Between personal and business uses, the nine computers in the Shaw household get little downtime.
"My wife does medical transcriptions, and I have an online radio show, and I do podcasting," said Tim Shaw.
That heavy computer use also has resulted in frequent problems—from an onslaught of viruses to failed hard drives.
But the Shaws don't replace their faulty machines, they repair them.
"We really work our PCs to death, so if we had to replace them every time we had a problem, we'd go broke," Shaw said.
Computers slowed by malware or not functioning due to spent hard drives can be addressed by local technicians at costs lower than buying new machines.
"Not that I'm cheap or anything, but it's so much better to have it repaired than buy new," said Shaw, who services his computers at Computer SOS in Cheektowaga. "It's so much more economical."
While the average PC can cost about $500, common repairs run from $100 to $300.
"It's tempting to just throw it out and start with a new machine," said Jon Rosen, owner of Jon Rosen Systems in Amherst. And many do due to a lack of awareness of the option or trust in technicians.
"I think a lot of people don't know where to go and are skeptical about computer repair," he said.
Servicing a computer not only addresses the pesky problem, it often includes comprehensive testing of hardware and software and the installation of anti-virus protection, along with needed updates and setting adjustments, increasing the savings and improving performance, he said.
"It's a holistic approach," said Rosen, whose business is located on Sheridan Drive. "We do everything to make your machine run faster and better."
Most recently, one of Shaw's computers refused to turn on and was revived by the installation of a new hard drive at Computer SOS on Cleveland Drive. It cost $190.
"To replace that desktop it would have been $650, so it was much cheaper to get it fixed," Shaw said."
But local experts say the value of the computer should be weighed against the costs of the repairs to determine if service is cost-effective.
D. Scott LaBounty, service manager at Computer SOS, encourages customers to apply the rule of thirds. "The repair costs should not exceed 30 percent of the cost to replace the computer," he said.
Rosen said the condition and worth of a computer should be judged by hours of use, not its age.
"It's less about age and more about performance," he said.
In certain cases, such as a faulty processor or a problematic motherboard, a new computer is the only option.
Repairs generally take a couple of days but due to various factors, like the type of problem and ordering parts, it can take longer.
"It's not unusual," said Rosen. "One of 10 computers takes 30 days to repair."
Online computer repair companies are considerably faster and cheaper than repair shops. They diagnose and repair problems remotely by connecting with computers via the Internet. But experts say it can be a useless service, especially when there's no Internet connection and the hard drive, which needs visual inspection, is the culprit.
Local technicians mostly service residential computers plagued by viruses and sidelined by hard drive failure.
"It's the biggest problem—malware, spyware, trojan horse," said Brian Farmer, who owns WNY PC Repair, a mobile business that makes house calls.
"In the past, you used to get viruses from visiting shady sites, but these days, you can get a virus from any website," he said. Pop-ups and spontaneous redirecting of websites are common signs of malware.
LaBounty said frustrated customers often drop in with infected machines, thinking all is lost. But it's usually not.
"If it's repairable, then it comes down to the cost factor," he said.
WNY PC Repair charges flat fees of $125 to $150 to remove viruses; it's $130 at Computer SOS and it's $100 at Jon Rosen Systems.
Rosen said most of his residential customers come in with hard drive issues.
"The hard drive is the most failure- prone component in the computer," he said, adding that, with enough use, all hard drives eventually will fail. Jon Rosen Systems can replace the traditional magnetic hard drives with a new solid state disk drive, which has improved performance and increased reliability, for $249. It's $199 for the installation of a magnetic hard drive.
Slowness and delayed starts are indicators of a bad hard drive. The hard drive stores files and when it fails, files can't be easily retrieved by owners, if at all. But technicians are able to pull data from hard drives.
Lately, the prices for replacing hard drives have dramatically increased due to flooding in Asia, which had made some replacement jobs no longer cost-effective, LaBounty said.
Replacing faulty components with used parts also can make repairs considerably cheaper.
Shaw typically visits Computer SOS three to four times a year, dropping off the latest machine afflicted by a virus.
"At one point, I was getting hit with viruses like every two weeks," he said. "I'd drop off the computer, and they'd sweep it out and I'd have it the next day."
Shaw said he's invested in higher-end computers so his repairs are still cost-effective.
"For what they charge me and for all the work they do, it's well within reason," he said.