The Answer To 2 Common Computer Technician Questions

A few months ago I ran a software giveaway in exchange for some survey answers. There were two questions that came up often amongst the technicians and one of them was:

“Where do you draw the line between suggesting rebuilding a PC or suggesting that they go buy a new one?”

The other question is:

“At what point in the repair cycle do you make the choice to format & reinstall the OS and the applications?”

The answer to both of these questions are identical.

“Always do what is best for your client”

This golden rule makes it much easier when deciding what to do, but lets break it down a little more.

If a client brought in an old computer with a failed motherboard, chances are that it will not be cost effective to repair since the cost of a faster second hand computer will be similar. I could replace the motherboard and reinstall the OS so I feel good about being the technician who fixes things rather than telling the client to buy a new one, but this is not in the best interest for my client. The best thing to do is to tell them how much repairing their old computer will cost, then tell them that they can have a much faster machine for a similar cost and let them choose.

If this client brought in the same aging computer and it only had a light virus infection rather than a failed motherboard, it may not be in the best interest of the client if I did an outright nuke and pave (format).
In most cases, I will attempt to move a virus for about an hour. After that 1 hour I will make the decision whether to continue removing the virus or just format the machine.

If I am making progress and believe that I will be finished soon, then I will continue removing the virus because this usually takes no more than 2 hours. However, if the virus is particularly nasty and it has damaged critical parts of the operating system then there is no point trying to fix it for a further 3 hours if I am going to have to format it anyway.

I like being a skilled technician that can remove just about any virus if I have enough time, but if a format is the cheaper and more stable result for the client then I am going to go with that. Again always, do what is best for your client; in both price and reliability.

While I am on the topic of reliability, what is best for a residential client may not be what is best for a business client. In most cases, a business client with an established business will value turnaround time and reliability more than price. There have been a few times where I could have purchased a part for a business client at a cheaper price but it would have taken time for me to obtain it (eBay). Instead, the choice was to get their computers up and running within a few hours at a premium rather than having them wait a few days and lose productivity.

I could choose options that are better for my business and make me more money but by looking after your clients, they like you more which results in more work from them and recommendations to their friends, which in turn makes you more money in the long run anyway.

Bryce Whitty

About the Author

Bryce Whitty
More articles by me...
Bryce is an Australian computer technician and the founder of Technibble. He started his computer repair business when he was 17 years old and is still running it 9 years later. He is an avid traveller and spends at least a month of the year in another country.

Comments (34)

  • Steve Stone says:

    Exceptions to the old motherboard replacement “rule” for home users. The user likes the look and feel of the current broken machine. It fits in with the decor and does not want to replace the PC. A new PC will disturb “domestic tranquility” if their significant other sees a new PC in the home, but will not notice if a motherboard was replaced. Home offices where the user has ancient, very expensive applications or attached devices that do not play nice with faster processors, current chip sets, or requires dongles on antiquated I/O ports.

  • LJ says:

    This article is spot on! I often have to tell the customer, “It will cost more for me to fix it than if you go and buy a new one.”

    Sure I could make a lot more money repairing it, but my goal is to get repeat business and referrals for doing what is right for each and every customer.

    In spyware/virus cleanup I watch the time involved and move from an hourly charge to a flat rat if I have to replace the OS. It aaves the customer money, and they don’t feel like someone is out to rape them.

  • bob says:

    I’ve only replaced the motherboard a few times, sometimes the both the power supply and motherboard blows out on E-Machines.

    The cost to replace all these components is rather high and usually the customer says they can buy another computer.

    I don’t think the customer really understands what he’s getting, it’s almost a new pc when you replace motherboard, processor, power supply and maybe the memory.

  • bob says:

    Spyware & virus I usually tell the customer it’s much cheaper to just replace the OS.

    I let them decide on how much their data is worth, if they really want to save everthing then I’ll do a virus clean up.

  • alsTech says:

    I had just that scenario last week. Obtained a new cust on a referral. She was a senior who wanted me to look at to of her late husbands laptops because she needed one for travel. A Toshiba and a Dell. Right away I said, recycle the Toshiba. (it was about 4″ thick) The Dell was a c600 no windows Lic. on it and no pwr supply. So I took the Dell back to the shop. It had a 850mghz processor, 128megs of ram and win95, she wants Xp home and wireless, just whats on her home computer. I explained to her, after the cost of the OS,memory pwr supply and my time that it would be cost
    effective to put her in a newer refurbished
    Laptop. She agreed, I gave her a small amount for the Dell laptop on a trade in. Used the old Dell for a senior cust up north that was looking for a “cheap laptop” just to play cards on, she wanted nothing to do with the Internet(perfect)

    In short, two happy customers and I still made a reasonable profit, and hopefully I will get more referrals from these two new customers.

  • I would expand on the final comment about consumer vs business clients. I definitely find that business clients often care little about price difference details, as it’s all about uptime. Home users are the opposite, and sometimes have to be educated that their attempt to save $10 on a part will cost an extra hour of labour, but they are more often likely to be patient if it’ll save them some money. I also have numerous clients in the non-profit sector, and here I find I need to ask them how their budget works before deciding on a strategy. Some of them have healthy operating budgets and will happily pay for repairs, but some of my clients find it easier to get grants for capital expenditures and thus don’t have budget to fix, but do have budget to replace. It’s crazy sometimes, but true. So then we look for good second homes for their broken computer, such as another non-profit that would happily have the computers for the cost of repairing them.
    It’s one more layer to the decision-making process, but it still boils down to “what is best for the client?”.
    Thanks for the post.

  • ben says:

    this is why I stay with corp clients and get them simular computers and have images of each type of computer and do not give users Admin rights.
    Home users are a royal pain

  • Eike says:


    You are spot on. Thank you!

    I am terribly sorry but I have to tell you something (after for five years being fully busy dealing with 99.8% home users):

    You AND the home users are better off if you stick with business customers until your attitude has changed.

    My home users are the most grateful customers and over 40% of what I do, again fully booked every week, are repeats and referrals. Good work, a friendly attitude and complete honesty work best for me.


  • KarBec says:


    Thanks. Good post.

    One thing I take into consideration before suggesting a reformat is what applications the customer is running. If the customer has basic apps like Office and AV and can access their licence keys then no problem. Even if they don’t have their keys for these you can probably find them, with a keyfinder app.

    But some customers have a miriad of quirky apps which they actually use and have no idea where their original copies are or any recollection of licence keys so this needs to be well explained to them before proceeding with a format.

    Cheers, keep up the good work.

  • Tura says:

    Thank you for the post. I had similar questions in the past and your posts clarifies for me. I absolutely agree with about acting in the best interest of the client. It will pay off eventually.

    When reformatting the system, how do you deal with restoring all the drivers to ensure the system is back to what it was?

  • mike smith says:

    restoring drivers is easy. Use the device manager to tell you what’s installed.
    otherwise sites like Dell and HP have the support page that lists all drivers for each specific model computer. Put in the serial number and you are good to go.

    If you cant get network to work to even begin downloading drivers, make sure to keep a live linux CD with and a long network cable with you. Boot up linux and connect it to the internet, download drivers to flash, restart into windows and load them drivers.

    Seriously most users don’t bother saving install disks. Or making them from the “recovery partition”.

    Also an HP like the one I’m working on now has a restore partition. Boot up and hit F11 and you can put the machine back to factory fresh in an hour. Other systems may have similar features.

  • ben says:

    When I first started in 95 yes I did home users but learned quickly that they are demanding and cheap and much harder to please.
    Do you really think home users are going to pay me what corporate clients will?
    I had one home user I was going to do as a favor for one my client, they insisted I come exactly between 6PM to 6:30 PM because they are not home before and they wanted me out by 7:30 and this was to setup a new computer migrate all the data from the old computer setup wifi a printer and who know what else. I told them I can not guarantee what time I come since I have appointment with companies and I can say for sure what time I will leave my site before them. They decided not to use me thankfully, I will not sacrifice an account that uses all the for a one time fee.
    with corp client it’s much easier you have to please the owner not all the workers (yes some hate me I block them from facebook, myspace hulu, and youtube). also since data is store centrally in corporate clients to reimage a PC that has a problem is faster than fixing viruses and or spyware.
    Please take the home users and have to placate all of them where I have to make sure the owners are happy since the computers are working for business use not playtime.

  • bob says:


    I’ve used double driver, it’s freeware and it will backup your drivers.

  • LJ says:

    Hey Ben,

    some home users are demanding, and some are on tight budgets… but I would rather service them than business clients for a couple of reasons:

    1) home users pay for their repairs the day you arrive and complete the work. Some business clients do that too – but the majority make you wait for a check in the mail.

    2) if you have a good attitude, home users tend to tell EVERYONE about the good service you have provided. Referrals are a big plus.

    I guess it comes down to this: are you a people person or a machine head? Machine heads do well in the cubicle world. ;)

  • ben says:

    yes you have to wait for a check but when they get the invoice all my clients pay. Also what I started doing was putting some of my clients on monthly or quarterly retainers. I do this for clients that call often for small issues (add users, delete users, access to accounting etc) but my agreement is this covers normal day to day problems not server upgrades or replacement or big issues.
    Also my client refer me to other businesses.

  • Langen says:

    Computers are getting cheaper and it is difficult to draw a line between repairing and buying. On a typical house computer any repairs over $200 is seeing with suspicion by the customer.

    About the second question, if the computer is around three years old, never been reformatted and you know the cleaning is going to take longer than 90 minutes then it is fair to suggest a new installation: good for the customer, he/she will have a new computer, good for the technician (not much to investigate). At this point you can earn an extra cash making a back up of their data.

  • Lisa says:

    I almost never have to reinstall OS. What are you guys doing wrong LOL!

  • VNights says:

    Lisa, that’s what I was wondering. It’s starting to remind me of all the posts you see on the net explaining how they fixed something by wiping the system and reinstalling.

  • Bryce W says:

    I rarely format as well.
    “However, if the virus is particularly nasty and it has damaged critical parts of the operating system then there is no point trying to fix it for a further 3 hours if I am going to have to format it anyway.”

    Basically, if you are fixing a heavily damaged machine (as in, beyond manual virus removal) then you should format for stability reasons.

    Again, its rare I do this but sometimes a format is better than spending hours on a machine that’s operating system that will never come good.

  • Langen says:

    1) Very infected and messed up computer.
    2) Customer uses the computer basically to surf the internet and download music (most typical case)
    3) You know it will take a long time to stabilize the system: research, running of a variety of AV and the like, dozens of reboots, a lot of “in safe mode” work, etc, and always having the possibility of not being able to repair the system.
    4) The customer not even know what “reformat” means.
    5) Customer just one to backup his/her music and to continue surfing the web.

    Best solution in the shorter time: reformat, and sweetest if you have a recovery partition.

  • Rob says:

    Great info here guys.

    One question, what do you do if do have to format and re-install the OS and they can’t find the OS disc?

  • Jeff says:

    If there’s no disc available, generally a retail installation disc will do the trick and work with their license key.

    Always handy to keep OEM discs in your binder if possible, too.

  • PCPOS says:

    As far as drivers go, my favorite trick is a USB WiFi adapter, with the driver for it on my stick. If the client has WiFi, I’m up and running in a matter of minutes, and downloading all needed drivers via the WiFi connection

  • Mount-n-Tech PC Repair says:

    On a clients machine I had the worst virus I had ever encountered and every attempt to delete the virus led to it attaching itself to critical system files and replicating itself and it started deleting files on it’s own, a complete restore had to be done, even the greatest pc tech couldn’t have solved this problem.

  • Jim says:

    Hey I’ve fixed a ton of computers and I’m a little cocky about my ability to remove viruses. I know that the mark of a good computer tech is knowing when to “nuke and pave”. I usually give myself 1 hour and then if its not fixed (or the virus removed) I make the decision about whether the customer would be best served with a clean install or not.

  • scott says:

    I like that “nuke and pave”, If I can’t fix it within an 1 1/2 hours I start considering the nuclear option as well. As far as the Windows OS disc problem there are many ways to download legal OEM ISO images(i.e. torrents).

  • I generally draw the line when I know replacing hardware and labor will exceed between $200-$300 dollars and the PC exceeds three years in age or was rather inexpensive (an awful lot nowadays) to begin with. I will call and discuss projected cost with the customer and point out a new PC can be had for $500-$800. Do they really want to spend $300 on their old one?

    A surprising number will (foolishly IMHO) want to upgrade their six year old Dell, rather than put the money towards a new (and tremendously faster) PC, despite my advice. It is their money, so I respect their wishes, and then it is my money.

    Certain rogueware infections (that I know will take 2 or more hours to track down and eliminate) I will tell them up front I charge $250 to remove or $80 to clean install the OS. Their pick.

  • Justin says:

    If it comes down to a format and clean install, and the client does not have their license key, are there any practical re-format options?

  • Dan says:


    It depends on the manufacturer of the PC. Usually there are CDs or downloads to “RECOVER” the OS, Drivers, etc. and you do not need a license key as it is programmed into the OEM version being reinstalled. It is required for all PCs to have an OEM license and restore procedures available to all customers. If you build and sell PCs then I would keep a db of the licenses so in case they loose it; your covered. I usually have a DVD/USB HD that stores all the drivers and major OS Patches to reduce time. I usually get the PC make and model before working on it, so I can have the restore disk already on-hand…then all you have to do is capture their old data and reload.

  • Larry F says:

    My policy is to tell the customer that if the cost of repair is less than 1/3 to 1/2 (depending on the system) of buying a new system with similar characteristics, then it’s worth fixing. If it costs more than that, it’s better to replace.

    First off, setting an upper limit gives a reasonable price ceiling for both you and your customers. Second, it gives you a chance to put in your bid for the repair, and if you’re in business, you don’t want to tell your customers “go buy a new system” when you can fix their old one. If you do, you won’t be in business long.

    Same for reinstalls. OS reinstalls are the bread and butter of any computer shop. When my customers ask me why they should let me do the job instead of them just using their recovery disks, I give them this answer: There is nothing stopping you from doing that, but I can back up your data more thoroughly than the average person knows how to do, and if you’ve lost data, there’s a good chance that I can recover it for you.” All true, and completely honest.

    Why reinstall instead of removing malware? Because malware removals fail more often than not. The symptom(s) the customer knows about is often just the tip of a very nasty iceberg, and malware hidden by a good rootkit can be virtually impossible to eliminate, especially if it modified OS system files. From experience, I know that it’s likely that a malware removal will see that same customer back in the shop a few days later with all of the bad stuff, because removing the symptom didn’t do a thing about that trojan downloader hiding behind a rootkit.

    Add that to the fact that many malware programs seriously damage the OS, and you can understand why I NEVER guarantee a malware removal will fix a computer. If I “nuke and pave”, to borrow the term, I guarantee the service for 30 days.

    Finally, a thorough malware removal (finding and eliminating all the malware, not just the one symptom) as often as not takes much longer than a reinstall. It’s more time efficient to reinstall, and that’s one of the selling points I use when explaining the services to my customers.

  • I always give it a good hour of trying to remove a problem before I recover the data and reinstall, unless I already know its futile.

  • Jacob Brown says:

    even if you make less money, i’ve found that being honest and looking out for your clients will turn out better than taking them for all they have. Actually, the majority of my 1st time clients call me back within 2 weeks to have me do additional work – I don’t think they would do that if I were taking advantage of them. Plus the referals when they’re happy about you taking such great care of them.

  • Arlington says:

    With regards to reinstalling the OS if the customer doesn’t have their original reinstalling disc. I asked them to install Belarc so I can run and get the serial key for their OS and software. I then use an original operating system disc and use their key to activate. When possible always run DriverBackup to reduce the time to install the computer drivers. Always run virus scans off any files taken off an infected computer.

  • Jonathan H says:

    Agreed. I do the initial scan, and see what virus have infected the PC. If it is something severe I suggest getting the data off the hard drive to flash drive (scanning it on my laptop) and reinstalling the O/S. I tell them its better to just start fresh, then try to get rid of all the virus and repair what they have damaged.