get our systems up and running again

Restoration comedy

The funniest thing about System Restore is how easy it is to set up. Less funny is what can happen if you omitted to set a restore point, although many programs automatically create one. It pays to be wise, however, so head to Start, Control Panel, Performance and Maintenance. Click the System Restore option to the left of the main pane and choose Create a Restore Point.

If things should go awry, you can go back to this screen, select Restore my PC to an earlier point and choose one of the bold dates that indicate a restore point exists. Up the frequency at which Windows automatically creates restores points, too. These are your ‘get out of jail free' cards when things go wrong.

NEXT PAGE: Is Linux next in line?

  1. What to do, where to turn when your PC dies
  2. Getting help
  3. Have you got a warranty for that?
  4. To extend or not to extend
  5. Private lines: tech support
  6. Written response, and request a callback
  7. Charm school, remote assistance and online angels
  8. Home support - BT Home IT Support
  9. Home support - Dell Presto
  10. Home support - Geek Squad
  11. Home support - The Tech Guys
  12. Calmer computing
  13. Fantastic forums
  14. Restoration comedy
  15. Is Linux next in line?

Computers have become essential elements of our daily lives – when they break down, so do we. PC Advisor looks at the best places to turn for the critical support that can get our systems up and running again

Linux next in line

Robert Strohmeyer

Those in the open-source community like to boast that their cherished Linux operating system (OS) doesn't get viruses. But is it true?

"That depends on what you mean by 'doesn't get viruses'," says Ben Greenbaum, senior research manager at Symantec. "There's no technical reason Linux would be immune to viruses, and it does happen. But not nearly as often."

Obscurity is one of the biggest impediments to malware on Linux, according to McAfee research scientist Marius van Oers. Viral code is designed to work on specific OS kernels, and enough differences exist between the various kernels to prevent malware from infecting each flavour of Linux in the same way. That, plus the lack of market share, keeps malware creators from focusing on the platform.

Linux users have very few viruses to worry about. Both Greenbaum and van Oers peg the current number of Linux malware threats at about 50 – most of them proof-of-concept code that poses no threat in the wild. Compare that with the million-plus threats identified for Windows, and Linux users may have a right to brag.

Even so, remember that Linux isn't inherently immune to malware. As its popularity grows, so will the threats it faces – so if you've bought a dinky new Eee PCs or other Linux-based model, make sure its security is solid.

  1. What to do, where to turn when your PC dies
  2. Getting help
  3. Have you got a warranty for that?
  4. To extend or not to extend
  5. Private lines: tech support
  6. Written response, and request a callback
  7. Charm school, remote assistance and online angels
  8. Home support - BT Home IT Support
  9. Home support - Dell Presto
  10. Home support - Geek Squad
  11. Home support - The Tech Guys
  12. Calmer computing
  13. Fantastic forums
  14. Restoration comedy
  15. Is Linux next in line?