MAY 23, 2024

Right To Repair: Are business laptop repairs about to get easier in 2023?

There can be little more disruptive to your business than having a vital computer system go offline, whether that’s the payment terminal you use to collect income from your clients or the laptop used to send out emails, invoices or manage client appointment details.

That’s especially true for business laptops, where we’ve shifted to lighter and thinner models that make for great mobile workforces, at the cost of general repairability.

The thicker and heavier laptops that predominated 20 or more years ago were a pain to carry around in a hefty laptop bag, but they tended to use more individual components and were easier to open and examine.

That combination meant that if a single port, screen or keyboard part stopped working, for example, it was a simpler process to replace them.

These days, ultrabook style devices such as Apple’s popular MacBooks or Microsoft’s Surface Pro use totally integrated systems where many of the controller, memory, CPU and most other functions are on a single board.

Keeping them thin and light means that they’re often less screwed together and more glued together – making repairs more difficult and as a result more costly.

How much should a business laptop repair cost?

This is a variable question depending on the problem, physical damage and even the age of the laptop in question.

Age becomes a factor here because in some cases parts may become harder to source, and as a result more expensive, although not always so.

Here’s what to consider when weighing up the cost of a business laptop repair quote

Will warranty or Australian consumer law cover the repair?

Most laptops come with manufacturer warranties of at least a year, sometimes more for the physical components. If it’s stopped working without a major accident, the warranty may cover repair costs.

While you’re a business rather than an individual consumer, that doesn’t mean that you’re not covered by the Australian Consumer Law when it comes to the general suitability of goods purchased. If a fault develops that isn’t your fault or the result of general usage and acceptable wear and tear, the manufacturer may be obliged to provide service without cost.

Is it time to budget for replacement?

As a business, you don’t want to have to spend any money you don’t have to. As such, it can be tempting to keep that old laptop chugging along even if it takes an age to start up, or runs on an older operating system or sounds like a jet engine taking off when you fire it up. However, while repairs might deal with some of those issues, you could be spending money that could go towards a replacement system that’s more efficient and more secure, generating income for your business more rapidly. There’s no hard and fast rule here, but many businesses look at a laptop replacement cycle of around 3 years or so.

Is the data backed up and secure?

The reality for a business laptop is that the value isn’t really in the hardware. Yes, the laptop helps you do your work, but it’s the data you create with it – whether that’s invoices or the next great Australian novel – that has the real value to you. That’s the content that you want to keep secure and private. As much as feasible, before you hand over any business machine for servicing, make sure you have a full backup – preferably local and in the cloud – of all of its data. Some repairs may involve completely wiping the system and starting afresh. Equally if you have sensitive data, you wouldn’t want it to fall into the wrong hands, so in some instances it may make more sense to take an image of that data and OS, clear the machine and then have it serviced, depending on your business needs.

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Why are laptop repairs so expensive?

Laptop repairs – and indeed any hardware-based computer repair work – can be pricey because it can be complex work, both from a physical disassembly and repair sense, and from a time sense. Laptops aren’t made out of LEGO, so pulling them apart alone can take quite some time.

You’re paying not only for the cost of the parts, but also the many hours it may take to actually put them into your existing business laptop.

One of the bigger problems in recent years however has been that for many laptop brands, getting hold of individual replacement parts can be difficult or expensive in their own right.

In some cases – more notably for devices like smartphones and tablets, but not unknown for laptops as well – manufacturers may put barriers in the way of third party repairers with software authentication routines that won’t work except through authorised repairers.

There’s been significant push back against that kind of business practice, leading to what’s become known as the “right to repair” movement.

What is the “right to repair”?

Right to repair is a term that applies not only to laptops but to any tech device where there may be some kind of imposed barrier to repairing or modifying a device you own.

To give you an idea of the scope, one of the most bitterly fought battles in the right to repair arena in the US relates to farmers wanting to service their own tractors without having to go through authorised service agents and paying high fees as a result.

Right to repair doesn’t cover every single part, repair or misfortune a laptop or other device might suffer from. It’s rather specifically more to do with limited parts availability or software measures that make it difficult or impossible for there to be competition in the hardware repair space.

In a laptop sense, for example, that might cover whether a third-party replacement laptop screen would work the same as a technically identical manufacturer-provided screen.

In some cases, software blocks make that a non-starter, and that’s not great for businesses wanting to control costs – or indeed for the competitive space when it comes to the price of those repairs in the first place.

Is there a “right to repair” in Australia?

Not yet – but there has been some significant work towards making that a reality.

Here in Australia the productivity commission held an inquiry into right to repair issues published in 2021, but as yet there’s not been much movement in terms of codifying its conclusions into law, where the report noted that there were “significant and unnecessary barriers to repair for some products”.

There is significant pressure from consumer groups for wider right to repair style laws to come into effect, but what we’re more likely to see is international pressure leading to wider scale changes around the availability of service manuals, parts and software diagnostic utilities allowing for repairs to happen.

Is it worthwhile doing tech hardware repairs myself?

Again, it’s a slightly open question, because it clearly depends on the nature of the repair required. Some tasks might be simple if you can get the parts, guide and don’t have a software block in place. Others may be much better handled by a trained professional.

To give a tech example, Apple in late 2021 announced a “self service repair” option, initially in the USA. It’s now expanded to much of Western Europe and the UK, but is yet to land on our shores.

Rather than relying on using an authorised repair agent or going to an Apple Store if there’s one nearby, this system effectively sells you replacement parts and rents you the equipment you’d need to do the repair yourself.

That does have the advantage of keeping all your data absolutely “in-house” if that worries you, although you’re also taking on the risks if something does go wrong as well.

The other issue there is cost. While Apple has yet to launch the service in Australia, in overseas markets there have been numerous complaints about the fact that it’s generally more expensive to do a self-service repair this way than to use Apple’s own services.

Yes, you read that right. Apple’s DIY repair route is actually more costly than getting Apple (or its service agents) to do the same job yourself.

Whether that’d meet any right to repair rules that may come in play due to the productivity commission’s report might be challenging – and that may well be part of the reason why we’ve not seen the system rolled out here yet.

Schedule a professional laptop repair service today with Geeks2U and get your device back to peak performance in no time.

1300 769 448

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Photo of Alex Kidman
Alex Kidman
A multi-award winning journalist, Alex has written about consumer technology for over 20 years. He has written and edited for virtually every Australian tech publication including Gizmodo, CNET, PC Magazine, Kotaku and more.