Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Fry's Geeks Are Smarter Than Geek Squad Geeks

They say things come in threes, and I hope I'm done with my computer glitches for a good while cause I've had three in one week. (My home PC is also almost exactly three years old, which unfortunately is the average life expectancy for computers.) First, my monitor died, then my computer fan went into permanent overdrive, and then when I tried cleaning out my computer with that canned air, it wouldn't come back on because my power supply was fried. So I just unplugged everything and took the PC up to Best Buy. The guys at Geek Squad at Best Buy were good about confirming my dead power supply and replacing it for me. They confirmed the diagnosis right away by just plugging in a spare power supply right there on the counter, and said they could put a new one in for me in about a half hour. So that was all good, and the computer was ready as promised when I returned from Starbuck's. However, when I got it home, it came up and ran fine, except that the fan was still in overdrive. After Googling around for info, I found a handy freeware utility called SpeedFan that lets you monitor and control your fans and your PC temperature. It was then I discovered that while the ambient temp in my case was okay, but CPU was running at 70C when idle, and up to 85C when taxed. That is way too hot, so I immediately shut down the computer and headed right back to the Geek Squad. The guy opened it up, saw that all the fans were running okay, and said that if it wasn't giving any evidence of slowing down and it wasn't seizing up, I should just run it, and not worry about the loud fan, and it should be fine. (Apparently, the newer Pentium chips are designed to slow themselves down when they get too hot.) At that point, I was wondering whether my CPU was truly as hot as the motherboard sensor was reporting, or whether the fan was just needlessly cranked because the sensor had gone awry. I tried searching in the HP support website (I have an HP Pavilion PC), but did not find any useful info there about thermal issues (beyond advice to clean out your dust bunnies, which I'd already done). I did, however, find very good information on the Intel site (my PC has "Intel inside"), which suggested that one possible problem was the thermal conductor material that transfers heat from the CPU to the heat sink can go bad. That seemed plausible, so I shut the PC down again and planned to take it in to Fry's (which is near my office) first thing in the morning. So when I took it in to Fry's, just by the questions the guy at the service counter was asking me, I could already tell that here were more knowledgeable geeks than the guys at Geek Squad. He suggested tying some cables back that may have been impeding the airflow, as well as reseating the CPU fan when they reapplied the thermal conductor. He started taking it apart while I was there at the counter, and discovered that two of the four screws that held the CPU fan in place had stripped, and that the fan, though apparently working fine, had lost solid contact between the CPU and the heat sink, and *that* was the real source of trouble. He helped me pick out a new fan, and had it fixed up in about a half hour. And it was only $15 for the fan, $4 for the thermal goo, and $30 for the service. Money well spent to save my CPU, which really was overheating after all. So, lessons learned:
  • if your fan goes into overdrive, there's a reason
  • Intel's support site is much more useful than HP's
  • Fry's geeks are smarter than Geek Squad geeks


JT said...

I had no idea that Frys was so helpful! I go there to upgrade hardware and it never occured to me they might fix stuff on the spot for you. Good to know!

Ironically I upgraded my CPU a little while back and had the same goo problem as the fan I bought didn't come with any(!).

The Geek Squad is widely mocked in techie circles from what I hear.

Tom Hussein Chatt said...

I don't mean to diss the Geek Squad. I think they provide great service for those of us who are trepidatious about even opening up our computer case just to "dust". They make house calls, which is quite useful sometimes, and they helped me recover successfully from a hard disk crash.

I just think that when a more complicated diagnosis is required, I think the Fry's geeks are better. Fry's tends to be a hard-core geek store, and it stands to reason that their service counter reflects that.

M.C. said...

I'd say it's silly and quite the fallacy to generalize two categories of people based on one experience.

I'm glad you got your CPU fixed; I would have suggested about the same solution.