TV Station runs sting to show how clueless Fire-dogs & Geek Squad are. Was test fair?

Here’s the clip. I’m not much of a techie anymore, but I do know enough to get buy and quite frankly a hard drive that’s been effectively disabled in the BIOS setup would be one of the* last* things I would ever suspect or check for if diagnosing a malfunctioning notebook.

Not that I think Fire-dogs or Geek Squad are wildly savvy, but I do think this was really kind of an unfair test where the station is representing it as a simple, easily diagnosed problem. If you knew where to look that’s true, but you would almost never run across this error condition (hard drive boot sequence deliberately defeated in BIOS) in a modern notebook.

It would be like seeing that a notebook wouldn’t hold a charge, and checking to make sure no one put scotch tape over the battery terminals. It’s just not a scenario that you see. It’s just kind of a stupid test of PC expertise IMO.

Well, one of the first things a good tech would do is talk to the customer, and ask them how it was working before, and what were you doing just before it stopped working.

If the hard drive was turned off in the BIOS, then it probably had never been working. Or it was working, until the customer started messing around with BIOS settings (possibly unintentionally).

So it depends.

If the tech failed to ask questions like that, he’s not a very good tech.

If he did ask those questions, but the station had the supposed customer give false or just misleading answers, then the station was setting up the tech to fail. (Though a really good tech never quite trusts these answers anyway, since people often lie, or just don’t know enough to answer correctly.)

But would a user who knows enough to access the BIOS even use a service like Geek Squad or Firedog? While I have little love for these two “computer repair services”, this test doesn’t seem fair.

Hell, I remember when I rolled out the last batch of new computers where I work I was constantly turning on and turning off hard drives in the BIOS to add files to the new machines with Ghost. I even forgot to turn one back on once and it took me hours to think to check the BIOS even though I knew what I was doing.

It’s possible. Imagine a clueless-but-curious user (the most dangerous kind of user) turning on his computer one day, noticing the message “Press DEL to enter SETUP” and saying to himself “Hey! I wonder what that does.”

Regardless of whether or not the test was fair, it was pretty messed up for the one tech to claim the drive was clicking when it wasn’t and try to charge the customer for a new drive ($80 drive + $40 drive install + $129 OS reinstall).

And it was downright stupid for the other “tech” to say that the drive was working fine (how the hell would he know if it was disabled?) and it just needed an OS reinstall.

If you can’t fix the problem, admit it. Don’t lie about it. That’s the most damning part of the story, IMHO.

I fix computers all the time at work for a small company (though mostly software-related problems), and though I won’t think of the BIOS first, I wouldn’t think of replacing the Hard Drive until I’d exhausted my options.

They don’t say in the report exactly what error message they were getting, but my guess is you’d find out very early in the boot sequence that something was wrong if the hard drive was missing.

However, I don’t work in retail, and those services make their money selling more stuff, and quickly resolving problems, as opposed to small business it where its more about making the most of what hardware you have. Saying the drive was working fine, I agree is very stupid. Its obvious its not working at all in that case.

My knowledge of computer hardware wouldn’t quite fill a thimble. But this just sounds like a line of crap.

But installing a new hard drive and/or OS would “fix the problem” in that the customer would have a working computer. It’s just not a minimal cost solution.

I’m savvy enough to work through things like this (I recently went through BIOS settings and opened up the case to resolve my son’s computer periodically freezing up as due to the CPU/bus clock speed settings not matching the CPU itself – someone had tried to “overclock” it in a half-assed way :confused: :eek: ), yet I have some mild sympathy for them. Their services are billed to serve neophytes and casual users. I don’t think any medium- to large corporations would ever put their server maintenance on these guys (though I guess small businesses may have no other option). Their training and expertise probably cover 90% of the problems out there with close to minimum cost solutions (registry errors, viruses or malware, driver problems), and most bootup device errors are due to hardware failure, since they’re assuming their customer isn’t the kind to open up the case and plug the ribbon cable back in with the 1 pin aligned on the wrong side (which I’ve done by accident, and then scratched my head when the CD-ROM drive made funny clicking sounds and didn’t boot).

I agree that a good tech starts with a review of “what did you do with the system since the last time it worked”. If the sting operation did not tell them “I hit DEL on system startup…” then I would object that it is not really a fair test of their service as advertised.

I guess it would depend if the drive had the MBR, or if it was a slave drive as to how obviously the problem shows up. Either way it should be noticeable during boot up. But you won’t get too far if the MBR isn’t available…

If I got a call that a hard drive wasn’t working the first thing I would check is to see if the cables were well seated, the second thing I would check is if I could boot into safe mode. Then I would check the BIOS - Occam’s Razor and all that.

In that case it was, of course, but a dying/dead hard drive making a clicking sound is not uncommon at all. If you start hearing that sound coming from one of your drives, back your data up as fast as you can.

You can’t install anything on the drive if it’s not enabled, so no, that wouldn’t fix the problem. Same deal if you disabled the IDE channel and installed a new hard drive on the same one, though that would probably make even the most clueless tech start poking around in the BIOS and figure out the problem.

True enough if the information is withheld it isn’t fair, however I still think that it is an easy enough thing to figure out.

TV stations run this sort of test all the time. And every single time, the Geek Squad ends up charging more than is necessary to make the repair. Every. Single. Time.

Clicking refers to the read head being moved around over and over, because the disk is no longer readable. A drive doesn’t do that unless it’s shot. Obviously the tech lied or actually didn’t know enough to tell a starting hard drive from a shot one.

The Bios is the place I go to relatively early to check for bad settings.

Nah, they charge exactly the amount that is necessary to effect the repair, when you take into account the overhead costs of network television advertising; branded late-model vehicles; an enterprise-level website; their toll-free number; and an army of middling-ability, middling-wage monkeys and the campy uniforms that cover their loathsome, spotty behinds.

Anybody that uses their service makes a tacit agreement to subsidize all that.

…and yes, the BIOS settings are just about the first place I’d look if a hard drive “vanishes,” not because you expect it to be deliberately disabled, but because it’s one of the things you can check.

As I don’t go around disabling hard drives in my bios, would the drive appear when the computer is turned on and POSTs? Or would you see no drives? I learned one of my disk drives was not functioning (loose cable) when I didn’t see it appear at boot-up.

If the drive doesn’t appear at boot up, then check the connections first, bios second, IMO.

The TV stations are just expanding the approach they use to perform stings on auto repair shops. The rules are simple:

Create a problem that sounds easy to identify but that virtually never occurs in real world use.

Enlist a “technical expert” whose judgment is laughable to the real experts, but who looks and sounds good.

Scathingly criticize any shop that doesn’t find the source of the problem almost immediately.

Categorize any repair fee that is more than, oh let’s say, free :stuck_out_tongue: , as overcharging.

Diligently leave out any exculpatory or explanatory information.

I didn’t even watch the clip. How’d I do? :slight_smile:

Oh, I see – they disabled the IDE connection itself through the BIOS? That is funny. Yeah, I would assume “even the most clueless tech” would figure it out once installing a whole new drive still failed to get picked up. In which case the real bit of investigative reporting would be to see if they billed for the new drive plus OS and labor costs in that case, instead of doing the forehead smack thing.

I think this is a weird line in the story:

Like they were really happy for their “skilled technician” to have stumbled upon the right answer. “Yay! Good guess, guy!”

I think it’s a perfectly reasonable test. If I boot up a computer that doesn’t appear to see its hard drive, the first thing I’d check is the BIOS. Mostly because it’s the only thing you can do, apart from just blindly swapping out hardware.

It’s also pretty inexcusable for Best Buy to “diagnose” it as a bad hard drive without swapping in a known working drive to confirm that it’s not something like the motherboard.

When I take my car to the mechanic, I expect them to actually find the problem, not just guess and start randomly swapping out parts. Computer repair should be no different.


In my experience, people want their computers fixed, and they also want it to be cheap. Most of the time, blanket fixes are the most cost effective way to do it. A new hard drive + installation can be had for less than $150-$200. Spending 4-6 hours diagnosing what might be wrong with the old hard drive is going to run you the same amount or more.

Same thing with OS rebuilds. I’ve spent daaaaaays cleaning viruses off of computers. Reinstalling the OS is a couple hours and $100. Most non-techie people want that solution, not the 3-day $800-in-labor solution.

In both solutions, you have to re-set up your computer and you may lose data, but most home users are light users and it’s no big deal. Personally, I go for the more expensive/time consuming solutions, but I do it myself so it’s not an out-of-pocket expense.

(incidentally, I learned all this the hard way - I’ve spent HOURS fixing various relatives PCs only to learn afterwards that a new hard drive/OS could have been installed in 1/4 the time and they wouldn’t have cared a bit)

It does sound like an unfair test. I haven’t gotten into a BIOS in quite a while. I think that’s more of an old school late 90s test, as bioses began to auto-detect hard drives, the need to delve into the bios has been mitigated.