Downgraded, Upgraded, Dead-Graded and Led Astray

Downgraded, Upgraded, Dead-Graded and Led Astray

Today I had one of those strange experiences.

memoryI was called in to look at a computer that had recently been upgraded by one of the more prominent IT shops in town.

They had upgraded Bill’s hard drive (which had previously been a tiny 20 GB), and his memory — all at a very reasonable price.

Except… now the computer would suddenly and spontaneously reboot after running for about 8 to 10 minutes. Like clockwork.


Bill reported that he had taken it back to the shop where he’d gotten the work done, and they had duly inspected it and reported that they were unable to duplicate the problem. So what could they do, if they couldn’t duplicate the problem? Why, nothing. Sorry about that.

“It works fine for us.”

Strike One for the well-known local IT shop, for not being terribly helpful.

So Bill brought it back home and called me.

I went to Bill’s house, booted it up, and sure enough: 8 to 10 minutes after logon, bam! The computer suddenly reboots itself.

I spent about an hour and a quarter troubleshooting possible causes. It obviously had to be due to something at his house, since the other shop was completely unable to duplicate the problem at their location.

Finally after eliminating a bunch of possible causes, I said look, I’ll take it back to my office, along with your monitor, mouse and keyboard, and your old memory and hard drive, and I’ll test it there.

I hadn’t eliminated the the monitor, mouse or keyboard yet as possible causes, although I’d eliminated just about everything else. But another, more subtle and darker, suspicion was also beginning to creep up on me.

So I brought the computer back and first plugged it straight in using power from my own electrical outlet and NO peripherals at all from the customer’s house.

Guess what?

We had been working under a totally false assumption. The problem was EASILY reproducible outside of the customer’s home. In fact, EVERY SINGLE TIME I started it up here, I got the EXACT SAME behavior that it displayed at Bill’s house.

Hmmm. “We can’t reproduce” something the computer does every single time it starts? Strike Two for the well-known IT shop. Not looking good here.

Now I’m trying to give these guys the benefit of a doubt. But it’s really hard for me to see how they could’ve just missed a major problem that occurred like clockwork every single time I started the computer, no matter where I started it. I tested it at least 6 or 8 times, and got the exact same behavior 6 or 8 times in a row.

Their highly dubious “we can’t get it to do it” claim led us on a wild goose chase that involved extra expense for Bill, and unnecessary troubleshooting time for me.

Now I’m not complaining about having gotten the extra work, but I do prefer to earn my living by solving real problems for people instead of unnecessarily chasing after wild geese. And I always feel kinda bad for the customer in cases like this.

Okay, so WHY the problem? Well, the only things they had changed were the hard drive, which they’d cloned, and the memory upgrade to 512 MB memory (a low limit these days to max out at, but it was a fairly old computer, being one of the earliest XP systems, so I didn’t think that much of it.)

So in order to totally eliminate the new memory as a cause, I swapped the old memory back in, and guess what?

They had charged Bill nearly $100 to “upgrade” him from 768 MB to 512 MB.

And no, that’s NOT a typo. I kid you not.

When I told the customer, he laughed. Which shows you the kind of guy he is. Personally, I probably would’ve been a bit hacked off. Not Bill. Good guy.

Strike Three for the well-known local IT shop.

My wife asked me whether I thought it was a mistake or outright fraud. Not likely to be fraud, I said. If it had been fraud, they wouldn’t have handed him back his old memory that was more megabytes than the memory they installed. They would’ve probably handed him back a couple of 64-meg sticks to make it look like he had only had 128 MB when he walked in.

Still, the mistake was made worse by the fact that he started with one 512 meg stick and one 256 meg stick. Let’s assume that these guys meant to put in two 512 meg sticks and upgrade the customer to the maximum 1 gigabyte that I found his computer could handle.

Unless I’m really missing something here, there shouldn’t have been any need at all to replace a 512 meg stick with another 512 meg stick, at a cost to the customer. The existing 512 meg stick had been happily running in the computer for years, and would probably keep running just great for the rest of the computer’s lifetime.

Why not just swap out the single 256-meg stick for a 512-meg stick? That would’ve done it.

In other words, even if their plan had gone correctly, it was still a bad plan from the beginning. It involved trading a 512-meg stick for a virtually identical 512-meg stick, and charging the customer for doing so. That’s nonsense to start with.

But as it was, they’d done even worse. They had swapped out a perfectly-runningĀ 512-meg stick and a perfectly-running 256-meg stick for two new 256-meg sticks.

Strike Three and a Half for the well-known local IT shop. At least.

So to wrap up my testing, I swapped in the old hard drive, and sure enough, the computer ran again with no reboots.

So unless something is faulty with the new drive itself (all indications are not), their cloning of the old drive onto the new drive has somehow created a problem that causes the reboots.

In other words, their solution — clone the old drive to the new one and stick it back in — didn’t actually work.

That’s worth maybe half a strike. Maybe less, but they were really pushing four strikes pretty hard already.

So we’re at Strike Four for the well-known local IT shop. All on one job.

Having done my part (which was to find out just what the heck was going on here), I returned the computer to Bill so that he can now take matters up with the guys who swapped out his hard drive and his memory.

They did two things to his computer, and neither worked. I’m still shaking my head over this.

But wait… there was one positive here.

At the time they did the work, these guys were out of stock on the 160-GB hard drive that they would’ve normally replaced the old 20-GB drive with. So instead, they gave Bill a great big huge 500-GB drive.

So Bill’s computer hardly works at all now, but when he does eventually get it running again, he’s going to have all the space he could ever wish for.

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