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In for repair


When your computer's gone belly-up, you want service in a language you understand. Kristen McQuillin monitors the options in Tokyo.

Stepping on your computer is a sure way to take a trip to the repair shop: a cracked LCD renders a laptop utterly useless. When that laptop is an old Mac with more miles than memory and runs an English OS, disqualifying it from the capable hands of many Japanese-only service shops, where do you turn? Your options are limited, but not impossibly so.

Hardware the hard way
While most repair shops don't want to deal with language barriers imposed by English-speaking customers with English (or other language) operating systems, there is hope. GCS in Roppongi, for instance, performs repairs on PCs, charged on a per-project basis, and if repair isn't possible, sells English language computers, peripherals and other devices. "We can replace hard drives, but not broken displays…Generic PCs are fully repairable, as all the parts are standard and can be replaced easily," says GCS technician Harvinder Johar.

Another shop with some willingness to work in English is NCR's Quick Garage, with several locations around Tokyo. Gordon Jolley, commenting on the Tokyo PC Users Group newsgroup, is optimistic about Quick Garage's service: "The one I have used (too often) has had guys who loved to struggle in English. Located at the southeast corner of [route] 246 and Kyu Yamate Dori near Shibuya, they have given good service at reasonable prices and on English OS machines." Beware, however, since not all Quick Garage outlets are eigo-friendly - a phone call to Quick Garage in Akihabara, for instance, made to enquire about repairs for a laptop monitor, yielded a resounding "No English OS."

In fact, most of the major electronics department stores in Akihabara do not repair computers, and those that do service only the ones that were purchased at their store. To find a repair shop in Akihabara, you'll need to tour the labyrinth of tiny shops and side streets. Sigi Rindler, "Mr. Akihabara" for the Tokyo PC Users Group, warns: "I doubt that most of these shops are honest with people who don't know about computers. Many take advantage and overcharge you for everything. They can easily exchange parts which are still OK."

Super users
Don't despair. There are other ways to get your computer fixed. You probably already know someone who can help you. Every office has a "super user" who spends his or her free time upgrading and tweaking their computer system. But if you don't have a super user at hand, your Internet service provider may have a suggestion for you. In Tokyo, Hunter Point Online recommends Malcolm Richards. "Malcolm works out of his apartment near Uguisudani. He can explain in simple language what your PC problem is. He also loves talking about electronics, and he's happy to talk shop with anyone - even newbies like me," says Berenice Chong, who recently used Richards' service.

Another source of referrals is a local computer club. Tokyo PC Users Group, Ringo Mac Users Group, or the Tokyo Linux Users Group might know someone who can assist you. "The TPC has a couple of members and visitors who are involved in troubleshooting, building new computers, upgrading, etc.," Sigi Rindler notes. Keith Wilkinson, a super user and member of Tokyo PC Users Group, describes a typical situation. "I help people with PC and Mac problems, though I do have a full-time job, so the help has to be on a 'time-available' basis."

Milo Parsons of Milo's Dream Machine takes another approach. "While I do, with some frequency, system repairs, OS and application software installs and updates, my primary orientation is the human side of the equation, consulting, packaging and teaching."

Go your own way
Learning to patch up your own computer may not be as difficult as you think. Many computer repairs involve a straightforward replacement of the broken part for a new one. Armed with the exact specifications for the part you need, shop for it in Akihabara or even on the Internet. After several trips to some of the more esoteric Mac parts stores, the Internet offered up, via eBay, a functional display for our laptop.

Installing the new part can be as simple as opening up your computer case, exchanging parts, saving all the screws, and keeping track of which wire goes where. Sometimes repairs can be a bit trickier. Replacing the laptop's display, for instance, takes a few hours of delicate work. But while the DIY approach will demand time and patience, in Tokyo it might be faster than trying to find an English-friendly repair shop.

Resource list
Technicians

NCR Quick Garage Mac/PC 5459-0919 http://www.gssltd.co.jp/ 
GCS Limited PC 3403-0956 http://www.gsclimited.com 
Milo Parsons Mac 6644-0911
Malcolm Richards PC 3872-4996
Keith Wilkinson Mac/PC pf2k-wlkn@asahi-net.or.jp 

Websites

Tokyo PC Users Group http://www.tokyopc.org
Ringo Mac Users Group http://www.ringo.net 
Tokyo Linux Users Group http://www.tlug.gr.jp 

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