Last week two people came to me asking about their HP laptops.

In each case the description of the symptoms were the same, “It takes for ever to start up.”

In each case, I fixed their problem.

Case 1. A recent Windows Automatic Update was causing a conflict with an HP “crapplet.”

A crapplet is an app that comes preloaded on your PC by the manufacturer. Crapplets don’t do anything useful. They are added to the list of bulleted items in the “Bonus Software” list on the package to make it seem like you’re getting a good deal.

The crapplet in this case was HP Connection Manager. It’s purportedly there to help you hook up with your WiFi. Windows already knows how to automatically hook up to WiFi. The crapplet is totally useless. Except when it’s worse than useless because it gets in the way of Windows hooking up to WiFi.

The solution: Uninstall the crapplet. Now it runs fine.

This took about 45 minutes (because the machine was hung up on the crapplet and running at the speed of tortoise) to diagnose and fix.

The friend of a friend offered to pay. I took $20. He was happy to part with the money.

Had he driven to the nearest Staples in Plattsburgh (round trip 80 miles, gas $16) and paid Staples EasyTech to do it, they would have charged him, at minimum (prices listed this morning on staples.com):

  • Hardware Diagnostic Fee: $69.99
  • PC Tune-up Fee: $9.99
  • System Restore Fee: $129.99

And depending on whether or not they could figure out what the problem was, possibly a

  • Hard Drive Recovery Fee: $259.99

which is essentially just installing a new hard drive and a new copy of Windows.

For $470 you can buy a brand new HP laptop.

Case 2. During a Windows Automatic Update, the computer got unplugged.

To be fair, this is something Windows warns you about. There’s always that screen that says, “Thou shalt not unplug thy computer while it’s configuring updates.” But accidents happen.

Now Windows Explorer would crash before it could completely load, and the computer was stuck in this infinite try-to-load-but-fail loop. And nothing else can happen, because Windows can’t really function without Explorer loaded.

The culprit was a corrupted “Thumbnail Handler Extraction Host.” You can tell because if you force Windows to start the Task Manager (Ctrl-Alt-Del), you see a new copy of the Thumbnail Handler appear every time Explorer tries to restart. (Eventually, there will be so many of them, they’ll fill up the available memory and crash the machine entirely.)

You can’t just download a clean copy of Thumbnail Handler. It’s proprietary Microsoft stuff. The only way to get it back is by doing a System Restore. It’s not hard to do. It takes 15 minutes. But Staples EasyTech will charge you $129.99 for the privilege.

In addition, I found a few viruses on board (because that’s the first thing you usually check for when someone brings in a PC doing strange things). And, the botched update had also botched the Norton Anti-Virus, which needed to be re-installed.

Here’s the EasyTech bill:

  • PC Diagnostic Fee: $69.99
  • Virus Removal Fee (5 viruses @ 149 each): $750.00
  • System Restore Fee: 129.99
  • PC Tune-up Fee: 9.99
  • Software Installation Fee (Norton): 29.99

Total: $1080.

(Again, that’s provided they can figure it out and don’t just throw in the towel and charge you the $259.99 Hard Drive Recovery Fee.)

For which you can also buy a new MacBook Air.

She’s one of Brooke’s church ladies, though, and very sweet. She certainly can’t afford and doesn’t deserve to be abused to the tune of $1050. So she gets the fix for free.

I’m not saying I’ll fix your disposable laptop for free, or even for $20.

I’m also not saying that EasyTech is bad, or their prices are unfair. They have to make a living. If you need them, you need them.

Some days I wish I could bring myself to charge what they do. But I can’t. So I’m poor.

But I am saying that HP laptops are shitty machines running shitty software.

I’m saying you’d be better off saving the $399 you’re spending on the disposable, the $99 you’re going to spend on Anti-Virus software that doesn’t really work, and the $1080 you’re likely to spend on the EasyTech bill eventually, and get yourself a really nice Mac instead.

For most people, it’s actually cheaper.

Then again, you could just toss your HP disposable laptop in the recycle bin and get a shiny new one every time it screws up. That might be cheaper, too.