I’ve been in the computer repair business for a number of years and I’m now approaching 2000 jobs completed. Whilst the vast majority of these have been successful, there have been a few which haven’t gone so well. In fact there are a few which I would define as total disasters. Whilst these have been few and far between, they have always left me embarrassed and sometimes out of pocket as a result.
Fortunately there are lessons we can learn when things go badly wrong. Let’s take a look at a few of the lessons I’ve learned as a result of these disastrous jobs.
Guard your Client’s Data with your Life
One of my earliest jobs was a subcontract job I undertook for another computer repair company. As a result of the issues the client was having, I decided to reinstall Windows 8.1 on their computer. I began by backing up their data and files to a 3 TB external USB hard drive. I then launched the Windows 8.1 installation and formatted each of the drives and partitions on the computer. I then realised, to my horror, that I had also formatted the external hard drive I had used for the backup.
Fortunately my client wasn’t in the room when I made this discovery and I sat there with my head in my hands wondering what I could do. I began Googling for data recovery options and came across some products which looked like they might just get me out of jail. I informed my client that it was necessary for me to take the backup drive away and that I would return soon.
As I researched software which could be used for data recovery, I homed in on two products in particular. Both of these remain my go-to solutions for data recovery today. The first was EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard and the second MiniTool Data Recovery Software. It took me hours to research and experiment with the different products, and then the actual data recovery on the 3 TB drive required 30 hours!
I returned to the client and copied the data and files back on to their computer. Fortunately, it seemed that the data had been recovered, though not with an identical folder structure as before. The client was happy to see their emails in Microsoft Outlook as they had been previously. I was extremely relieved.
This particular job taught me the importance of never losing a client’s data. For many people, the files stored on their computer are of huge importance to them, and they may not have backed them up elsewhere. This includes photographs, documents and emails. In repairing anyone’s computer, their files should be treated as sacrosanct, and there is no excuse for losing them as a result of incompetence or laziness.
Make sure a computer is unplugged from the power before touching its insides
I was working on a relatively straightforward hard drive to SSD upgrade on a 21.5” iMac. I had disassembled the computer, removing the glass panel and the LCD. Without realising that the computer was still plugged in I accidentally touched its insides with something metal. There was a loud bang, smoke emanated from the computer, and the circuit breaker for the electricity in my home was tripped.
I quickly realised that the internal power supply in the iMac had blown. Fortunately this is straightforward to replace and, by a stroke of luck, I had an almost identical computer on hand, which I had already decided to use for parts. I removed the power supply unit from that one, installed it in the one I had damaged, and the computer powered on successfully.
I learned the hard way that if a computer is connected to the mains power, certain parts of the circuitry can still be live, even when it’s not actually switched on.
Take care when moving internal connectors in a laptop whilst it’s powered on
I had been diagnosing an issue with a laptop which had no output to its own display, but which functioned well with an external monitor. I had reached the point where I was sure that the issue was with the system board and not with the LCD. I was about to demonstrate my conclusion to the owner of the laptop when I decided to reinsert the LCD connector to its socket on the system board. As I did so, the laptop shut down and refused to come back on.
Often you can safely disconnect and reinsert connectors within a laptop when the power is on. However, this depends on which specific connectors you’re dealing with. In my case, it may have been a stroke of bad luck. That said, when inserting a plug with multiple pins such as an LCD connector, it’s very easy to misalign the pins whilst lining it up for insertion. It’s always safer to ensure the computer is powered off before doing this.
When disassembling a laptop, take careful note of exactly how the cabling is routed
I was replacing the plastic base of an HP laptop, which had been physically damaged. The laptop itself was functioning as normal. The repair involved disassembling the entire laptop, and then reassembling it into the new base. After I reassembled the laptop, initially it failed to power on at all. I then discovered that, if I loosened the hinge screws, the laptop would power on. The cabling to the LCD traversed through one of the hinges and had been somewhat trapped when the hinge screws were tightened.
After manipulating and moving the LCD cabling through the hinge, I was eventually able to tighten the hinge screws fully, and the laptop powered on successfully. It was only after doing so that I realised it was no longer charging the battery. I ordered a new battery for the laptop, only to find that it also failed to charge. Clearly I had damaged the system board and this laptop would never charge a battery again.
Take extreme care when working with LCD glass
I was upgrading the RAM and the hard drive in a 21.5” iMac. On this particular model this involved disassembling the computer completely, as the RAM is housed on the rear of the system board. I had just about completed the upgrade and was reassembling the computer when I noticed a crack in the glass. After removing the LCD assembly, I hadn’t physically separated it from the computer but had laid it flat in front of me. As a result I had accidentally exerted pressure on the LCD assembly and the glass had cracked.
This proved to be a rather expensive mistake, as a replacement LCD assembly for an iMac doesn’t come cheap. The next time I carried out a hard drive upgrade on the same iMac model I was handling it with kid gloves and everything went well.
Unfortunately I have since broken the glass on two more computers. One was another iMac. After replacing its power supply unit, the LCD assembly dropped onto the glass surface I was working on, causing damage to the bottom left corner. The second time occurred just this past week when I was replacing the touchscreen LCD assembly on an HP Spectre X360. This is an extremely unpleasant job as it involves breaking the old LCD assembly off the LCD lid prior to assembling it with the new one. Unfortunately I managed to crack a piece of glass off one corner of the screen whilst reassembling the laptop.
For me personally, I would be unlikely to be willing to attempt any more touchscreen repairs. Having said that, this particular laptop could have been repaired by replacing the entire upper part of the laptop – the LCD lid, including the LCD assembly.
Each of the mistakes I’ve described here have been extremely painful for me, and quite a learning experience. I’ve never considered myself to be a computer technician, but rather an IT support professional. In other words, I’m not so skilled with all the elements involved in physically repairing devices, whilst in terms of problem solving I excel. Happily, the disasters I’ve described here have been few and far between for me.
If you’re looking for someone to repair your computer, it’s worthwhile spending a bit more to get truly professional support. By employing someone who’s inexperienced, as I was at the time of the data loss disaster, or incompetent, as I was for one or two of the other jobs described, you take a significant risk with your computer. For peace of mind, seek out the best you can find.
This article was written by Norm McLaughlin, founder of Norm’s Computer Services, a computer repair and IT support business in Brisbane, Australia.