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Consumer Reports finds that independent tech support services trump manufacturer tech support

Posted Thursday, May 10, 2007

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June issue also features a review of Windows Vista & laptop & desktop Ratings

Yonkers, NY — Independent computer tech support trumps manufacturer tech support according to a new survey from the Consumer Reports National Research Center. The results, which are featured in the June issue, reveal that independent tech support services affiliated with major retail chains such as Best Buys’ Geek Squad and Circuit City’s Firedog, solved 84 percent of users’ problems with Windows-based PCs. Windows PC manufacturers’ tech support was only able to solve 59 percent of problems.

Consumer Reports surveyed more than 23,000 computer users to rate both independent and manufacturer computer tech support for the first time. Other findings include:

  • Sixty-nine percent of users who contacted any type of independent support were highly satisfied versus 42 percent of those who used manufacturers support.
  • More than half the survey respondents who used independent services spent $100 or more.
  • Apple and Lenovo (IBM), with service contracts, both solved 80 percent of problems and stood head and shoulders above other manufacturers.
  • Free manufacturer support succeeded only 53 percent of the time.


When consumers should hire a geek

Consumer Reports identified situations which may require professional attention to fix computer problems and which type of tech support provider (independent or manufacturer) was better at helping solve the problem.
  • The source of the problem isn’t obvious. If the problem doesn’t clearly lie with the original setup, an independent is more likely to solve it.
  • A virus or spyware might be to blame. Independents were more likely to make diagnoses for this problem doing so for 25 percent of the calls compared to manufacturer tech support that unearthed the culprits for only 8 percent.
  • No-hassle phone service. Only 12 percent of users reported problems with independents’ phone support compared with 58 percent of those who phone manufacturers. Phoning costs less than in-home service.


When not to hire a geek

  • Protect the warranty. If a computer is still under warranty, make sure using another service won’t void it.
The report also features a run-down of the best-known independent services and a how-to-choose-guide. Also included are some tips consumers can use to get the most out of manufacturer tech support. CR reveals the best way to reach Apple, Compaq/HP, Gateway, Dell, Lenovo/IBM, Sony, and Toshiba.

Apple users were equally satisfied overall, whether they used phone, Web site, e-mail or chat for contacting the company. Because phone support is free for only 90 days, CR suggests that consumers consider buying a three-year AppleCare Plan.


For Consumer Reports Take on Windows Vista

Overall, Consumer Reports found that Windows Vista is an improvement over XP, but it has a few rough edges. For consumers who are happy with their existing computer running Windows XP, CR doesn’t think there is reason enough to upgrade.

Vista’s user interface has more eye appeal than XP’s and CR liked its improved search function, onscreen gadgets (similar to Mac widgets), and parental controls. Consumer Reports tests found that Vista generally ran a bit slower than XP on comparably equipped computers, but not so slow that the difference would be noticeable when running a word processor or Web browser.

To run Vista optimally, CR advises purchasing a new computer or upgrading an existing computer with at least 1GB of memory. However, consumers choosing to upgrade should make sure the software they already use is Vista-compatible. Security applications from an old computer, such as antivirus and antispy software will probably need to be updated to the latest version as well as multimedia applications such as Roxio Easy CD Creator and DivX.

Running Microsoft’s online Vista Upgrade Advisor will help consumers decide what programs and software should be updated and will also determine if an existing printer, scanner and/or other peripherals will work with a new PC equipped with Vista. CR recommends checking the Web sites of respective peripheral manufacturers for Vista-compatible drivers.


Laptop & Desktop Ratings

Consumer Reports rated 11 laptops and eight desktop computers. For laptops, ergonomics was the most important Ratings factor. The Apple Macbook Pro 15-inch, $2,000, topped the Ratings for ergonomics and was deemed a Quick Pick for features and long battery life.

The Toshiba Satellite A135-S4427, $900, and Acer Aspire AS5610-4537, $850, which CR says are best values, were very good overall, and among the lightest Windows laptops, with very good ergonomics and battery life.

For desktops, CR ranks them by test results and features. The Dell Dimension E521, $655, a CR Best Buy ranked high in the Ratings and offers a lot for the money, including a comfortable keyboard, optical mouse and quiet operation.

The full report, which features complete laptop and desktop Ratings, is available in the June 2007 issue of Consumer Reports, which is available wherever magazines are sold and portions of the story are available for free online at

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