The 5 R's

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The 5 R's

1. Repair
2. Restore
3. Reinstall
4. Remote admin
5. Run away

OK so I'm not the most skilled engineer around but I definitely have an abundance of experience: electronic repairs since I was 13 and PC and computer hardware repairs since 1997.

And by far the trickiest part of any engineer's day is when he or she is confronted with the dreaded question, "How long will it take?".  Thus bringing us to the point in time where you must admit that whereas you know it might take forever you are, however, forced to give and answer you know will be more pleasing.

Let us not forget that you are the engineer, the technician, the one who performs the repairs - you didn't go looking for it, it was handed to you.  Tell the truth.  Computer-based system repairs have no discernible timescales that can be adhered to nor can anyone predict with absolute certainty precisely how long it will take to identify a badly seated CPU or memory stick as the cause of a BSOD or that a scratched DVD/CD will cause "file not found" errors during a Windows installation routine.

You can, on the other hand, determine what your next course of action should be, and being able to identify that switching point gives you clear direction and a fair guess as to how long your next repair will take.

Point-in-fact: During my stint in commercial repairs for British Rail any item that took more than 4 hours to repair or that did not have a feasible repair option in said time - was considered uneconomical to repair and scrapped  That company charged British Rail £160 - £240/hr for repairs.  Luckily, with computers we can normally come to that conclusion in the first 10 seconds.

Repair - estimated time: <1 hour

Repair is your first stage.  Assess hardware, software, obtain information from the client, observe the fault happening.  Formulate a solution and implement it taking into consideration availability of parts and spares and incorporate into your repair bill.

Restore - estimated time: <30 minutes

Sometimes software errors and errors brought on by patches, updates, and questionable third party drivers can best be resolved simply with a system restore.  It is a Godsend and an amazing time saving tool.  Even if you restore a PC to what it was a few hours ago, it is a safe process and has minimal side effects and lots of bonuses.  When in doubt, restore back to the oldest restore point and if this resolves the problem then work your way forward from there.

Re-installation - estimated time: 1 - 2 hours

Re-installation is predominantly dictated in time by the speed of the overall PC or in the least by which operating system you are installing.  I have not timed it personally but end to end on a new system Windows 7 takes about 20 - 30 minutes.

Re-installation has the added bonus that you do not have to backup the user files first, it complete wipes the most vulnerable Windows systems files and folders and is quick way to deal with hard-core viruses and malware.  The downside being the need to re-install all applications and moving user documents and settings.

Remote admin - estimated time 10 minutes - 4 hours

Remote admin should always be an option for engineers who have problem clients/PCs/servers.  If you are unable to perform the above scenarios at your leisure or convenience, then consider having remote access to allow you to tweak and repair in your own time.  It will save on travel and being able to repair a system remotely and in your own environment takes the stress off you as you are not being scrutinized or pressurized.

Run away - estimated time: <10 minutes

No real engineer or technician likes to admit defeat but we should be able to recognize our limitations even if it's just a limitation in time.  Learn to identify time consuming faults, non-paying customers, and when you may be flogging a dead horse.  Step back and consider whether this item for repair is uneconomical to repair.

If you charge 30 - 60 units of currency per hour then a 4+ hour job becomes more costly than most NEW items off the shelf.  If you work for a company as a technician, then your average hourly rate is roughly 50 - 90 units of currency and is the price of a whole new laptop computer.

If the decision is yours to make, then inform your client and -- if they are prepared to meet the cost -- then by all means jump in and get your hands dirty.

In closing, I recommend that you read this great article about why we should not do jobs for free:

   WARNING: 5 Reasons why you should NEVER fix a computer for free

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