HP has produced a new "virtual house call" service for those having trouble getting their PCs to work

HP Instant Care will provide personalised service over the Internet, the company said. Customers can sit at their home PCs while remote workers defragment a hard drive, speed up booting time by deleting extra files, and other housekeeping issues.

The service follows similar remote IT services offered by Dell and Intel. As PC prices continue to fall and the market grows increasingly crowded, companies are using improved customer service to differentiate their products.

Dell has been expanding its customer service in an effort to turn around poor earnings results. In June, the company launched "DellConnect", an expansion of its TechConnect service allowing Dell service agents to troubleshoot customers' PCs using a broadband Internet link instead of a personal visit. Dell claims the approach will save time and money compared to the cost of dispatching technicians.

Likewise, remote monitoring is one of the cornerstones of Intel's vPro technology bundle for business desktops, launched in September. One ingredient, Intel's Active Management Technology, allows IT managers to make fewer time-consuming "desk-side" visits by booting and repairing PCs remotely.

HP, Gateway and Lenovo Group have adopted the vPro platform and Dell offers a similar package in the OptiPlex 745 PC. HP Instant Care is free for HP customers whose computers are still under warranty and have purchased either PC Tune-up for $99 or SmartFriend for $59.99.