Dial G for Geek

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Fixing computers is not normally considered the most glamorous of jobs. But try telling that to employees of two top-tier tech-support firms — Geek Squad, a house-call service based in Minneapolis, Minn., and DriveSavers, a Novato, Calif., company that fixes fried hard drives around the country. Geek Squad boasts that its clients include U2, Ice Cube, Ozzy Osbourne and the Rolling Stones. DriveSavers touts its techno-healing work for Sean Connery, Sting, Adam Sandler and the Stones again (someone should tell Keith Richards to stop trashing his laptops).

As just about every computer maker cuts back on its tech-support staff, the stars — like the rest of us — are not inclined, when their machines malfunction, to spend hours on hold waiting for someone to answer. And neither should you, if you can afford the solution. Here's the skinny on those two companies, plus a cut-rate option for the frugal:

GEEKSQUAD.COM Bought by Best Buy in 2002, Geek Squad patrols Minneapolis, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Ariz., Columbus, Ohio, and Washington, and is scheduled to hit 34 other cities by the end of the year. Its agents are the epitome of geek chic in clip-on ties and badly fitting pants. I made an anonymous call, claiming a PC emergency, and was told it would take half an hour to get someone to my door. He arrived in seven minutes. Such service costs: crisis support starts at a $298 flat rate. It's $149 for house calls within 48 hours and $49 for a Best Buy — based assessment.

DRIVESAVERS.COM When your hard disc dies, what do you do? Well, there's a 90% chance that DriveSavers can retrieve your precious files within 48 hours, the fastest turnaround time in the data-recovery business. (When one of my Macs decided to delete all my old diaries, DriveSavers sent me a CD containing every lost file the next day.) The average price: $900. No wonder the company grossed $10 million last year, and is still growing.

SPEAKWITHAGEEK.COM Want something cheaper? How about free? Speak With A Geek is one of a burgeoning number of phone-based support firms (like Askdrtech.com and 888Geek.com), but its ace in the hole is a five-day trial period, during which you get one free phone call. You have to sign up for the $34.95 monthly service, but canceling before you have to start paying is pretty easy. If your malfunction might be minor enough to be solved over the phone, it's worth trying this site before moving on to pricier options. The best thing about all these services? Absolutely no hold time. Now that's star treatment.