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Laptop Reliability and Satisfaction: MacBooks Rule

laptop reliability and service
Illustration by Florafauna
Dell and HP consumer laptops have become more durable over the years, but not as rapidly as several smaller rivals have. As a result, readers continue to ding the two large vendors on reliability measures. Apple laptop users gave their machines high marks for durability, support, and most features aside from "performance for the price." Asus, in contrast, got praise from customers for selling a lot of laptop for the money.

Highlighted in the three charts below are our survey participants' ratings of laptop PC manufacturers in three general areas: reliability, features, and service/support. These results are drawn from our 2011 Reliability and Service survey of some 63,000 PCWorld readers. The other product categories covered in this survey were desktop PCs, tablets, digital cameras, printers, HDTVs, and smartphones. For a closer look at the methodology we used in our survey to gauge manufacturer reliability and customer satisfaction, see "Reliability and Satisfaction: What the Measures Mean."

Notes and Quotes

Here are some interesting data points from the laptops section of our Reliability and Service survey, along with a couple of representative comments from participating PCWorld readers:

• Survey participants' overall satisfaction ("extremely satisfied" or "very satisfied") with laptop reliability from all companies has improved from 67.6 percent in 2008 to 81.9 percent in 2011. In that same period, Apple's approval rating for laptop reliability has risen from 82.3 percent in 2008 to 90.6 percent in 2011.

• Among laptop owners in our survey, 31.7 percent report using their machines for both personal life and work life.

• Approximately one in five problems that laptop users sought help with from the vendors' customer support services were never resolved.

• Though the incidence of significant laptop problems has fallen for the industry as a whole, from 31.8 percent in 2007 to 22.6 percent in 2011, some vendors are making faster progress than others. Specifically, HP improved from 36.1 percent of survey participants in 2007 reporting a significant problem with their laptop within the previous three years to 24.1 percent doing so in 2011, whereas Dell improved far less dramatically over the same period, from 30.3 percent in 2007 to 26 percent in 2011.

• The ten most common laptop problems that our readers reported encountering were with (in descending order of frequency) the operating system (19.2 percent), the hard drive (17.8 percent), the power supply (10.6 percent), the graphics or video system (8.8 percent), the keyboard (8.6 percent), the motherboard (8.5 percent), the screen (6.1 percent), the wireless connection (6 percent), the optical drive (5 percent), and the system memory or RAM (3.9 percent)

• "The hard drives in two [Dell] laptops I purchased failed one month after their warranties expired." --Dell laptop owner

• "It's very well made, not the plastic-like materials you typically find." --Apple laptop owner

Reliability

Four companies earned better-than-average marks on our survey's reliability measures, with Apple going a category-leading five for five. Samsung and Toshiba tied for the second spot, thanks to three positives and no negatives each; Samsung's strengths were in few problems on arrival, few dead laptops, and overall owner satisfaction with reliability, while Toshiba scored well on few dead laptops, few components needing replacement, and overall owner satisfaction. Asus deserves an honorable mention here for a low proportion of significant problems and better-than-average overall owner satisfaction with reliability.

Bringing up the rear in our survey results for laptop reliability are Dell's business laptops and HP's home laptops, with two worse-than-average marks and no better-than-average results, and Dell's home laptops, with three subpar marks and no positives.

Apple Leads in Laptop Reliability

BRANDProblem on arrivalAny significant problemAny failed component replacedDead PCOverall satisfaction with reliability
Apple Better than average Better than average Better than average Better than average Better than average
Samsung Better than average Average Average Better than average Better than average
Toshiba Average Average Better than average Better than average Better than average
Asus Average Better than average Average Average Better than average
Acer Average Average Better than average Average Average
Digital Storm Better than average Average Average Average Average
MSI Average Average Better than average Average Average
Compaq Average Average Average Average Average
Gateway Average Average Average Average Average
HP for Business Average Average Average Average Average
iBuyPower Average Average Average Average Average
Lenovo Average Average Average Average Average
Micro Express Average Average Average Average Average
Sony Average Average Average Average Average
Dell for Business Average Average Worse than average Worse than average Average
HP for Home Average Worse than average Average Average Worse than average
Dell for Home Average Worse than average Worse than average Worse than average Average

Better than average Better than average Average Average Worse than average Worse than average

"Dead PC" indicates a failure in one of a system’s core components. The six laptop "core components" in our categorization are CPU, motherboard, RAM, graphics chip, hard drive, and power supply. HP for Business laptops include the EliteBook, Mini, and ProBook product lines, among others. Dell for Business laptops include the Latitude, Precision, and Vostro product lines, among others. HP for Home laptops include the Envy, Pavilion, and TouchSmart product lines. Dell for Home laptops include the Adamo, Inspiron, Studio, and XPS lines.

Features

Continuing its impressive sweep of the laptop landscape, Apple collected better-than-average marks on eight of our ten measures, with only "performance for price" and "ports" grading out as average. Three other manufacturers scored especially well on features: Asus and Sony, with five better-than-average showings each; and Toshiba, with three.

Vendors with at least two worse-than-average marks and no better-than-average finishes include Digital Storm (two), HP for business users (four), and Dell for business users (a woeful eight). Two vendors with generally poor results can point to a silver lining: HP for home users struggled with subpar marks on three measures in the laptop category of our survey, but it compensated to some extent with a better-than-average grade for "built-in speaker"; and though Acer racked up five worse-than-average marks, it nevertheless received better-than-average marks from our readers for "performance for price."

Apple Laptop Owners Most Satisfied With Features

BRANDBuilt-in speakerDisplay qualityKeyboardOperating noisePerformance for priceTrackpad/ pointing deviceWebcam qualityDesignPortsWarranty
Apple Better than average Better than average Better than average Better than average Average Better than average Better than average Better than average Average Better than average
Asus Average Average Average Better than average Better than average Average Average Better than average Better than average Better than average
Sony Average Better than average Better than average Average Average Better than average Average Better than average Average Better than average
Toshiba Average Better than average Average Average Better than average Average Average Better than average Average Average
Dell for home Better than average Average Average Average Average Average Average Average Average Average
iBuyPower Better than average Average Average Average Average Average Average Average Average Average
Gateway Average Average Average Average Average Average Average Average Average Average
Lenovo Average Average Better than average Average Worse than average Average Average Average Average Average
Micro Express Average Average Average Average Average Average N/A Average Average Average
Samsung Average Average Average Average Average Average Average Average Average Average
Compaq Average Average Average Average Average Average Average Average Average Worse than average
MSI Worse than average Average Average Average Average Average Average Average Average Average
Digital Storm Average Average Average Average Worse than average Average Average Worse than average Average Average
HP for home Better than average Average Average Worse than average Average Worse than average Average Average Average Worse than average
Acer Worse than average Worse than average Worse than average Average Better than average Worse than average Worse than average Average Average Average
HP for business Average Worse than average Worse than average Average Worse than average Average Average Worse than average Average Average
Dell for business Worse than average Worse than average Worse than average Worse than average Worse than average Worse than average Average Worse than average Worse than average Average

Better than average Better than average Average Average Worse than average Worse than average

N/A = Not available (too few responses for this manufacturer on this measure). HP for Business laptops include the EliteBook, Mini, and ProBook product lines, among others. Dell for Business laptops include the Latitude, Precision, and Vostro product lines, among others. HP for Home laptops include the Envy, Pavilion, and TouchSmart product lines. Dell for Home laptops include the Adamo, Inspiron, Studio, and XPS lines.

Service

The Cupertino company completed its fine showing in the laptop PCs category with better-than-average scores on all four of our service and support measures. Dell's business laptops service and support picked up high marks on two measures ("problem resolution" and "service experience"), as did Toshiba (for "phone hold time" and "Web and phone support rating"). Vendors with work to do in service and support include Asus and HP for home, both of which earned worse-than-average ratings on three of the four service-and-support measures in this product category.

Apple Leads in Service, Too

BRANDPhone hold timeWeb and phone support ratingProblem was never resolvedService experience
Apple Better than average Better than average Better than average Better than average
Dell for Business Average Average Better than average Better than average
Toshiba Better than average Better than average Average Average
Dell for Home Average Average Better than average Average
Acer N/A Average Average Average
Lenovo Average Average Average Average
Sony N/A Average Average Average
Asus Average Worse than average Worse than average Worse than average
HP for Home Average Worse than average Worse than average Worse than average

Better than average Better than average Average Average Worse than average Worse than average

N/A = Not available (too few responses for this manufacturer on this measure). HP for Business laptops include the EliteBook, Mini, and ProBook product lines, among others. Dell for Business laptops include the Latitude, Precision, and Vostro product lines, among others. HP for Home laptops include the Envy, Pavilion, and TouchSmart product lines. Dell for Home laptops include the Adamo, Inspiron, Studio, and XPS lines.

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