Apple's ratings for reliability and service, though stellar among laptop manufacturers, fell slightly from last year's results. Survey participants again rated the MacBook maker better than average in six of nine categories--by far the best showing achieved by any notebook vendor--but they also reported a higher-than-average incidence of problems with failed components.
Acer, Dell, and Sony did well overall, too, though not at Apple's level. Acer and Sony laptops earned praise for their reliability, and readers reported that Dell did a better job of resolving customer problems in 2008 than in previous years. Dell's efforts to reduce hold times for phone support seem to be paying off as well: The company's score on this measure rose to average from worse than average. On the other hand, Dell needs to do a better job of replacing failed parts, according to our readers.
Lenovo, which last year challenged Apple for the top spot, posed less of a challenge this year. Its only high mark came in overall reliability; last year it earned five better-than-average grades, mostly for aspects of its service.
At the other end of the spectrum, HP repeated last year's dismal last-place finish with six subpar marks, plus another one for its Compaq brand. In fact, HP's 2008 grades are even worse than its 2007 marks, which included two ahead-of-the-pack scores for reliable components. The good news this year? Well, HP says that it has been working to shorten phone-support hold times--and our readers noticed the difference. The world's biggest PC vendor rose to average from worse than average in that area.
Another interesting survey finding: One-third of our respondents reported experiencing one or more significant hardware or software problems with their laptops. Desktops caused just as many headaches, but other peripherals--except printers--were much more dependable.