AT&T to offer remote PC repairs without system booting

AT&T has adopted Intel's vPro technology to upgrade its PC repair service

AT&T is upgrading its remote PC repair service that will allow technicians to resolve issues without a customer fully booting a computer, the company said on Thursday.

Technicians from AT&T's Tech Support 360 service were previously able to remotely fix customers' PC problems only when the operating system was loaded and a browser session was running, said Ebrahim Keshavarz, vice president of business development at AT&T, during a conference call.

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With the upgraded service, PC problems can be solved even when the system cannot be booted due to hardware problems or OS failure. The capability allows technicians to fix more PC problems than was previously possible. For example, technicians will now be able to fix hardware-level issues like corrupted BIOS, as well as reset system passwords, repair and update network card drivers, and remove malware more effectively, Keshavarz said.

"There are times when you cannot get a functioning browser to connect to the Internet," Keshavarz said.

Users need to enter a specific keystroke sequence to connect the failed PC over the Internet with AT&T technicians. To enable that capability, AT&T is adopting Intel's Remote PC Assist Technology for the service. The remote support technology is a part of Intel's vPro hardware and software management for PCs mainly used in business environments.

AT&T launched Tech Support 360 in 2008 as a service to remotely solve PC problems, including software, hardware and peripheral issues, for small and medium-size businesses. For example, it troubleshoots Windows OS issues and hardware problems like faulty hard drives and wireless networking configurations. It can also solve malware problems on PCs.

AT&T will begin offering the service in the first half of next year. Monthly subscriptions will start at US$19 per month, Keshavarz said. If a remote technician is unable to solve a problem, AT&T will dispatch technicians on site at an extra charge.

However, there are certain limitations attached to AT&T's upgraded service. The pre-boot support service won't work on PCs with chips from Advanced Micro Devices, as the underlying technology is based on Intel's vPro technology. The service also won't work on Apple's Macintosh systems.

Right now only desktops support Intel's vPro remote support technology, but it is expected to reach laptops soon, said David Tuhy, general manager of the business client group at Intel. Tuhy said that the technology will be available with laptops based on Intel's Calpella platform, which will include a set of processors based on the Nehalem processor. Intel has said it would reveal details about the first chip belonging to the Calpella platform, code-named Clarksfield, next week at the Intel Developer Forum.

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