Dealers, users rely on the 'disk doctor'

October 28, 1991|By Ron Wolf | Ron Wolf,Knight-Ridder News Service

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Almost everyone who owns a personal computer has heard this ominous warning. Make no mistake about it. Your hard-disk drive eventually will fail.

And, of course, this disaster will strike at the worst possible moment.

When it happens in Silicon Valley, home of the world's largest disk-drive makers, chances are that the damaged goods will end up with Steve Burgess.

Faced with a customer who has a dead disk drive, a computer dealer will rarely fix such specialized equipment. Many of the area's best-known dealers send their disk repair work to Mr. Burgess, who runs Mipro III in Redwood City, Calif.

Consider him the disk doctor to the rich and famous.

Each day, Mipro's drivers collect the latest casualties from dozens of computer retailers and from many of Silicon Valley's principal corporations. Other broken disks arrive by mail at Mipro's cluttered workshop in a light industrial building.

Although the reliability of disk drives has increased greatly in the past few years, Mipro's repair business is busier than ever. Most disk-drive failures result from accidents or inadvertent abuse, not flawed designs or poor workmanship, Mr. Burgess said. People drop their computers, kick them and vibrate them. They overload them, immerse them and incinerate them.

When his disk drive became stuck, one poor soul tried to free the mechanism by squirting WD-40 in it. Another disk drive quit operating after a cat threw up on it.

Mr. Burgess learned to repair disk drives a decade ago from his father. The elder Mr. Burgess served as a radar repairman during World War II, repaired televisions after the war and eventually became an electronics technician for the University of California, Santa Barbara. His son grew up with electronic equipment all over the house.

As the university acquired more computers, the elder Mr. Burgess assumed responsibility for their maintenance and repair. When he neared retirement, he set up a small, part-time business in Santa Barbara to fix disk drives.

Steve Burgess joined his father after a disastrous, 10-month stint as the owner of a high-tech, rock-and-roll restaurant. "I lost everything I owned except my car, which was broken," he said. "My dad said he needed some help. He was just being kind."

Mr. Burgess helped his father expand the business, then decided to strike out on his own. He scraped together "a very few thousand dollars," moved to San Carlos, Calif., and bought some essential equipment -- an oscilloscope and a couple of computers. On Oct. 1, 1985, Steve Burgess "opened up the Yellow Pages and started knocking on doors of computer dealers." Four days later, he landed his first client.

Mipro now employs 10 people and is overflowing its present quarters. So far this year, the company has been repairing about 2,500 disk drives a month. Steve Burgess intends to expand his facilities fivefold during the next two years.

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