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.

Ringing in the New Year: A Tech Checklist for 2019

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Can you believe we’re almost to the end of 2018? For a lot of people, the start of the new year signals the chance to make a fresh start. Maybe that means making a resolution or getting to a task you put off the previous year. Either way, here is a start of the year tech checklist to kick off the new year right.

Updates and Back-ups

Have you, like so many of us, been clicking that “remind me later” button every time your phone or computer nudges you to install an update? Maybe now’s the time to go ahead and catch up on that backlog of updates.

Keeping your devices up-to-date keeps everything running smoothly, so when a problem does arise with an app or piece of software, it can be easier to diagnose.

But before you do those updates, make sure you schedule back-ups of your data. Using this time to make sure you don’t lose a whole year (or two) of photos, videos, and documents is worth it.

Digital Clean-Up

You know that amazing feeling of having an empty email inbox? Yeah, me neither.

Start your year off by trying to get down to inbox zero. It may seem daunting, depending on how full your inbox is, but the end of the year is a great time to wrangle those emails. Plus, it gives you a chance to look back at your year and see what tasks are still outstanding.

Another digital area to tackle is photos. Did you take a selfie with your dog that resulted in 20 outtakes? Deleting old, unneeded photos clears up space on your device, and makes finding those must-keep shots easier to find.

Lastly, delete old apps. Like cleaning old clothes out of your closet, look for apps you haven’t used in over a year. Operating systems like iOS even have tools available to automatically remove unused apps for you.

Change Your Passwords

Still using the same password for all of your apps and accounts that you used in college? Maybe it’s time to switch things up. Changing your passwords frequently can keep your data safe. If you have trouble remembering passwords, there’s an app for that! There are many great password managers available for computers and mobile devices.

Consider a Tech-Related Resolution

Speaking of apps, the great thing about technology is there are apps available to help you use technology less. Maybe your resolution this year is to use social media less, or stop using your phone after a certain time at night. Apps like the new Screen Time app available on iOS 12 have tools to help make those resolutions a reality.

No matter your New Years’ Resolution, we hope you have a great holiday season and start to 2019. And if you need any hardware repair, we’ll be here to help.

Warranty School Part 3: Put Your Warranty to Work

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Many people buy items with warranties, extended warranties, or service plans, and luckily, never need to use them, but in case the day comes when you need to use your warranty, make sure you get the best possible service.

The best way to use your warranty is to make sure you’re covered in the first place. New purchases often come with a stack of warranty information documents in the box—hold on to these! File them (or scan them), with your proof of purchase, in case you need to refer to them later.

Product registration is another way to keep track of your warranty options, and sometimes, in doing so, you may get added benefits from the manufacturer, like priority support, future discounts, and recall notices.

Even though it may be a chore, make sure to read through those warranty documents to make sure you know what is—and what is not—covered. Knowing what to expect if and when you need warranty services may inform your decision, depending on how you use your device, of whether or not to buy additional warranty protection or a service plan. And when the time comes to use those warranties, knowing what is covered will help manage your expectations and ensure you’re getting the best possible service through your plan.

Be prepared to prove your device or machine is still covered by its warranty, extended warranty, or service plan when seeking out service. This will most likely involve providing documentation, such as receipts, a service contract, or product registration (see—we told you to keep that stuff 🙂 ).

Make sure you know who to contact. Depending on the warranty or service plan, you may need to contact the store where you made your purchase, the manufacturer, or a third-party service provider. Some providers—like ComputerCare—cover warranty repairs on certain brands, and can be more convenient than reaching out to the original manufacturer. (You can see what warranty repairs we perform here.)

So what do you do if you’re out of your warranty period, or the damage isn’t covered?

It can be very frustrating to find out your damaged device is no longer covered by its warranty. If this is the case, you can still get it repaired, but it may cost labor and parts to do so.

Do your research. Will the cost to repair your device be more or less than replacing the item? Before you make any decisions, find a service provider who can offer an estimate before repairs are completed.At ComputerCare, we charge a flat diagnostic fee to determine what is wrong with your device (Apple devices are diagnosed free of charge!)—but if you choose to use us to do your repairs, the fee is waived. And before any work is done, we provide you with an estimate, so you’ll know if it will be more cost effective to fix or replace. We charge a flat labor fee, and give you the option to stick to your machine’s brand for parts, or to use a third party.

Whether you’re in or out of your warranty period, we’re here to help! Learn more about our hardware repair services here.

Did You Know? 5 Interesting Facts About Touchscreens.

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Back when Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, touchscreens seemed futuristic and new. Now, touchscreens are everyday fixtures for most people. Here are some facts you might not know about touchscreen technology.

  1. Touchscreen technology has been around since the 1960s.

    E.A. Johnson is credited with developing the first capacitive touchscreen in the 1960s. His touchscreen could only register one touch at a time, and was used in air traffic control systems. In 1977, at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (or CERN) implemented early mutual capacitance touchscreen technology for its control room of the Super Proton Synchrotron particle accelerator. The HP-150 was one of the first commercially available “touchscreen” computers (it actually used infrared light beams that, when broken, detected where to place the cursor) and retailed for $2795. Touchscreen technology has been used in point of sale machines, first seen in the Atari 520ST, since the mid-1980s (Atari was also the first to include color graphics). Touchscreens were widely used in PDAs in the 1990s.For more interesting history on touchscreens and multi-touch technology, check out this timeline by one of the early innovators of multi-touch, Bill Buxton.
     
  2. The first touchscreen phone was released in 1994.

    The IBM Simon was released in 1994 and is generally considered the first “smartphone.” It had a touchscreen interface controlled with a stylus, 1 megabyte of storage, and gave the user the ability to make and receive calls, emails, faxes, and had early calendar, address book, notes, maps, stocks, and news apps. It retailed for about $899 (or $1099 without a service contract). The battery only lasted for an hour at a time, and was eventually put out of production by smaller, slimmer cell phones.
     
  3. Many products have been created to accommodate touchscreens.

    The touchscreen on your phone is, at its simplest, a capacitive touchscreen — it uses the electrical conductivity of your skin to detect gestures and input. Barriers between skin and screen, like gloves, interrupt this. As touchscreens have become more and more ubiquitous, non-technical objects have been altered to accommodate them. Items like gloves and bandages can now be found with touch screen-friendly material, allowing users to still interact with their devices despite a material barrier.You can even make your own touchscreen friendly gloves!
     

     
  4. If you can eat it, it will probably work as a stylus.

    It’s cold out and you don’t have your handy touchscreen friendly gloves on? Grab a banana! Or maybe a hotdog. Even an avocado. Many food items are electrical conductors, and like your fingers, can be used to control a touchscreen.
     

     
  5. Products are being developed to turn everyday objects into touch sensitive surfaces.

    Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Future Interfaces Group (FIG) combine a conductive material with electrodes to create touch sensitive surfaces out of almost anything, even irregular-shaped objects:“The “trick” is to apply electrically conductive coatings or materials to objects or surfaces or to craft objects using conductive materials. By attaching a series of electrodes to the conductive materials, researchers showed they could use a well-known technique called electric field tomography to sense the position of a finger touch.”

    “Walls, furniture, steering wheels, toys and even Jell-O can be turned into touch sensors with the technology….” Read the full article “CMU Creating Touchpads With Can of Spray Paint” here.

    Another of FIG’s innovations is Wall++, a technique using paint to turn a regular wall into a touchscreen-like interface:

    The FIG lab at CMU is developing many new and innovative ways for humans to interact with technology, including touch. You can check out more of their research here.

The best kind of touchscreen is a working touchscreen, so if you’ve got the broken screen blues, we can help. Learn more about our local services here.

Device Batteries: Fact of Fiction?

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As mobile phones and other devices have gotten “smarter,” so have the batteries that power them. Everyone has heard the many different methods to best use and extend the life of your battery, but are those common battery tips truth or fiction? Let’s look at some.

You should charge your device to 100% before using it.

This used to be true, back when nickel-based batteries were widely used in mobile devices. Those batteries, while good for many other things, were a little dumb — if not fully charged, they would forget their own capacity and retain a “memory” of how they were charged, which would lead to loss of capacity if not re-calibrated. Now that lithium-ion batteries are widely used, that is no longer true. Li-ion batteries don’t have “memory” and can be used right out of the box without being charged first.

Run your battery down to 0% before charging.

According to BatteryUniversity.com, running your battery down to 0% and then charging back up to 100% puts a lot of stress on a battery, causing it to degrade faster. Keeping your battery between 40% and 85% (and not letting it go below 20%) with frequent, partial charges is the best charging routine to prolong the life of a li-ion battery. However, letting the battery run down to 0% occasionally (once a month, for example) helps the battery to re-calibrate itself and assess its own capacity, giving you a better idea of its true health.

Leaving a phone plugged in at 100% will overload the battery.

Like we said before, batteries are smarter than they used to be, and know when to stop charging themselves. However, keeping a battery at full charge for prolonged periods of time does degrade the life of a Li-ion battery faster than letting the battery cycle.

Don’t use your phone while it’s charging.

There are varying opinions on this question. While it will cause your phone or device to charge slower, some manufacturers don’t advise against using devices while they are charging. Some sources, however, suggest that using a device while charging puts more stress on the battery, causing its capacity and life to degrade. Anything that causes a device’s battery to heat will have an adverse affect on battery life span, since batteries tend to be like Goldilocks — they don’t like environments that are too hot or too cold. If a temperature is uncomfortable for you, it’s probably bad for your battery.

Extend battery life by closing your open apps.

This, it turns out, is not only not true, but is actually worse for your battery, according to both Apple’s SVP of Software and Android’s VP of Engineering. By closing all your open apps, you’re defeating the purpose of the built-in multitasking function of your device. There are several states of activity an app can fall under. Letting the multitasking functions run the state of those apps is the most efficient way to manage both battery and memory on a device. Closing out of all your apps all the time not only slows your phone, it also uses more memory and battery when it has to boot apps from scratch every time.

If you are worried about the life and capacity of your battery, here are some things to remember:

  • Batteries degrade no matter what you do. They have lifecycles, and eventually, they will not perform the way they once did. If you plan on keeping up with the latest releases of your particular device (every two years, for example), leaning on the built-in energy saving functions of your operating system (and avoiding some of the bad habits above) is probably enough to keep your battery healthy.
  • If you’re worried about getting the most out of your battery, the two biggest battery sucks are display and transmission. Lowering your screen brightness and utilizing airplane mode when service is spotty can save battery life.
  • Not every battery is perfect. Sometimes, devices may ship with a faulty battery. Check your warranty if you think this may be the case.
  • Software and apps can sometimes cause issues with battery life management. Luckily, these are usually caught quickly and fixed with updates. Keep your device and apps up-to-date as best you can.

If your battery isn’t like it used to be, and you don’t plan on upgrading your device, there is the option of replacing it. We can handle battery replacement and other hardware repairs, should you need them. Check out our available services to learn more.

How to Do Your Own Computer Repairs

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We know folks would rather not see us, and that’s okay. You only come to a computer repair shop when something is super broken. We get that. That’s why we try to make sure when you do have to come to us, you get absolutely the best service possible. If we can, we’ll get your repairs covered by the warranty so they are free to you. If it’s not covered, we’re very upfront with our pricing and do our best to get things running smoothly for you again.

What if we could go a step further and help you not see us at all? Here’s a quick tutorial on how to be your own IT guy so you won’t have to see us again so soon. But know you will be missed. 🙂

Tip #1 – Turn it off, and turn it back on!

This really is the Holy Grail of IT fixes. It’s amazing how many things this cures. Like blowing on the cartridge or jiggling the handle, it’s an amazing panacea for a variety of technical glitches. Chances are, if you have a computer problem (not related to obvious physical damage, of course), every tech you’ll talk to is going to ask if you’ve turned it off and turned it back on yet.

Tip #2 – Update Everything!

If things are kind of working, but not really, or your system is slow, glitchy, or just doing weird things, it may be a software issue. The first step is to make sure everything is up to date. Go through and make sure everything is as updated as possible.

Tip #3 – GOOGLE it!

IT guys are good at fixing things, but there’s pretty much no way to know everything about every machine. So chances are, when you call a support line or chat with your IT guys at work, unless it’s something right down the middle of the plate, they’re Googling it. Why do you think doctors leave the examination room before giving you a diagnosis? Everyone looks up stuff, and you should, too. Problem is, many folks are kind of terrible at Googling a fix for their problem. So try this: Think of the question you would ask the IT guy, and type that question, exactly as you would say it, directly into Google. If it’s fixable, there’s a good chance your first result will show you the way.

If all else fails, bring it to us. Mechanics fix your car. Plumbers fix your pipes. This is what we do. We’ll make sure to get as much covered by your warranty as possible, so it’s free to you. And if it’s not covered, we’ll give you sound advice and straight forward pricing. Because we know you don’t want to come to us, but we’ll do everything we can to make you glad you did.

Tech Tip: Spring Cleaning Ideas for your Computer

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Spring has officially sprung! This means many of us have already embarked on our spring cleaning rituals. Whether you’re deep cleaning the kitchen, clearing out the garage, or simply washing a few windows, a spring cleaning is an effective way to both freshen up your environment and declutter the mind. But why stop there? The tech you use in your daily life could also use a little cleaning love.

Tidying up your hardware and performing routine maintenance on your hard drive can boost your computer’s performance and increase its lifespan. Here are a few ideas of things you can do at home to properly clean your hardware and help clear out your digital junk this springtime:

Hardware Cleaning Tips

  • Responsibly recycle/donate old and unused devices
  • Inspect/clean I/O ports with a soft small brush or canned air to prevent dust and debris build up
  • Carefully dust internal components of your computer
  • Use cloth to wipe smudges off computer screen
  • Clean/disinfect keyboard and mouse
  • And of course, take broken hardware in for repair

Hard Drive Maintenance Tips

  • Delete old and duplicate files
  • Remove unwanted/unnecessary programs
  • Install software updates
  • Back up important documents, photos and videos to an external hard drive
  • Use cloud storage to maintain your important files
  • Run hardware maintenance scans on your SSD/hard drive to determine health
  • Speed up your hard drive by defragmenting once a month

Want to learn more? Keep an eye on the ComputerCare blog for more tech tips, subscribe to our email newsletter to receive helpful device advice directly to your inbox, drop by one of our Bay Area or Seattle locations, or get in touch with us via our contact page.

We’re dedicated to providing world-class service and repair, and ComputerCare’s expert staff is always happy to help our customers take good care of their hardware.