Computer repair: Prepare your PC for a trip to the shop

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Credit: Photo: Chris Barylick

Peggie Oliver needs to send her computer out for repairs. She wants to know what she should do with it first.

Your computer contains important information, much of it private. The people who will repair it may need to alter Windows, which generally requires access to your password-protected administrator account. They're probably honest, but you can't count on that. And even if they're honest, they may still wipe your hard drive out of necessity or incompetence.

But with the right precautions, taking your PC on a service trip shouldn't result in a disaster.

[Have a tech question? Ask PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector. Send your query to answer@pcworld.com.]

Put important files in the cloud: If you plan to work while the PC is in the shop, make sure that the files you need for your current projects are in the folder for your Dropbox, OneDrive, or other cloud-based storage account. That way, the files will be easily accessible on another computer. And any changes you make to those files on that other computer will be synced to your real PC automatically when you get it back.

Backup: Next, create an image backup of your hard drive or SSD. That way, if the professionals wipe your hard drive and reinstall Windows from scratch, you can restore all of your data files. And if they really mess things up, you can restore Windows to the way you had it set up before you sent it to them.

But be warned: If they had a good reason for reinstalling, restoring everything from the image backup could restore the problem that caused the necessity for repair in the first place. Check with the repair people to see if they think this is a good idea.

I recommend you use EASEUS Todo Backup Free and an external hard drive for the backup.

Protect sensitive files: You probably have files that you don't want people to see. These include bank and credit card statements, tax forms, or anything that might embarrass you.

You should either encrypt these files or remove them securely. (You do, after all, have them backed up.)

Make your PC accessible: The repair people will probably need to boot your PC. Rather than giving them the password on a piece of paper, disable Windows' logon password.

Don't assume they know the problem: Yes, you told them what was wrong on the phone, but that doesn't mean the message got to the right people. Write a detailed description of your problem.

Save the file in the Start menu's Startup folder, which you can do by entering the path %appdata%\microsoft\windows\start menu\programs\startup\ into the File Name field. That way, the file will load automatically when you boot.

Then print the file and tape the hard copy to the body of your computer.

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