PC Tips and Tricks

Why rebuild a PC?


“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Wilde, Oscar

Recently I received a telephone call from a perspective client. In this economic climate a rare event. Eager to find out the reason for the call I asked “what the problem was.” The prospect said “the computer is slow and it’s behaving erratically”. I replied “in order to better understand the problem I will need to ask some questions.” I could tell from the persons tone of voice this wasn’t exactly what they wanted to hear.

I ignored this and asked “how old is the computer?” The reply “five to six years old possibly eight years old.” I knew from the answer the computer was probably running Windows XP but I wanted to confirm my assumption as they may have chosen to upgrade so I asked “what Windows operating system are you using, Windows XP, Vista or 7?” “Don’t know.” This wasn’t going well. I went on to ask “have you installed new programmes?” “Not recently.” My next question “what security software installed?” “What’s that?” I replied “software to protect your computer from malicious software.” “Not sure I need it” I asked “do you use your computer to connect to the internet?” “Yes,” I replied “you need security software.” I then asked “has your computer ever been rebuilt?” “What do you mean rebuilt?”  “A rebuild returns your PC to manufacturer original configuration.” “Never.” My next question “do you back up your data to an external disk drive?”

My question annoyed my perspective client “I can’t store all my data to a USB stick, do I want the job or not?” I replied “I would very much like to help you but to do so I need to first understand if I can.” “Ok, my computer is slow how much to fix?” I replied “I really need to see the computer first. An analysis will take about five to ten minutes I can then tell you what the options are and leave you to decide.” My perspective client responded “given what I have told you, you should be able to quote for the work.” I responded by saying “given the age of the machine and without an onsite assessment I assume a system rebuild. I went on to say all computers at some point will need a system rebuild. However given the age of your PC I suggest you buy a new PC a system rebuild is uneconomic unless you can do this your self. You will need installation software i.e. Windows XP and manufacturer driver disks and  disks for your applications software.    

Why rebuild?” “Think of a new road to begin with the surface is smooth, rain drains to the side then off into drains consequently no floods, no potholes, the road markings and kerbs are in good condition so there’s nothing to inhibit you from moving swiftly on. However over time rain, salt the volume of traffic damages the road surface potholes develop slowing your progress. It’s very similar to your PC. During general use your operating system your applications are updated, you amended your files consequently your data gets stored in various different locations. You remove, you add new applications. The result the hard disk becomes a bit of a patchwork quilt – or mended road. Windows maintains a central database called the registry. The registry holds system settings, hardware details and user preferences these settings are regularly updated and often such updates are interlinked with many other settings. Think of it this way, you reach a road junction your destination is the same as before but the road signs tell you to go another way. The next time you travel down the same road the signage has changed yet again so you forced to take a less efficient route. Your registry is key to your computer efficiency, a support engineer can fix the signage and potholes but only for so long. At a certain point it becomes better to rip up the tarmac and start again. It’s the same with Windows PCs. There will be a point in time when its’ no longer sensibly to patch up a PC or the Windows Registry. Over time capacity will exceeded designed road traffic volume it becomes necessary to upgrade by adding additional lanes. Your computer is the same as you add new applications, more data, videos, application updates, your computer begins to slow as more system resources are required to run your applications. Often users don’t notice how much more they are asking of the PC they bought 4 years ago – the workload has increased so slowly over that period that its increase catches users by surprise.”

My perspective client said “my explanation sounded plausible how much” I replied “it’s question of whether you are cash rich or time poor. If you have the time you can rebuild the system your self. If you prefer you can instruct me or someone else whoever you choose they will want to analysis your computer prior to providing a quote.” The perspective client said “I’m not interested in what you think how much.”

“If a system rebuild is required and assuming you want your PC returned ready for you to use for example word processing, spread sheets, presentations documents, emails, contacts etc. I will first need to check your data remove any viruses and malware then back up your data to an external device. There is no point restoring corrupt data to your newly rebuilt computer. This by itself can be very time consuming it really does depend upon how much data you have. I will require installation disks, I may need to recover product keys if lost. Some manufacturers partition the disk they create a recovery partition. This part of the hard disk is used to reformat the working part of the hard disk. If you have such a partition you won’t have installation disks but you may have recovery disks that you created after you installed your applications. These disks can be used to rebuild your computer and return the computer to the point in time you created the disks. If you don’t have these disks you might be able to purchase a copy from the manufacture failing this you will need to purchase a full copy of Windows assuming you wish to use Windows. Reformatting removes all your data. Once the disk is reformatted and the operating system is installed you need to configure your internet connection then proceed to install and configure a security application of your choice, your firewall settings, operating system patches and service packs then repeat for applications. Next reinstate your back up data. If you use Outlook setup your email accounts then using the pst file you created prior to rebuilding your computer use this file to reinstall your emails, calendar, contacts etc. Time wise to complete all these tasks can easily take you eighteen hours. Thankfully I don’t charge by the hour I charge a project fee and guarantee my work for three months. Some of my competitors will charge less they tend to leave you to install operating system patches, service packs, your applications plus updates and you will also have to restore your data, email accounts etc. Its a bare bones rebuild. However the purchase of a new computer might be the better option for you given the age of your PC and your likely evolving computing needs.”

I went on to mention “I did have a perspective client contact me not so long ago and he decided to reject my tender for a cheaper competitor. A few months later the perspective client contacted me again. This time he asked me to visit. The perspective client told me my fees shocked him so he went to a competitor initially his computer functioned well but now its worse than ever. I asked what they did, he showed me their invoice. The invoice quotes a system rebuild. Analysis revealed they installed a registry cleaner and installed a virus and malware tool. Seeing the registry cleaner I said I cannot help you its an automatic system rebuild. Registry cleaners are highly questionable especially when novices use such tools. I’m a qualified systems engineer and I will not use them. He replied his PC had already been rebuilt. I showed him Windows event logs these suggested his PC hadn’t in fact been rebuilt. He instructed me to rebuild his computer. A few months after the rebuild he contacted me again to say he now understood why my fees are higher than the average and he went on to ask me to rebuild his offices computers. In fact I only needed to rebuild one out of his ten computers.”

Of course I didn’t win this perspective client instruction. I knew I wouldn’t when I said ‘I will need to ask a few questions to understand what the problem was’ her tone of voice was enough. Given the persons level of IT knowledge plus her desire to not answer questions it was obvious she either already knew what was needed and wanted to confirm she had a good price or she really didn’t feel an experienced and qualified IT support engineer warrants a reasonable fee nevertheless like my client she may come to regret her decision.