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The amount of technology available to people today is astonishing. Many people embrace it wholeheartedly, some owning 14 or more consumer electronic devices, according to a 2011 survey conducted by Accenture. But even those "superusers" need some technical help now and then. Family Features

Where to get help

With the number of household devices on the rise, there is an increasing need for tech support for those devices. It's not uncommon for PCs and laptops to have to be repaired or replaced within only a few years. To understand and make use of tech toys longer, consider manufacturer support, free do-it-yourself options and third-party help.

Manufacturer support: Although many computer manufacturers offer free tech support, most ends after one year or sooner. Additionally, the tech support staff for the manufacturer is there to provide basic help for manufacturer defects or system failures. It's unlikely that when you unbox that new Internet-connected high-def TV and wireless router, the customer service rep for either company will walk you through setup and make sure everything works well before ending the call.

DIY sources: Check out news groups or user forums where you can find other users who have had problems like yours and get tips on what to do about it. To find them, simply run a keyword search on your favorite search engine, then subscribe to the news group or join the relevant forum. You will be able to ask questions and another forum member will answer with key tips. From there you're on your own.

Free software tools that help diagnose computer problems are also available online, but make sure you download one from a reputable vendor. Norton PC Checkup (, for example, lets you scan for problems, assess risks, identify performance problems and check for security weaknesses in your wireless network.

Third-party services: A survey by HDI (formerly known as the Help Desk Institute), found that more people than ever are calling help desks for assistance. There are several circumstances when going to an independent service may be your best bet:

- When the source of the problem isn't obvious. Most manufacturers only consider the preinstalled hardware and software covered by the original warranty. An independent service, such as NortonLive's Ultimate Help Desk, will evaluate much more than that. It can look at networks, peripheral equipment, applications and software drivers.

- If a virus or spyware might be the problem. Manufacturer tech support tends to find the source of these problems far less often than independent services do.

- If you want no-hassle phone service. Calling a remote service often costs less than getting someone to come to your home. And if you're having multiple issues or have multiple devices to deal with, it can be very time consuming and frustrating to try to deal with each device's manufacturer and policies separately. With a service like NortonLive Ultimate Help Desk, you get broad-based support for virtually any computer and digital device you have, including PCs, Macs, wireless routers, smartphones, printers, MP3 players and digital cameras. And you get that help any time you need it, not just during regular business hours.

If you do choose a third-party service, keep these things in mind:

Check the reputation:Before giving anyone remote access to your computer, make sure the service provider is reputable. Read reputation websites and reviews online, and find out whether the company does background checks on technicians sent to your home.

Ask about tech certification:Look for technicians with trade certification to ensure they have the expertise for troubleshooting computer problems.

Ask for a guarantee: Some guarantees vary with the type of service purchased. Make sure you understand what you can expect.

Protect your warranty:If your device is under warranty be sure that using another service won't nullify it.

Get organized:Before you call for help, write down your computer's serial number, basic specs and anything you have installed. Be able to tell the technician what the problem is and when it started.