A few days ago, my one and a half year old Acer laptop developed a display problem (I think). The system would boot to a display littered with small lines and then freeze. I have a Acer 4520 service guide that is supposed to be standard issue to the Acer service centers. This guide didn’t help mainly because I didn’t have the tools to analyze any of the electronic. I therefore did not even attempt to open the laptop.
So I contacted the nearest Acer service centre and told them that I would be gracing their office with my presence. They were quite unimpressed. Apparently this was a regular thing for them. So I rushed over to the service centre right after office, dumping my Acer into my office Dell laptop bag. The service centre itself was in the basement of a building, the approach road to which was so difficult to locate that I had to circle around the place 3 times.
The service centre “engineer” took my laptop and opened it up to confirm the fact that it had 4GB of RAM rather than the standard 1GB that the model ships with. Although I am quite certain that if I had simply replaced the sticker on my 2 x 512MB chips with the 2 x 2GB chips, he really wouldn’t have known the difference. Hence, the air-quotes on engineer. So they tagged the laptop and I was told, much to my surprise, that I would have to leave the carry bag. I told them that it was my office bag and not a personal one that I could just leave here and there, and besides it had a lot of stuff in it. The lady making the entry simply pointed to a sign that read “NO LAPTOP WILL BE TAKEN WITHOUT CARRY CASE”. I attempted to tell them that I usually carry the laptop in a largish plastic bag. They didn’t believe me. In the end I had to put my bag contents in a plastic bag (ironic, isn’t it) and leave my Dell carry bag with them.
Another thing that I had requested them to do for me was to copy one folder of images and one Openoffice spreadsheet from my Linux mint partition to their HDD and give it to me the next day. This was apparently new to them, because they were apparently adept at running data recovery activities (chargeable) but not sure if they would be able to simply copy a folder and a file from my, perfectly fine, laptop HDD. I even offered to tell them how it could be possibly done, but The “engineer” didn’t seem to realize how ridiculous he sounded, so I didn’t push it. After all ignorance is bliss. They said that they would get back to me in a few days (not one day or two days) with a diagnosis and estimated charges.
In a “few days” (five days, and many follow-up calls in between) they told me that there was a problem with the on-board Nvidia graphics chip and that they would have to replace the whole motherboard. The cost would be 12500 rupees. Roughly 45% of what the laptop cost me in the first place. I inquired if the chip could be replaced? I was vehemently told that it would not be possible. In fact, this was told to me with a heightened level of enthusiasm that was missing in our interactions thus far. I had assumed that a chip of that size and prominence could definitely be replaced and so I prodded the “engineer” with more questions. Are you sure its not some other part? Are you sure it can’t be replaced? Are you sure you are an ENGINEER? Well not the last one, but many more. There was a silver lining though. He said that the folder and file I had requested them to copy for me had been successfully copied. I was dumbstruck to know that they had achieved that after their initial reaction. Maybe they discovered a new menu in their data recovery software. In any case, I was happy that my recent trip out of town pictures were safe since I had not had an opportunity to back them up else where.
I told them that I did not want the laptop to be repaired and that I would be coming to pick it up presently. They sounded quite disappointed on the phone. Their disappointment was also very visible when I reached the service centre. So much so that, they were probably thinking of changing the diagnosis to something less ominous. I was having none of that and I retrieved my broke laptop from them right under their longing stares. I felt that they were either lying about the problem or were genuinely inept at getting to the real problem. I felt that they could have just replaced the chip but didn’t want to. I was charged a 750 rupees servicing charge, which was small reward for the 12500 rupees diagnosis.
After picking up my laptop from the Acer service centre, I went straight to the guy from whom I had bought the laptop18 months ago. He had an Acer showroom when I met all those months ago, which quickly transformed to a Fujitsu and Toshiba showroom and is currently a Sony Vaio showroom. Something to do with margins that the companies offer. He said that he would look at the laptop and tell me in one working day as to what the problem was and how much it would cost to fix. This was on a Saturday and he almost kept his word by giving me the diagnosis on Tuesday. His diagnosis, there are some parts on the motherboard that need to be replaced and it would cost me 3500 rupees to fix them up. I said that I was on my way to pick it up right then!
When I got to his showroom, the laptop was working fine and I tested it for the next 15 minutes before deciding that it was actually fixed. I asked him what the problem was and he said something about the MOSFET misbehaving and developing a leak. I had no idea what he was talking about but since he had fixed my laptop in one forth of the cost, I really didn’t feel like complaining. I asked him how the Nvidia chip was doing and whether it was replaceable. He said there was no problem with the chip and that they could easily replace it provided they could get the part.
I paid them the money they deserved and left feeling quite happy with myself. After all I had just saved anywhere from 9000 to 30000 rupees depending on whether I would have repaired the laptop at the Acer service centre or whether I would have preferred to buy a new one. I felt like driving down to the Acer centre and rubbing my fixed laptop in their faces and repeatedly calling them “engi-nincompoops” with lots of air-quotes thrown in for effect. I decided against this as there would be only one of me and a lots of them there and you know how mobs react. Totally unpredictable. Plus they could actually spoil my laptop this time. And I would be quite screwed then. I am still thinking of calling them though. Lets see how the weekend progresses.
I had learned my lesson while dealing with an electronics service centre. Always get more than one opinion if the price to fix something seems too high. Don’t believe the service engineers if you don’t want to. Question them till they are confused and don’t ever let them lure you in with a sad face.