Slightly OT, perhaps - I suddenly have a message from my ancient computer: "hard disk controller failure" message, and I'm being advised to maybe finally get a new one. This is a difficult not only because of money at this point, but also because I don't have a reliable repair place (NYC, if anyone has a recommendation).

Is there any way I can tell if a local place in my neighborhood is as good as they like to say they are? Is there a site that discusses this kind of thing, or a site that is good for recommending places? I stopped by a place that helped me a few years ago, and I got a guy who'd only been doing repairs for a year who says it's unfixable - but it might just be ignorance or laziness on his part.

Since you're looking at smaller local shops you'll have a hard time finding information online. If you have a particular shop in mind you can google the name and see if you get any reviews online (this could also point you at a good site for shop reviews).

Personally I think local shops are mostly about word of mouth. Ask around to people who either know about computers or don't know anything and have to get their computers repaired a lot. If you don't have any luck by reputation, there's usually a few larger repair shops that are dominant in your neighborhood, these shops are just as likely to have under qualified staff, but more often have well qualified supervisors and the resources/tools to do the job.

If all else fails, call around to a few places and describe your problem, see who sounds like they know what they're talking about and maybe ask a few discrete questions about their shop "do you see this problem a lot?" "how many techs do you have?" "Do you use Comptia or Microsoft certs?" ect.

But if you're buying a new computer, you shouldn't have to take it into a shop until the warranty runs out, so you shouldn't be too worried about a repair shop for at least 6months to a year.