When you buy a PC, chances are darn good that the service package will be neither very convenient nor inexpensive. Most in-home or in-office service plans amount to little more than a local repair shop guy traipsing through your front door on afirst-available basis. Even carting the computer to an in-store service center does not guarantee fast or efficient service. So when PlumChoice Online PC Services offered me an opportunity to try our their remote repair program, I sheepishly accepted.
Working from a very active home office, I break out in a sweat at theslightest sign of distress from my bank of desktop and laptopcomputers. Each one runs dedicated tasks. At least one machine servesas a backup for one of the other Windows and Linux computers. Buthaving any of my computers come offline only increases the likelihoodthat some unforeseen intrusion will take them all down.
So I regarded this chance to test a remote repair service with bothenthusiasm and trepidation. Could I really trust some stranger sittingat a computer console in Billerica, Mass., to wander around one of myhard drives? I am no stranger to maintaining my own computers andusing remote access. So I selected my no-name desktop — oftenthe first point of entry to programs I download and test — as thepatient and scheduled a diagnostic health check.
PlumChoice offers a 24-hour premium remote PC and technology repairservice for the home, home office and small office. The company offersseveral dozen repair options and configurations for help with desktops,laptops and peripherals.
The computer experts are Microsoft application trainers, Microsoftproduct specialists, A+/MCP/MCSE certified professionals, networkadministrators and HTML developers. Every technician is pre-qualified,has more than three years of help desk environment experience andcompletes a two-week training course on service deliveryand the virtual interface, according to the company.
On average, the fees PlumChoice charges are less costly than those atrepair shops and other service plans I’ve used over the years. Forexample, a diagnostics session costs US$29.95. Removing spyware andvirus infections costs $99.95. A PC tune-up runs $129.95.
For an annual subscription to the PCSMart Plan, you get unlimitedonline computer support, automated data backup and a complete softwaresecurity suite for your PC. Of course, you pay $89.95 for a one-timesetup fee that includes the first month free. A home PC user canselect the Home Basic Subscription of $15.95 per month.
The log-on procedure was quick and simple. After I logged onto thehome page and clicked the Get Started button, I was presented with ascreen requiring my basic personal details and the nature of thecomputer help I wanted. A drop-down menu listed all of the availableservices and their costs.
One more click presented a scheduling page already adjusted to theservice request I was making. I could choose the date and availabletimes for the service to be performed. I was impressed at theflexibility and the ability to put me in charge of the scheduling.
I decided to have a PC tune-up performed. I initiated the servicerequest at 1:15 p.m. on a Sunday and wanted the job to begin at 2 p.m.the same day. But the next available time slot that day was 3 p.m. — still not a bad wait if my repair need was urgent. Where else could Iget such quick help in the middle of a weekend, anyway?
The service session began with a call to my designated phone number atprecisely 3 P.M. Dimitri, my personal service technician, asked me afew questions to confirm the symptoms. In my case, I replied that Ithought the computer had slowed down and wanted to return it to itsearlier performance level.
Dimitri, pleasant and friendly throughout the repair session, directedme to enter the PlumChoice Web site and enter a special service codehe dictated. That established a 128-bit SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption connection through which he uploaded a diagnostic application to my computer’shard drive.
I had a choice to make. I could stay on the phone and talk to himwhile he worked on my computer, or I could hang up and wait for him tocall me back when the session was completed. I am the kind of guy wholikes to hang around my auto mechanic and pester him with questionswhile he works on my car. So I gave Dimitri the same treatment.
Everything the technician did remotely I watched on my computerscreen. No stranger to diagnostic tools, I followed his actions withapproval — mostly, that is. Every now and then he checked a program orservice for deletion to which I said no.
The technician ran what amounted to a series of standard tools thatlooked at control panel settings, startup routines, program files andperformance benchmarks. Included in the technician’s bag of tools wasthe Hijack This malware scanner.
Since my computer had nothing wrong with it, the tune-up servicesmerely performed remotely the same tasks that I run on the equipmentperiodically. I have numerous specialty applications installed on mycomputers to add features not normally active on non-work computers.The diagnostic scans listed these veryprograms as possible intrusions, such as plug-ins to my e-mail client and file managementapplications.
Had I not remained on the phone line during the health check-up,Dimitri may have removed them. He noted that these specialtyprograms no doubt hogged some of the system resources and might becausing slower performance. However, since I had used the slow-down asmy reason for the check-up, I already knew the computer was running atnear-peak performance.
After some 45 minutes, Dimitri had identified two questionable filesbut little else. He removed several older versions of Java runtimeinstallations that were adding to the hard drive and startup clutter.Normally, Java should remove these earlier versions when it completesan upgrade.
From a healthy PC standpoint, Dimitri found very little to “fix.” Thehard drive was not overly fragmented. Some minor clutter in theInternet cache was evident.
Dimitri did remove an installation of Pit Stop diagnostics module andan installation of SpyBot. I didn’t object because I was intending toinstall the newest versions of both anti-malware scanners anyway. ButI thought it interesting that the technician removed legitimateprograms from other malware detection vendors.
All the tasks the technician performed in giving my computer a tune-upwere standard maintenance operations. In fact, several of the toolsremotely activated on my computer are part of the Windows operatingsystem for system maintenance.
However, uninformed home users and harried business users not familiar withroutine computer maintenance would be well served by PlumChoices’sdiagnostic service. Anyone with a real computer problem wouldstand an excellent chance of getting satisfaction.
Dimitri won me over on two counts. The first thing he did was set asystem restore point. That reassured me of his competence. The secondwinning factor was his assessment that the PC was obviously wellmaintained. Bogus added service pitches never entered theconversation.
All things considered, I would not hesitate to revisit PlumChoice if amalfunction befell my computers. The bulk of service offerings is forthe Windows platform. Linux service is available for some but not allconditions. No remote service for Macs is yet available.
PlumChoice can fix 374 software and 17 hardware platforms. That’s asubstantial service help line for remote repair assistance around theclock with little or no waiting for a solution. If necessary,PlumChoice can dispatch a local repair technician to perform neededrepairs in-home or in-office.