In laptop reliability survey, one brand trumps all

Whatever brand you swear by (or at) there's good news, and bad, in the findings. But this Consumer Reports survey of 58,000 notebook owners finds one vendor has a huge edge in reliability and satisfaction - and it probably isn't yours.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

Notebook computers can be one of the most maddening consumer devices ever - especially when they break. A survey of 58,000 Consumer Reports subscribers adds some welcome evidence into just how likely notebooks are to break - by brand.

Consumer Reports is the world's largest independent, nonprofit, consumer product testing organization. They buy the products they test, don't accept advertising, and don't allow their results to be used for promotion. I'm a fan of their work.

Big picture

In the survey, almost 20 percent of respondents reported a breakdown in the first 3 years of use, most of them seriously affecting system use.

Apple, as in year's past, has the most reliable notebooks by far - a 10 percent breakdown rate in the first 3 years - with Samsung and Gateway distant seconds at 16 percent, and the rest of the industry - including Acer, Lenovo, Toshiba, HP, Dell and Asus, at 18-19 percent.

Windows machines used more than 20 hours a week - average for Windows systems - have a higher break rate. Apple users report using their machines an average of 23 hours a week, 15 percent more. More hours, fewer breakdowns, what's not to like?

When breakdowns occur

Yet Apple buyers face problems too. While overall reliability is good, Apple notebooks have a consistent 3-4 percent annual breakdown rate, while Windows machines are much more likely to fail in the first year, often under warranty.

While Apple notebooks break less often, when they do they are often more expensive to fix. That's one reason why CR advises Apple buyers to consider the Apple Care extended warranty, especially since Apple's phone support is highly rated. On Windows machines, they advise you to save money by skipping add-on warranties.

However, Windows machines are more likely to be lemons: among those that broke, 55 percent did so multiple times. The figure for Apple was 42 percent.

Customer sat

Psychologists have found that an early negative experience takes many positive experiences to overcome. A rational economic actor - if there was one! - might think that sure, Windows notebooks fail more often, but they cost less, so OK.

But people aren't rational.

High early failure rates may be a key factor in another of CR's findings: 71 percent of Apple notebook owners were completely satisfied with system reliability; only 38 percent of Windows notebook owners were. Ouch!

The Storage Bits take

The survey results - 58,000 is a big sample size by any measure - should end the argument over whether MacBook hardware is better or not. It is. Get over it.

But you - and probably the survey respondents - can buy a $400 Windows notebook, so I'd like the results better if they'd controlled for product price. Maybe a $850 Windows machine is just as reliable as an $850 MacBook Air .

One would hope!

Comments welcome!

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