We who work at PCMag.com are constantly bombarded by friends and relatives for help with their computers, software, and gadgets—and of course we’re happy to help, gratis. But what can you do if you’re not personally acquainted with someone in the tech industry? You can take advantage of a professional tech support service like those included in this roundup—Geek Squad, iTOK.net, and iYogi. You most likely won’t have to take or send your PC anywhere—these services use remote-control software to get in and clean up, tune-up, or set up your hardware and software.
Testing tech support services is a grueling process: You have to set up the problem PC, software, and devices, you have to choose and purchase an account, and then engage in several actual support calls to experience a cross-section of the company’s staff. Then you have to reconfigure the test PC back to the state it was in for the next service. Because of all this, we homed in on just the top three providers: Geek Squad, iTOK.net, and iYogi. In fact, none of the four services we tested several years ago in addition to these three still exists.
Pricing can be a tricky matter for tech support services: Most offer both one-incident pricing and subscription pricing. If you’re a frequent but inexpert technology user, the subscription pricing makes the best sense, especially when the service includes a security software subscription. Here’s a comparison of the tested services’ pricing options for a single incident, the first year of a subscription, or subsequent years:
|Tech Support Service Pricing|
|Single Incident (Minimum)||First Year Plan||Subsequent Years of Plan||Number of PCs Covered/Cost for Additional||Includes Security Software?|
|iTOK.net||$49.99||$519.87||$419.88||3/$19.99 per mo.||Yes|
Note that the single incident price here is the minimum, usually for a PC tune-up or hardware device installation; more difficult tasks like data recovery will run this up into the hundreds. Note also that iTOK has lower-priced subscriptions, too, but, with those, you still have to pay for each service call.
How We Tested
My test plan for these services involved at least three separate support sessions; that way, I not only tested for different kinds of problems, but I also got a sample of several technicians for each service. I presented three challenges of decreasing difficulty. The first, malware cleanup, was the most important from the standpoint of what users need in these services. I loaded up a Windows 8 laptop with 15 samples of rogue system protection software, unwanted browser add-ins, and other nasties and ask the service to clean it up. The same set of problem software was reproduced for each support vendor by re-imaging the PC using O&O DiskImage 8.
In the second support call, I asked the technician to help me with a non-functioning iTunes installation. Finally, in the third and easiest session, the task was to set up a biometric health monitoring wristband device that didn’t have the necessary software installed.
How the Services Fared
So what do you get for your hard-earned cash? In my challenge tests of these services, I found that all of them were staffed by people who knew their way around a computer. But the processes, depth of the repair software tool arsenal at their disposal, and determination to drive through to a satisfactory result differed among them.
Every one of the services exhibited shortcomings, and occasionally failed me. The good thing about subscribing to one of these large services, however, is that if one technician doesn’t complete the task, you can call back as many times as you like until the problem is behind you. One tech amusingly said “You can call me 100 times a day if you like!”