Ready to end it all? Believe us, nothing will suck the life out of you like spending an hour on hold listening to endless repetitions of Barry Manilow’s “Mandy,” reading serial numbers off the bottom of your new notebook for five minutes, going back on hold for another 10 minutes, spending 20 minutes describing your problem, and then finding out that the company that just sold you a $2,500 state-of-the-art system refuses to help you get it working right.
Then again, maybe it’ll just make you mad. After spending more than 13 hours on the phone trying to get tech support from the top 10 notebook manufacturers and a handful of third-party tech-support services, our fists were clenched in rage, a rage that subsided only after a few extra-large Sapphire martinis and a trip to the shooting range.
Granted, the job of a support technician isn’t easy: It’s a bit like trying to fix a car, blindfolded, by giving someone else directions on what tools to pick up and how to use them. We’d almost feel sorry for these guys — if they hadn’t inflicted so much pain on us.
To test tech support, we made three calls to each of 10 major notebook manufacturers (we’ve added three additional vendors since last year). We also called three third-party providers of PC help. On the whole, what we found was a sea of ignorance — and annoying fixation with pinning down our name, address, and serial numbers.
Just how bad is tech support? Things haven’t gotten any better since our 2004 test — and most of the vendors we tested have actually gotten worse. Read on to see our report cards on each manufacturer. And don’t miss our review of three third-party tech support providers, plus our tips on how to fix PC problems yourself and avoid tech support altogether.
We subjected each vendor to three increasingly difficult support tests designed to simulate frequent real-life technical problems. In each case, we used an actual notebook from the corresponding vendor, and made three separate calls.
Call 1: Device driver trouble
We disabled our optical drive in Device Manager.
Easy fix: Uninstall the relevant device driver and reboot. Windows heals itself.
Call 2: Wi-Fi misconfiguration
We turned off TCP/IP routing for our wireless adapter, so we could connect to the router but couldn’t browse the web.
Easy fix: Check the properties for the relevant adapter to make sure the correct protocols are installed. Or, uninstall the device and reboot.
Call 3: Corrupted operating system
We overwrote a critical Windows file (Explorer.exe), a problem that let Windows boot up but made all of our desktop icons and the Start menu disappear.
Easy fix: Use System Restore to revert to an earlier configuration. Or, use the operating-system CDs (if provided) to reinstall Windows without reformatting the hard drive.
For Apple, we corrupted a key preferences file for the Mail application, misconfigured Wi-Fi, and induced an extremely slow boot by setting the Mac to boot from a nonexistent network drive.
In all cases, we counted the support session as a failure if it resulted in a wiped hard drive or required us to send the entire computer back to the manufacturer. You don’t want your tech-support reps destroying your PC in order to save it from a trivial issue.