Experts offer advice about do-it-yourself fixes for electronics

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From time to time, laptops arrive to Christopher Dunn’s office in pieces.

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Robert Steele works on a game console at Level Up Game Center on Martinez Boulevard. He said that when people try to fix their own equipment, they sometimes make problems worse. The Internet and product manuals often can be helpful for home repairs.  MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
Robert Steele works on a game console at Level Up Game Center on Martinez Boulevard. He said that when people try to fix their own equipment, they sometimes make problems worse. The Internet and product manuals often can be helpful for home repairs.

“They try to tackle something above and beyond what they should have been doing,” said Dunn, the general manager of Computer Exchange, a repair shop in Martinez. “It ends up in pieces.”

People mean well, but the less technologically inclined are prone to doing more harm than good.

What’s a beginner to do?

Local repair experts chimed in to offer their takes on tech basics almost anyone can try at home.

“There are some things I’d never recommend for people to do at home that aren’t tech-savvy, but some of this is just pushing buttons,” said Robert Steele, the manager of Level Up Game Center. He has been doing repairs on video game consoles for about 2½ years.

There’s a long tradition of do-it-yourself fixes.

“I remember blowing on the cartridges when I was a kid. Everyone did,” Steele said.

Sometimes, old DIY fixes carry over from one technology to another.

On occasion, the pros say they hear of folks smacking their computers and tablets around, as they might to unstick an old record player or television screen.

It won’t help, and often does damage.

“Smacking the side of a computer case in not going to accomplish anything except maybe making you feel better if you’re frustrated,” Dunn said.

The pros recommend these steps instead:

FIRST, DO NO HARM: There’s a common problem showing up at ComputerOne, a repair shop on Washington Road in Augusta.

“The biggest thing people are doing wrong right now is downloading those registry fixes,” Manager Jim Donaldson said. “They’re downloading junk ware and slowing down the machine.”

BE PROACTIVE: The best fixes have more to do with prevention than repair.

“Computers are a lot like cars,” Dunn said. “If you let it go, three years down the road, you’ll be shocked you’re having to replace a hard drive or fan. If you let it go too long, that’s when things become bad. If your computer is running slow, don’t wait until it’s not booting to take it to someone.”

ASK AROUND: More often than not, machines break in predictable ways. Screens shatter, discs get stuck, components overheat.

“The Internet comes in really handy,” Steele said. “There are other people out there who are having the same problem.”

TRY THE MANUFACTURER: If you’ve lost the manual, try the manufacturer’s Web site, where manuals are often available for download.

“Very few people read manuals,” Steele said. “It’ll help.”

GO ONLINE: Sites such as iFixit, a Wikipedia-style compilation of user-edited repair guides, include manuals and spare parts for everything from iPhones to trucks to toasters.

Popular sections on electronics and computers include step-by-step repairs for printers, webcams, calculators, scanners and digital cameras.

Each provides free, device-specific advice. The iPhone section alone includes instructions on installing a new battery, replacing a shattered display or repairing broken microphones, dock connectors, home buttons or camera.

The site says it aims to make technical know-how available to the masses. Why?

“Because companies don’t provide repair parts and documentation to end users,” according to the site. “We believe that the easier it is to fix something, the more people will do it. The only way to keep hardware out of landfills is to increase the useful lifespan of our stuff.”

CALL FOR BACKUP: Many local shops will offer free consultations or advice.

“We recommend local places,” Donaldson said.

Often, he’s able to talk someone through an issue and save that person a bit of money.

“A lot of people want us to come there, but we can talk you through something like setting up a router,” he said.

Often, a shop will be able to give a more accurate estimate of how severe the problem really is.

“Screen replacement on a laptop can be extremely difficult in some circumstances but a 20-minute job in others,” Dunn said. “You have to know what you’re dealing with.”

BACK UP YOUR DATA: Before trying any fix, back up your data.

“It’ll save you heartache,” Dunn said.

KNOW YOUR LIMITS: “Anytime you have to solder or deal with heat, bring it to a pro,” Steele said. “These aren’t small investments.”

Dunn suggests reading the manual and then deciding how to proceed.

“If you don’t understand the guide, you shouldn’t tackle the task,” he said. “Bring it in.”


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