A Day In The Life Of A PC Technician – Day 11


It’s over a year since I abandoned the shop and moved lock, stock and barrel into my alternative workshop and I’m pleased to report that the move has had very little negative impact on my work. If anything, my customers have been very supportive, even commenting that I’d be bonkers to pay for a shop at all, with all of its ancillary expenses. It’s also worth bearing in mind that inflation in this basket case economy was sitting at around 20% in April 2018, but today is languishing at a mouth-watering 56%. Still, it could be worse– Venezuela’s inflation reached 1.62 million % in March, knocking Argentina into third place behind Zimbabwe in the world inflation index, but I take little comfort from that nugget. Still, I rather enjoy the short commute from the kitchen, working with my bike within easy reach and having all my workshop tools readily available. In fact, I have more resources at my disposal than I had previously.

Where Have All My Icons Gone?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions by the older generation of customers that I serve, along with, “have I got a virus?”, when their PC won’t switch on. So the other day I visited an 82-year-old widow who appeared to have more than her fair share of PC problems, including two broken keyboards, no Internet access and general sloth-like behaviour of her computer. On entering the gloomy mansion, located opposite the president’s official residence, I was led upstairs to a small room (after nearly going head over heels on a stair rug), where I found her PC. Upon switching on, it began to grind through loading Windows Vista Ultimate, connected intermittently to the Internet and was generally a torture to use.

I must confess to having a soft spot for Vista, with all those desktop gadgets and shiny features. But the PC needed upgrading, in spite of the fact that the lady said she hated technology and only ever used “the damn thing” for news and sending email to her family in Italy– when she remembered. My suggestion that I would need to take the PC away to upgrade it and investigate her problems a little further was met by a withering look that I’ve seen many times before, with pleas of not to change things on her desktop because she liked things the way they were. What I forgot to do was take a snapshot of her desktop before backing up so that I’d know what to restore. However, when I set the machine up in the workshop, the first thing I did was to back up everything (including anything on her desktop), run a very lengthy test, concluding that her integrated LAN port was kaput.

It’s possible that a lightning strike damaged the port and so a PCI LAN card would need to be fitted. It was certainly a pleasant surprise to find that the case hadn’t been opened since December 2008 and in stark contrast to the many filthy PCs I come across, this machine was as good as new inside with barely a speck of dust to be seen. This Athlon 64 x2 5600+, mated with 4GB of RAM was pretty quick in its day and is no slouch in basic day to day activities in 2019.


With the PCI card fitted and working, I then formatted the drive and installed Windows 10, taking a gamble that it would automatically activate, which it did, running pretty quickly, all things considered. Then, whilst the machine was updating itself, I detected a smell of burning — that unmistakable electrical burning smell — looked around and saw smoke billowing from the back of the PC. I immediately unplugged it from the wall and discovered that a Molex-SATA adaptor to the DVD drive had overheated and melted. This is not the first time I’ve seen this and probably won’t be the last. Considering the age of the PC, I then fitted a new power supply having called her first for consent.

When I returned the PC to the elderly lady, the first thing she asked was, “Where have all my icons gone?” I was half-expecting this question and upon further questioning discovered that she used the quite atrocious webmail of her ISP as her only email, so I set up a Gmail account for her. I wasn’t able to fix her keyboard problems, one of which was wireless, so gave her one of mine that I’d had laying around and in the end, she appeared happy with the results, finally accepting that her PC definitely needed upgrading– even though she would barely ever use it. I left her house satisfied that I’d solved all her problems but got the impression that she’d be worrying over her lost icons for many months to come.

Linux To The Rescue — Again

A couple of weeks ago I got a call from a desperate-sounding fellow saying that his Sony all-in-one had stopped working and could I please rescue his hard drive. He was at his wits’ end because more than fifteen years of family photos could very well be lost forever and he had no cloud or another backup to fall back on.

It turns out that his brother had removed the hard drive and taken it to a PC repair shop where they’d told him that he’d need to take it to a hard drive recovery specialist where it would likely cost a fortune to put right. As far as he knew, the other PC shop hadn’t been able to gain access to the 1TB Seagate at all. If indeed they had even bothered– which I doubt, having had experience with charlatan PC shops in the area myself. The first thing I did was to connect his drive up with my work PC where the BIOS found it, but not Windows. I then booted my PC to WinPESE – a Windows 10 rescue shell, but the drive wasn’t recognised there either. A cup of tea then inspired me to try Linux Mint, since I’ve always had a lot of luck rescuing data in Linux and lo and behold, the disk was found.


Before booting to Linux Mint, I had considered booting to Ultimate Boot CD and running Seagate’s own Seatools from there, simply to establish the state of the drive. However, I thought it best to gain access to the drive first before it went completely belly up, so I cracked on with copying the customer’s nearly fifteen years of data, totaling around 50GB and hoping that nothing would go wrong. In the meantime, the customer acquired a new 1TB hard drive, which I partitioned in half, installed Windows 10 (which activated automatically) and then restored the backup from his external hard drive so that he’d have it in two locations for safety sake. Several days later, once the job was complete, I advised him that maybe he should consider a cloud backup such as Google Drive, OneDrive or DropBox since this had never occurred to him.

Still, I was content that I had managed to rescue all his family photos, he was a happy customer, although slightly lighter in the pocket as he left.

About the Author

Marc Thomas

Marc is an avid traveler, motorcyclist, entrepreneur, and gamer from Buenos Aires, Argentina. His interest in computers and technology began in the early 1990's when he was introduced by a friend to a Zenith Data Systems computer running DOS. In the years following he has experienced all versions of the Windows operating system, built hundreds of systems, and fixed many more for his customers. Marc also has an interesting forum you might like to check out at Argentina Expats

6 Comments

  1. Yes, I love how a lot of folks will say, “I only use it for looking things up & email”, to which I reply, “yes, that’s exactly what most of us use it for” – lol.

    I always get the impression they’re trying to keep their bill down by expressing just how much they can do without it (yet, they rang you?).

    I let people know about cloud storage, but most of them are just as well served with 2 external drives. The older folks I work with manage a copy/paste, but logging in and using/accessing cloud is just too much for a lot of them. It’s also an ongoing fee vs. a one-time purchase.

  2. After my father, who used a PC, passed away 10 years ago, my 82 year old mother wanted to learn how to use it for email and local weather radar. I gave her a laptop, showed her how to use Gmail and added a shortcut for the local weather radar. I used TeamViewer to provide “support” which was needed all too often.

    Fast forward 7 years and I replaced the laptop with Chromebook. Similar enough that she understands how to use it and stable enough that my “support” is rarely needed. Now, at 92, she likes it a lot better than a PC. A Chromebook is a terrific option for those who don’t need the power or don’t want the complexity of a PC.

  3. Hello Marc. It seems there is much talk about backing up data to the cloud. I still prefer the save to disk and flash drive method, along with an external hard disk. Main reason is the instant access, though they are kept in a secure location from fire and flood. Would appreciate your thoughts on why the cloud is so much in the news, Mindblower!

  4. “installed Windows 10 (which activated automatically)”
    I have upgraded a few Vista era PC’s with W10, some did OK especially the Intel based processors but the AMD based processor where sometimes a problem.
    W10 would indeed activate and run, for a few days, but then would get a notification that “This Copy Windows Was Not Genuine”. Hope this does not happen with your customers PC.

  5. I find it strange that after removing a PC that had been operating for many years it “suddenly” developed a faulty power supply that needed replacement. Almost as good a meltdown as the economy.

    You glossed over that part quite quickly but I would want to know why it suddenly developed what could have been a catostrophic failure and taken out every electrical component in the case!

    • Thanks for your comment, R. Watson.
      I don’t believe I glossed over the smoke event, but I did say that I replaced the PSU as a precaution.
      The fault lay in the MOLEX/SATA adaptor as it literally melted.
      I also went on to say that it wasn’t the first time I had come across this problem, since these adaptor cables are prone to shorting out.
      I still have no idea why this occurred, but changing the PSU and removing any adaptor cables from the equation, was the best solution in my humble opinion.

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