Want the most reliable Windows PC? Buy a Mac (or maybe a Dell)

Want the most reliable Windows PC? Buy a Mac (or maybe a Dell)

Summary: A new report from Soluto uses data from its massive online database of PC crashes, hangs, and performance metrics to identify the 10 most reliable Windows PCs you can buy today. Surprisingly, a MacBook Pro is at the top of the list. Even more surprising is who's not included.

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If you want a reliable Windows PC, maybe you should get a Mac.

That’s the conclusion of a new report released today by Soluto, which crunched the data from its cloud-based PC monitoring and management software to come up with a list of the 10 most reliable portable PCs you can buy today.

The most reliable Windows PC you can buy today, according to Soluto’s report, doesn’t come from one of the leading hardware OEMs. Instead, it’s built by Microsoft’s archrival Apple. (You'll have to use Apple's Boot Camp utility and buy your own Windows license to transform the Mac into a Windows PC.)

The report also provides a partial answer to the age-old question of whether you should use a vendor’s OEM image of Windows or wipe it and perform a clean installation.

Soluto’s database includes data gathered from millions of machines running Windows. For this study, the company chose a sample of data gathered in the first three months of 2013 from 150,000 portable PCs. They filtered the dataset so it includes only models available for purchase today, running Windows 7 or Windows 8.

That left a total of 49 models from a who’s who of hardware makers. The world’s leading PC OEM, HP, had the most entries on the list, followed in order by Lenovo, Dell, Samsung, ASUS, Acer, Toshiba, and Apple.

At the top of the Soluto list is the 13-inch MacBook Pro (mid-2012 model), which earned the best reliability score of the bunch. The score takes into account program crashes and hangs (events in which an application becomes nonresponsive for at least five seconds), average boot time, the number of background processes, and the number of BSODs (STOP errors, aka the “Blue Screen of Death”) per week.

Soluto-top-10-pc

What’s most startling about this top-10 list is who’s not on it. HP isn’t represented at all, and giant Lenovo squeaked in to take the last spot on the list with its pricey ThinkPad X1 Carbon. ASUS and Samsung are nowhere to be found.

By contrast, Dell makes half the models on the list, and Acer earned two spots, including a close second.

The secret of their success isn’t all that surprising. Both companies deliver relatively clean installations of Windows, with close attention paid to drivers. Dell includes minimal amounts of third-party software in its PCs, a practice that adds to the reliability of its products. By contrast, when I last looked at consumer PCs from HP and Samsung I found that crapware was a performance-sapping nightmare.

Acer’s Aspire E1, a bargain-priced 15-inch notebook, earned rock-solid reliability scores, nearly equal to those of a clean install of Windows on a MacBook Pro that costs nearly three times as much. That’s a significant data point in favor of the argument that PC OEMs can indeed ship reliable hardware with a factory installation of Windows. Wipe-and-reinstall should be an option, not a necessity.

Soluto shared one data point with me that you won’t find in the report. In their sample, 35 percent of Lenovos had non-OEM Windows installations, meaning they had been wiped and reimaged by the owner. For Dell and HP, the percentages were 28 percent and 22 percent, respectively. By contrast, only 15 percent of Acer machines were reimaged. I suspect the higher percentages are an indication of a greater share of Lenovos and Dells among IT pros and corporate buyers, with Acer being much more focused on a consumer market that is unlikely to do the radical surgery of a clean Windows install.

A closer look at the raw data suggests that BSODs, in which Windows stops working because of a fatal memory error or driver flaw, are relatively infrequent. On a 13-inch MacBook Pro (non Retina) with a clean install of Windows, Soluto’s data suggests you’ll see a BSOD once every two years. On a Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook, a BSOD raised its ugly head at a rate equal to one every nine months or so. By contrast, the sample data from 15-inch MacBook Pros with Retina displays suffered BSODs at a rate of one every five weeks.

Without looking more closely at the data, it’s impossible to tell whether those crashes on the more expensive expensive MacBook Pro Retina are the result of bad drivers from Apple or third-party drivers and system software that don’t play well with Apple’s expensive hardware. They might also have included Windows 8 installations using the Windows 7 version of Boot Camp.

As the report notes, Apple’s two entries in the list should include a giant asterisk. Running Windows directly on a Mac (without the use of virtualization software) requires using Apple’s Boot Camp utility and purchasing a separate Windows license at a typical cost of between $130 and $200. You then have to partition the hard disk and install Windows yourself.

Despite those extra hurdles, there were enough Mac owners willing to endure the hassle of running Windows on a Mac to put those models on Soluto's radar.

Because of the timing of this study, most of the machines (roughly 89 percent) were running Windows 7, with just over 10 percent running Windows 8. Neither Microsoft’s Surface Pro, which went on sale in the middle of the data-collection period, nor any touchscreen-equipped Windows 8 PCs are represented in the report. That situation should change over the course of the next few months, and those models will be reflected in future editions of Soluto’s reports.

There’s more to purchasing a PC than just reliability, of course. Price is an important consideration for both consumers and businesses. The average price of the eight Windows PCs in the Soluto list is $682. That’s $1500 less than you’ll pay for a MacBook Pro with Retina display.

And there are other considerations as well. Some, like build quality, size, and weight, can be quantified. Others, like the feel of a keyboard or the operation of a trackpad, are intangible. And running Windows on a Mac adds other headaches, including compatibility issues with imaging and backup software.

If you’re attracted to any of these PCs, I urge you to read the entire Soluto report so you can catch some of the subtleties in their analysis.

Topics: PCs, Apple, Dell, Lenovo, Microsoft, Windows

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299 comments
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  • The Acer at $430 did darn well in the test.

    I will attest to some driver issues with the rMBP as it works exceptionally well under a VM but not as well as a Boot Camp.
    Bruizer
    • 3 imac down

      I bought 3 iMac in the last 6 or 7 years. They all died of prematured death. Screen, video adapter and main board where fatal issues. My latest grief was caused by a 2 and half year old iMac's screen that needed to be replaced and that would have cost 600$ to fix. That is a lot of money condiring that it had cost 1100$ when it was new.

      Meanwhile, my HP and Dell and a few Gateway PCS where a lot more reliable overall.
      gbouchard99@...
      • Mac reliability..

        I am neither a Microsoft or Apple "fan boy", but the difference in cost and pricing of any and all accessories would drive me right out of "Apple World". I can't afford "toys", and won't pay Apple prices. Also, I have friends who come up with the cash, and still have "total fails" on Apple equipment. As far as I can see, spending money on Apple only gets you a sense of superiority, not a good tool...
        robertcape@...
        • Mmmmmm....

          So a computer that can run the Mac OS, Windows, Unix, Linux, etc, in other words, all of them, unlike every other PC out there, which is powerful enough to be used by everyone from Hollywood producers to edit feature films to researchers that are working on cancer cures is a 'toy'. Mmmmm.

          And Apple is consistently, year after year, ranked number one in customer care and satisfaction. Just like the iPhone and iPad are ranked top in their fields to!

          Can't understand the 'toy' thing!

          Oh, I know, you're confusing it with the Dell Optiron computers that the University of Texas couldn't understand why they kept failing, and Dell said it was 'because the university is doing intensive mathematical calculations'!!!!

          Let me tell you the difference between a world leading company like Apple, and the low commodity producers like Dell. They both had bad batches of capacitors causing the above problems. Apple extended their warranty; Dell lied.
          ShazAmerica
          • Any PC can run OS X.

            Apple just prohibits them from doing so. This is not a reflection of the PC.
            ye
          • Need to add...

            You might get limited driver support for some components.
            Sacr
          • Re: any pc can run os x

            os x is just a lowly component of a Mac. I wouldn't run it on hardware designed by monkeys.
            patrickco
          • So you are advocating loading OS X on an OEM PC?

            xuniL_z
          • Ya

            Hackintosh anyone?
            Maha888
          • before I saw the bank draft ov $9022,

            before I saw the bank draft ov $9022, I accept that my cousin could trully bringing in money in their spare time from there new laptop.. there dads buddy has been doing this for under eleven months and at present cleard the mortgage on there appartment and purchased a gorgeous Jaguar XJ. go to, ...,, >> http://qr.net/kiS7
            bhaitoqeer
          • WRONG

            There are multiple OC hardware configurations that will run OS-X, but it isnt universal. OS-X drivers only support certain MB/graphics card combinations.
            Non-Euclidean
          • Have yoiu

            ever heard of Hackintosh?
            Linux runs just fine on Windows boxes.
            There are millions more programs that I can run on Windows that you can't find for Macs.
            Macs are overpriced...as this article shows (even though they are trying to boost otherwise dismal Mac sells).
            Azzras
          • Re: Hackintosh

            it is retarded experience. OS X is meant to be run on Macs. It is integral part of it.

            Try reading books translated by Google Translator - the same experience.
            patrickco
          • Hackintosh

            A Hackintosh is the only OSX laptop with a FULL keyboard.
            A hackintosh is the only OSX laptop with swappable batteries so you can have portable duty cycle of 99%.
            A hackintosh is the only OSX laptop with built in WWAN.
            A hackintosh is now the only new OSX laptop with built in RJ45 ethernet port.
            A hackintosh is the lightest OSX laptop.
            A hackintosh is the fastest OSX laptop.
            A hackintosh is the cheapest OSX laptop.
            warboat
          • A hackintosh is illegal

            Period
            5735guy
          • So,

            Who cares? It's mine, I'll do with it what I want.
            cHarley1200
          • Apple's licensing is....

            only for those willing to allow a corporation to make all of their computing decisions for them. Period.
            xuniL_z
          • missed right click ;)

            if i buy a motorcycle snatch the motor for a jetski so what i can do that.if i buy a hp 360dlg4 and put win 7 u on it its my box the local fanboys that see my "desktop" learn that apple does not make a faster more dependable machine. cost effective? i think not. over kill? i hope so that was the plan.
            Bob Bray
          • The same can be said of Macs!

            Running Windows on Boot Camp sucks compared to running it on a PC. There is nothing prohibiting a PC from running OS X except Apple.
            jhammackHTH
          • Re: Linux runs just fine on Windows boxes.

            There is no such thing as a "Windows box".

            Windows runs on specific architecture computer. The same can be said for OS X, or for any UNIX --- except that these run on a wildly wider set of computer architectures.

            The difference between Apple and Microsoft is that Apple are making personal computers since 1973, Microsoft is not.
            danbi