TECHXNY - Web service zeros in on PC problems

Flustered by a PC problem? Point your browser to Distinctive Technologies' PC Pinpoint Web site to try an automated service designed to diagnose and fix PC problems, unveiled here this week at PC Expo (part of TECHXNY).

If PC Pinpoint can't solve your technical problem, such as a hardware failure, it offers repair guidelines and prices so you don't get shafted at the computer repair shop. Sound a little too good to be true? You can try it yourself, free of charge for a limited time.

Distinctive Technologies announced the general availability of the PC diagnostic and repair service, following months of beta testing that began after Comdex Fall 2000. This (Northern) summer, the service will begin charging customers a single-use fee of $US15, or a year-long unlimited access fee of $US50. But for now, as the service gets up to speed and builds its database of problems and solutions, it's free.

It works like this: When you first encounter a problem with your PC--for example, your DVD-ROM drive stops reading discs--you head to the site. PC Pinpoint quickly scans your PC to determine your basic hardware setup, and then offers to download the PC Pinpoint software to begin the diagnostic process.

After the 1MB download, the service runs a set of tests on your PC, engaging everything from the display to the CPU to the hard drive using its own tests as well as existing ones, such as Window's Scandisk. Then its service offers a comprehensive test report on your system.

After that, you move to a page where you select your PC's problem area from two categories: software or hardware. You answer a few questions to help the service zero in on your problem. It performs further tests as needed, shuttling information back and forth between your PC and the database, until it reaches a diagnosis.

Only system data is exchanged, and no personal information is ever transmitted, says Bob Wing, chief executive officer with Distinctive Technologies.

Slices, dices, and even fixes

Finding the problem is only part of the battle, but Wing says his service can go on to fix most of the computer problems it diagnosis. The PC Pinpoint database includes numerous software fixes that it can download and install on your PC. And if the database doesn't contain the necessary software--such as a software driver update--it can often direct you where to go on the Web to get it, he says.

For more complicated fixes that require user action, the site offers examples and tutorials on how to fix the problem in question, he says. And if it discovers a hardware problem that requires professional work, it can generate a report of what to tell your local computer repair shop. It even includes price-range suggestions, so you're armed with a ballpark figure and can avoid overcharges.

Distinctive Technologies also offers the Pinpoint PC service to corporations with technical staffs, which can host the service on their own servers if necessary. This version of the service differs when it encounters a problem it cannot solve, by generating a report for the in-house staff. This lets them skip all the initial troubleshooting steps and move straight to the source of the problem, Wing says.

Home and corporate customers who can't solve their problems with the site's automated systems can also call a live technical support person, he says. That too is free, for now, although the company will likely institute a per-call fee later.

For now, PC Pinpoint's service is geared toward solving problems. However, in the near future the company will also offer features such as system benchmarks, so you can test your PC's performance. Future benchmark tests will include CPU performance, hard drive speed, memory usage, and bus speed.

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