Reliability Getting Better
Hardware vendors hit their low point in reliability three or four years ago, says Gartner research VP Leslie Fiering, who tracks reliability issues. Price wars had impelled vendors to cut corners in design and engineering, as well as to unload a great deal of the quality-assurance testing they once did to component suppliers, Fiering explains.
"Well, guess, what? Suppliers were not totally honest. Certain things were not caught," says Fiering. Industrywide problems, including (in 2005) faulty 60GB notebook hard drives and (more recently) problems with defective and exploding batteries, affected just about every vendor, she says. Computer makers were then forced to reexamine their cost-cutting efforts, and concluded that they had made a mistake. "All that money they thought they were saving on the front end, they were hemorrhaging on the back end through warranty support," she says.
Since then, vendors have improved the reliability of their products somewhat by increasing system testing and by hiking the penalties they impose on component suppliers who deliver junky equipment. In a 2006 Gartner study of enterprise PCs, Fiering estimated that reliability had improved by about 25 percent since its nadir a few years earlier.
Tighter system integration has been another boon to reliability. A few years ago, the average desktop PC motherboard held an assortment of video, networking, and modem cards--each one a potential point of failure. Computer manufacturers now integrate these features into chips included on the motherboard. As a result, the computer operates using fewer independent components from fewer vendors, and the chance of system failure is much reduced.