It’s the New Year! Time to Form Some Good Tech Habits

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What with the multitude of devices and accounts we are all constantly juggling, it can be easy to slip into less than secure habits with personal accounts, information, and data. That’s why it’s a great idea at the new year to make good resolutions for our technological lives. Here are a few suggestions for you to choose from!

Weak Passwords

It’s a temptation for us all: reuse the same password on every single site we visit. Sure, it’s easier to remember, but it also leaves every single account open to the same hacker. We recommend using a password manager. Some of the best are paid, but even Google offers strong password suggestions and will save them for you. Just sign out of your browser if you choose this option

 Otherwise, someone who accesses your device can simply use autofill to log into your accounts. 

Leaving Your Devices Unlocked

As a logical extension of the previous point, instituting locks on your phones, tablets, and laptops can also be a great new habit for the new year. Yeah, it’s a bit more trouble to check Facebook if your phone needs a PIN or face recognition, but it also means that if you accidentally leave your phone behind, no one can get in to snoop around. 

Sharing User Accounts

On that note, no sense suffering if your family or friends forget to implement the above advice! For personal devices that you may share with others, like laptops and PCs, make sure that any guests get their own accounts. Secondary accounts on operating systems are easy to set up and ensure that other users can’t make any mistakes with your files or access administrator privileges, and all your information and data remains secure. 

Forgetting to Update Software

Sometimes it can seem like software companies want us to constantly update and download software, and use more space on our drives for operating systems, etc. However, some of those software updates are actually meant to keep users safe from potential security issues, not to mention these updates also fix bugs, add new features, and improve performance. Yeah, it can mean being forced to shut your device down periodically to install updates, but we recommend taking a coffee break during the fifteen-minute maximum an operating system might need to update, and then enjoying a smoother, safer user experience with your device. 

Failing to Back Up Data

We’ve all had it happen: you are working hard on a project, something goes wrong with a device, and suddenly everything is gone and you have to start over. To avoid the frustration, take a minute to go through your programs to turn on the auto-save feature, and then a few more minutes to connect your data to a cloud service. Even just Google Drive or iCloud can be sufficient and save you from big headaches when the inevitable tech glitches come. 

Sometimes, though, no matter what good habits you develop around passwords, data, and software, a device shuts down without warning or the hardware goes haywire. In those situations, give ComputerCare a call. We are always here to help!

Your Phone’s Lifespan is Five Years – Here’s How to Keep it Going!

        

Due to the lifespan of cellphone data contracts (generally two years), many people replace their phone every two years. However, if one of your New Year’s resolutions for 2020 is to take better care of the environment, one good step to take is to keep your cellphone for its entire lifespan. In 2015, research found that the average smartphone lasts almost five years (4.7, to be exact), but we all know that in reality the battery slows down, the screen cracks, the accessories disappear. So, if you are determined to keep your cellphone going for four years or beyond, read on.

Keep it Clean

As long as our phones still have buttons and internal hardware, they are in danger of getting pretty gummed up, especially as they live inside of our purses and pockets – not to mention our hands. For the surface, you can use a microfiber cloth and cotton swabs to get off some of the accumulated grime. If really necessary, a little isopropyl alcohol can also help, but be sure to keep it away from the various ports that lead to the inner workings. If you want to keep an eye on those parts, please swing by one of our shops, since we can easily open up your phone and make sure everything is clean and dry inside.

Baby Your Battery

Another challenge of keeping your phone alive for five whole years (basically eternity, in the case of tech devices!) is the issue of battery life. All device batteries are designed with a lifespan of a certain number of charges (somewhere between 300 and 500). That means if you constantly recharge your battery to 100%, you could be dramatically decreasing the battery’s overall longevity. Even if you do kill your battery accidentally, though, you can always get inside the phone and replace it, or if that makes you nervous, you can bring the phone to us for expert service.

Think about the Accessories

One part of keeping your phone alive is keeping track of charging cords, headphones, and even cases. The older your phone gets, the harder it is to replace these things. If you lose the charging cord for a three-year old phone, you might not be able to replace it if newer devices have a different charging port. Then it’s time to say goodbye to a perfectly good phone. However, a good phone repair store has access to more hardware than even the internet does, so you can also call us if you need a replacement accessory to see what we can do.

Treasure Your Screen

Of course the most fragile part of any phone is the touchscreen. While you can replace broken screens, in many cases phone insurance companies simply exchange the whole phone for a replacement, which defeats the purpose of keeping your phone alive to avoid e-waste. We recommend always using a case to safeguard against those times when your phone seems more slippery than a bar of soap. We also recommend taking a broken screen to a qualified phone repair service (like ours!), as we may be able to help you actually replace it, instead of the whole device.

In short, while it’s not completely simple to preserve your phone’s life for four-plus years, it’s also not impossible. And hey, who doesn’t like a good challenge! Help the planet and rock your phone from 2016 in 2020. If you need any help keeping it up to speed, just open a service ticket with us, and we can help you out!

Is Your Computer Slow Like a Glacier? Here Are Some Reasons Why

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One of the best feelings in the world of tech is getting a new laptop, booting it up, setting up your preferred environment on the device, and then enjoying its lightning fast speeds. Every program runs like a dream. No task takes more than a few seconds.

Fast forward a few years, though, and suddenly every task is laborious. Your computer freezes. Programs get stuck mid-process. You find yourself ending tasks a lot and losing work just so you can get unstuck and make progress again. This is the least enjoyable part of being tech-dependent, as we all know. What exactly makes it happen?

Overloaded Hard Drive

Before you bring your computer to a service like ComputerCare to ask why it has suddenly transformed into an electronic turtle, one thing to check is the number of programs installed on your device. Every program takes up a certain amount of space in your hard drive, so every time you add one, it leaves less room for your computer to perform other functions. By opening the list of installed programs on your computer and carefully reviewing it to see what is needed and what is not, you can clear up considerable space on your hard drive to allow it to operate more smoothly.

Insufficient RAM

While a program is actively running on your computer, it is constantly writing information to your random access memory (RAM) for quick and easy access. However, some programs may overwhelm your particular device’s memory capacity, especially if the program is newer and the computer is older. When there isn’t enough storage in the computer’s RAM, the program starts accessing the hard drive directly, attempting to write information there. This causes the hard drive to work overtime, which both wears it out faster and repurposes for fast access, which it is not optimized for. If you bring your device to a computer repair service to be checked, before assuming the problem is with your hard drive, you can ask your computer repair service if you are simply running out of RAM.

Old Age is Old Age, Even for Computers

In the end, though, any device will slow as it ages. This is somewhat less applicable to Solid State Drives (SSD), which do not have moving components, but for computers that work with Hard Drive Discs (HDD), the constant spinning of the components inevitably creates some wear and tear. The physical pieces and parts don’t run as smoothly, thanks to their age and constant use, so they start to slow down.

Often, though, a device’s lifetime can be considerably extended by replacing the hard drive with either a larger HDD or an SSD. If you are concerned about your computer’s slowness and want to chat with some experts, start a service ticket here at ComputerCare, so we can chat about the best options for improving your current device’s longevity, or else upgrading to something more suitable to your needs.

Understanding Your Computer’s Internal Hardware

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Here at ComputerCare it’s our job to think about the physical pieces and parts that make up your computer’s hardware. We talk in terms of RAM and cards and drives, but even while we’re spouting that jargon, we do realize that not everyone is quite as well versed in the anatomy of computers. That’s why we’re providing this handy guide to the main components so you can understand what we’re looking at when we diagnose your device. 

Motherboard

A computer is a complex connection of parts which all must communicate with each other in order to accomplish user commands. The component which allows for this crucial communication is the motherboard. Every physical piece of your device connects to the motherboard, which is why damage overheating in this critical component can lead to damage of other parts as well. You may also hear a technician refer to the logic board, which is the equivalent to a motherboard in smaller devices like phones and tablets.

Central Processing Unit (CPU)

Any device that processes information needs a brain, and in computers, this is the central processing unit. Other hardware and software in the computer send their commands and input to the CPU so it can interpret and execute them. Thus a CPU’s speed and number of cores are crucial in allowing your computer to multitask effectively. Due to how central the CPU is, bugs and flaws in its operation can cause system-wide problems that may require CPU-replacement.

Random Access Memory (RAM)

Continuing our brain metaphor, Random Access Memory is the hardware piece in your computer that works like human short-term memory. Any information or data that’s being actively used and created by programs on your device is stored for easy access in the RAM component. This allows for smooth, fast operation of your computer’s tasks. For this reason, if anything goes wrong with your RAM, you may find that your programs no longer work quickly, since they have to access information from the Hard Drive instead. This also causes unnecessary wear-and-tear on the Hard Drive, so we always recommend replacing faulty RAM immediately.

Power Supply

This part of your computer receives AC current from external electrical sources and converts it to DC current (a continuous power supply) so that all the other hardware components can function without interruption. The power supply also regulates heat for your device, preventing overheating. A faulty power supply, therefore, can cause heat-based, mechanical problems for the rest of your computer’s internal parts.

Hard Drive (HDD) or Solid-State Drive (SSD)

The hard drive and solid state drive are two options in computer components which act as long-term memory storage for information and data. Whichever your computer uses, these drives serve as the main and largest storage device for your operating system, software, and files. Since the information is stored in a physical component, your computer can always access it, unlike RAM, which empties itself when not actively functioning. In the case of a hard drive, which is composed of moving parts, since the computer is constantly writing and reading information on it, it can wear out and start causing problems for program function. On the other hand, since a solid-state drive has no moving parts but performs the same function, it can offer greater stability and longevity for your device but costs considerably more.

Video Card

So that you can see what’s happening inside your computer, you need a dedicated card that sends graphical information to your monitor (or other screen). This video card attaches to the motherboard. Use of graphics-heavy programs or software (games, design programs, etc.) can overload the video card, causing problems with overheating or RAM access. 

If you’re seeing any problems with the above hardware components, you may want to talk to a computer service about upgrades, repairs, or other customizations. Contact ComputerCare today for helpful troubleshooting and advice!

So You Broke Your Phone Screen: What to Do Next?

        

Touch screen devices like phones and tablets are much tougher than they used to be. Phone screens are more durable, cases are more advanced, and there are many products you can use to add protection to your screens.

But the worst still happens: you drop your phone just right and crunch! Your screen cracks. What do you do next?

Assess the Damage

Is it a small crack, or totally smashed? Are you at risk for cuts if you try and use the screen? Assess the extent of the damage before trying to use your device. If it’s a minor crack, and the phone functions fine despite the damage, you may be able to get by until your contract runs out or you can get it repaired. If it’s serious, and your ability to use your phone is compromised, it’s time to figure out your next steps.

Back-up Your Data

It’s always a good idea to back your phone up regularly. We don’t get to plan when our phones are going to break, so being prepared is always the best option. But if the worst happens, and it’s been a while since your last back-up, try to complete one. If your screen is non-responsive, try completing a back-up with a computer.

Check Your Coverage

Does your protection plan cover accidental damage to your screen? If so, great! You should be able to get your phone repaired with low to no out of pocket cost. If screen damage is not covered, get a quote for the repair. Which brings us to the next question.

Repair or Replace?

Are you close to your next upgrade? Is the cost of repair more than the cost of replacing the phone? If your device is new enough, fixing the screen might make the most sense, but for older devices, or more extensive damage, replacing the entire device might be the better option.

No one likes dealing with a broken phone, but we’re here to help! If you’re in the Santa Clara or Seattle areas, ComputerCare handles warranty and non-warranty repairs. And all diagnostic fees are waived for Apple devices! Contact us to get started.

Ways to Waterproof Your Devices (and some pros and cons)

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As the weather warms up, and people emerge from their Netflix-bingeing hibernations, it’s time to go outside! That means your devices will be going outside as well, exposing them to a variety of potential hazards, including water. Whether it’s rain, the ocean, your favorite fishing hole, or that cold beer you’re enjoying on a patio, keeping your device from exposure to liquid is a must.

Here are some ways to waterproof your device (and some pros and cons to go along with them).

Waterproof Cases

Waterproof cases are very similar is size, shape, and function of a normal phone case, but provide waterproof capabilities.

Pros: Waterproof cases allow you to use your phone like you normally would: they provide you access to all the functions a normal case does. In addition to protecting your device from water, waterproof cases can also protect from dirt, sand, snow, food – you name it. Most waterproof cases are rated to a certain depth and a certain amount of time. In most cases of accidental submersion, a waterproof case will protect your phone (though it’s always good to check your case’s specific uses and limitations. Some brands don’t guarantee waterproofness, so make sure this is the case before buying).

Cons: While waterproof cases do let you use your phone like you normally would, they do have to fully cover your device. Because of this, they can make some of the finer gestures of a smartphone harder to recognize, and can make your voice harder to hear. Waterproof cases also don’t last forever. As they wear out, the waterproof capabilities of the case may fail over time, so it’s always good to check for cracks and leaks.

Waterproof pouches and dry bags

Waterproof pouches and dry bags are exactly what they sound like. They don’t enclose a device like a case, but are instead a waterproof bag you can keep your phone or device. Think a more sophisticated Ziploc bag.

Pros: If you prefer to go case-free most days, or don’t expose your device to water very often, you can protect your phone in and around water with a waterproof pouch or dry bag. Compared to a waterproof case (which can run you $40 to $100), they are much more affordable. Many pouches and dry bags float, and are rated for depths deeper than many waterproof cases, making them great for people who enjoy watersports.

Cons: Waterproof pouches and dry bags don’t come with the same drop or shock protection as a case, and they can be much bulkier. While many allow for you to use the touchscreen while in use, they aren’t as seamless as a case might be. Make sure you check for the submersion depth/time the bag or pouch is rated for – some products don’t disclose this information.

Waterproof and Water-Resistant Devices

Are you accident-prone? Do you drop your device all the time? Have you tried to save your soggy device in a bowl of rice more than once? Maybe it’s a good idea to switch to a waterproof or water-resistant device.

Many new phones and devices are much more water resistant that they used to be. The newest line of iPhones, for example, can survive submersion in 3 to 5 feet of water (depending on the model) for up to 30 minutes. These devices will come with a rating: IP67 or IP68. This rating will tell you how long and how deep the device can survive in the water.

Pros: No case necessary, so devices function like normal. You can apply one of the above methods for extra waterproofing.

Cons: While water-resistant, many devices can’t survive long in the water. Also, keep your water-resistant device away from the ocean. Many of the coatings used to achieve water protection don’t do as well with saltwater. These coatings are meant for accidental water contact, so use under water isn’t recommended (using buttons, for example, expose your device to damage).

And what happens if your device loses the battle with water? That’s why we’re here! If all else fails, we can help you fix that water-logged device. Learn more about our local services.

Please, Get a Password Manager Already!

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These days everyone should have a healthy fear of having their identity hacked, their credit ruined, and subsequently, becoming the object of shame from the technically-proficient in their lives. To avoid the heartache and ridicule, tech experts have been doling out the same advice for years now: “Get a password manager already!”

If you’re not one of the 3% of Americans that use a password manager as your primary method of storing passwords, you should be. Aside from avoiding the emotional duress of being hacked, here’s some other very functional reasons why a password manager is a great idea. Perhaps these will convince you.

1. You can store more than passwords.

Password managers can also keep your credit card info secure. Instead of allowing dozens of sites all over the web to remember your info to make your online shopping easy (and super vulnerable to all kinds of hackers), tell them no! Allow your password manager to make that process easier and more secure.

2. Manage Shared Accounts

Do you have a house NetFlix account? Share a credit card with your spouse? Use a smart home security system? What happens when one of you forgets a password? Do you reset it for everybody? How about at work? Do you manage accounts for clients? Password managers allow you to securely share logins and access without passing the Post-Its around.

3. Stop Caring

This one is huge. The mental overhead taken up by accessing and navigating our digital lives can be a real burden. How many times have you gotten a suspicious email from a friend or relative only to hear later that they had to change accounts because the couldn’t log back into their account? How embarrassing! With a password manager, you’ve got one simple thing to remember instead of dozens upon dozens. Take some stress out of your life!

4. Cultivate an Air of Technical Superiority

This one is perhaps the best. Everyone’s been telling you to use a password manager for years. Now YOU can be the one dispensing sage-like advice and turning up a scornful nose at your less proficient peers. Revel in your new found security and look down on the less secure with the enthusiastic disdain of a recently minted non-smoker. 🙂

If you’re considering a password manager finally, see PC Magazine’s review of the top ones here:
https://www.pcmag.com/roundup/300318/the-best-password-managers

Keep Your Data Safe

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Internet privacy is a big topic these days. As more and more companies and services conduct business exclusively online, the more we expose our personal data to the web. Protecting your data can be a daunting task, but here are some tips to get you started down the path of digital safety.

1. Passwords, passwords, passwords
One of the best ways to keep your data safe is to protect it with strong passwords. Make passwords at least 12 characters long. The longer the password the harder for data thieves to get access. And make sure to include numbers, capital letters, and symbols. Don’t use common phrases or number sequences or anything that can be easily guessed. And don’t use the same password for every account. Does remembering multiple passwords that fit this criteria sound like a daunting task? Consider using a password manager. Many use bank-level security to keep your account passwords organized and secure, and many will generate strong passwords for you.

You should also password protect your devices as well. As more and more people rely on phones and laptops for all of their sensitive data, they become an easy way to access that data. Make sure to keep devices locked with a password, or better yet, fingerprint recognition.

2. Utilize a privacy-focused web browser
There is big money in online advertisements. We’ve all seen those banner ads that follow us from site to site, showing us products that we may have searched for in the past. That’s because many websites use tools to track user information. Much of the time, it’s used for innocuous reasons, like targeted advertisements, but it can also be used for nefarious reasons. (If you’re curious about what a browser can find out about you, try a tool like this to see what your browser is sharing about you. Some browsers are set up to be more private, or have tools to adjust what you share, and with whom you share it with. Something to keep in mind: limiting the amount of cookies your browser uses or turning off javascript will allow for more privacy, but it may also affect the way in which you interact with the web (logins and passwords won’t be stored and some sites will not work, for example), but if security is more important to you than ease of use, it might be something to consider.

3. Be careful what you share online
Always be mindful of the information your share with websites. If entering information on a website, like your social security number or payment information, make sure the site is legitimate and encrypted (an encrypted site will show a “https” at the beginning of the URL). Don’t click on unfamiliar links, especially from your email, and especially if they are asking you to confirm information. They may be phishing scams. If there is ever a question of legitimacy, call the company using a phone number from their website and ask for confirmation.

Another way thieves and data mining companies can access your information is with social media accounts. Things like a questionnaire your friend shares on Facebook may seem fun, but it’s also a way for people to glean personal information that can be used to collect personal data or worse, gain access to your accounts. Make sure to check your social media privacy settings to see who can see your information, and never provide answers to common security questions like your mother’s maiden name or the street you grew up on.

4. Keep your computer and devices up-to-date
Out-of-date software and hardware can create ways for people to access your data. When a developer stops supporting an older version of an app or operating system, it gives thieves a chance to exploit potential security holes. Make sure you keep your devices as up to date as possible.

5. Use secure Wi-Fi
It may be tempting to use that free wi-fi at your favorite coffee shop, but public networks pose a variety of risks. When using public networks, make sure to use secure networks whenever possible. If using a public network, even if it is secure, avoid accessing sites that store sensitive data, like bank accounts. Your credentials are at risk of being captured. Also, avoid making purchases. Passing sensitive information to an online retailer leaves it at risk as well.

Many of our devices are set up to automatically connect to the nearest available wi-fi. This setting is meant to help users limit mobile data use, but it also opens your device up to connecting to unfamiliar, and potentially dangerous networks. Protect your device by turning this setting off, especially if you plan on traveling to new or unfamiliar places.

Taking care of your personal data can seem overwhelming, but taking the time to set privacy settings and avoiding convenience for the sake of skepticism can save you a headache in the future. Be safe out there on the webs!

It Loves Me. It Loves Me Not: Or Why I Hate Technology But Need It In My Life

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For many of us, technology is a necessary evil. Something we love and hate in equal measure. We realise its importance in our lives, but find it a chore to use and hate the reliance we have on it.

But why do we love and hate technology?

This may seem like a difficult question to answer, but when you think about it, our relationship with technology plays on our two most fundamental mindsets of fear and love.

For instance, technology used to be expensive and only for the elite, not the masses. This exclusivity plays with our innate nature to long for, or love, something that is out of reach. When we finally attain that all important goal and have the device in our hands, we feel special. We have achieved our heart’s desire. That is until everyone else has one, too. And theirs are better, newer, and sexier. That’s when the hate kicks in as we look at our own devices with derision. Somehow the device we loved only days, weeks, months earlier now seems clunky, slow, ugly — it’s no longer sexy or attractive to us anymore.

This love is further watered down when you think about how many technological devices there are in our lives. If the device you are using is no longer attractive to you then there are plenty more fish in the sea. You can go find a new one and fall in love all over again. It’s like technological Tinder. If your laptop isn’t doing it for you, swipe left and the next device will appear in no time at all.

Then there’s the social aspect. I hate it when my kid is on his phone and he clearly loves using it more than he does me at that moment in time. But on the other hand, I love that I can call or text him at any time I want. Or that I can Facetime him when he is away on a school trip. I hate that he is distant because he is using a device, but love that when we are apart the devices bring us together.

Our homes, cars, and pockets are full of gadgets made to enhance our lives and allow us to be more productive. Yet, because of this ease, we have shorter attention spans, lower retention capacities, and a greater likelihood to allow gadgets to do our thinking for us. The ease of access to technology makes it difficult to accept when that technology fails or doesn’t do what we want it to do quickly enough. We hate it when it slows down or breaks, but we feel that longing that only love can give when it is absent.

This conflict is at the very core of our relationship with technology. We love the things it gives us, but only appreciate it when they are taken away.

If your love for your devices is waning due to damage or performance issues, we’re here to help. Yes, we’re a computer repair store, but this Valentine’s Day, think of us as your technological marriage counselor. We’re here to get things back on track for you and the technology you love. <3

Your devices are probably filthy. Here’s how to clean them.

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They’re in our hands, day after day: our smartphones, laptops, and tablets. They’ve become vital parts of our lives, but do you take the time to clean them like you do with your kitchen, bathroom, or car? Probably not. Here are some tips and tricks to get those devices sparkling like new again.

One important thing to always remember when cleaning your device: Never, ever, ever put liquid directly on the device. Only ever put it on the cloth you’re using to clean.

Laptops

  1. Before you get started, check the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning your device. Some manufacturers have different recommendations for different surfaces and materials.
  2. Use condensed air to blow the dust, crumbs, and pet hair out of your keyboard. Before you get started, turn off your laptop and unconnect the power cord. Using a can of air (make sure you follow the instructions on the can), blow out the space around the keys, the various outlets, and those other cracks and crevices. Use short bursts of air to avoid creating condensation. Also, remember to invert and angle the laptop itself, not the can of air. Keeping the can of air upright will also keep from creating condensation.
  3. Clean the outside and inside case. Use a microfiber cloth, or cotton ball or swab, and dip it in water or isopropyl alcohol (90% is best), but make sure to check your make and model’s recommended cleaning materials (Apple recommends against using anything but water). Wring out the excess liquid (and again, never put a cleaning liquid straight on the device!) and use it to clean the hard surfaces of your laptop. It may take some extra work to get all the grime, depending on the condition.
  4. Clean the screen and bezel with a dry microfiber cloth. Don’t be tempted to use a harsh cleaner like window or surface cleaner. It’s not good for your screen! You should be able to clean the screen with a dry microfiber cloth. If you need a little more cleaning power, use a slightly damp microfiber cloth (but make sure you check your make and model for the recommended cleaning materials. Here are Apple’s recommendations.).

Mobile Phones and Tablets

  1. If you use a case, remove it first and clean it. There’s no use cleaning your device only to put it back in a dirty case. Don’t use anything to clean your case that you wouldn’t use to clean your phone. Remaining residue could get on your device and ruin the screen or other surfaces.
  2. Using a soft, slightly damp, lint-free cloth, clean the surfaces of your device with water.
  3. Don’t use condensed air on your phone. Instead, use a dry cotton swab to clean those smaller openings that are harder to reach.

If your hardware is in need of a tune-up, we can help! Visit our local services page to see all the services we offer to get that device working just as well on the inside as it looks on the outside.