The Computer reliability survey 2010 featured Toshiba professional products at the top of the notebook/laptop list. Asus has moved up this year after a slack period some years ago. Apple is still the big preference with first time buyers while experienced Apple users report that their hardware is just average. What are the big differences for 2011 and what will happen in 2012?
Pro or cheap?
Many brands divide their products into Pro and Cheap ranges, or business and consumer. There is often very little difference in visible design. The brand might make the quality difference obvious by offering a one year guarantee for the cheap stuff and a three year guarantee for the good stuff. The few hundred dollars difference in price might translate to a machine that breaks down a day after the short guarantee runs out or a machine that lasts so long, you retire it before it breaks.
Always buy the pro version when available.
Some models are available with SSD, solid state disks, or conventional rotating magnetic disks. The conventional disks break when bumped while rotating. SSDs do not break as easily. Surveys should split results between the two. I have not found a survey comparing the two.
Early SSDs were as unreliable as early magnetic disks. Magnetic disks for notebooks improved radically over the last few years. If your magnetic disk breaks due to wear, you have a truly cheap brand you should never buy again.
If your magnetic disk breaks because you dropped it when switched on, that is about average for an older disk. Modern computers can park the disk head during a short fall and avoid damage to the disk. Simply upgrading from your three year old computer to a new one, from a good brand, should give you better reliability.
SSDs provide extra safety when you use your notebook on the road. Think of all those occasions when you are out driving with your notebook open on the seat next to you, when you brake, and the notebook slips off the seat onto the floor. A modern safe disk will survive many of those falls but not all. SSD will survive all those falls. The few extra hundred dollars for SSD will make a difference on the road.
Reliable or pretty?
Some reliability surveys rate pretty ahead of reliable. Apple and Sony feature at the top of those lists. Survey experienced users. They rate reliability many times higher than looks. They rate Apple above average but not far above average. The pro versions from other brands rate as high. Sony does not get a mention when you take out looks.
Samsung dropped out of the Australian market for a while then returned with a new range. The new range rates well in several surveys but the new range has not been out long enough to decide if it is reliable for the long term. Most surveys have a problem dividing new models from old for all brands.
Apple rates well in part because people change up to new models frequently. Toshiba rates lower because many users are still using Toshibas that are five years old, seven years old, or as old as ten years. My wife uses an eight year old Toshiba that has just started to break down. I see lots of people with Apple notebooks have problems within two years but they trade up to a new model the instant they have a problem.
Lack of numbers
One survey rates Alienware computers high up near the top but does not specify how many responses are used. Alienware computers are almost unknown in Australia. They did not appear in surveys last year. They used to be known for selling some computers with Linux instead of Windows. Now they are owned by Dell and appear to be just a cheap brand they can put into shops without a price comparison to the products Dell sells online. Who buys them? How are they used?
When is a repair not an unreliability?
One customer survey shows Apple computers requiring more than twice as many repairs as the good brands but the Apple users rated their computers as reliable, more reliable than the brands that do not need a mass of repairs. Based on the actual percentage of repairs, I would rate the top brand as unacceptable if those repairs are occurring in the first three years. The next two brands have a similar repair rate and I could understand their repair rate if all their computers were five years old.
The repair rate for Apple, Gateway, and HP is the same and what you would expect for cheap computers older than three years. Gateway disappeared about three years ago so their figures are understandable but who would keep an Apple for three years, you have to trade up to the new look every year or two.
Dell and Alienware are at the bottom of that repair list. Given the number of brand new straight-out-of-the-box Dell machines I have used and the number with broken keyboards, broken screens, and broken mice, I can understand the low rating for Dell. That does not include the huge number of keyboard that are unusable but do not qualify as broken, according to Dell. I tried one of Dell's optional extra $99 professional keyboards and it barely rated as acceptable for occasional use.
Does the brand manufacture computers?
Sony is a big corporation manufacturing some electronic parts and should know what they are doing but they do produce some cheap unreliable equipment. Over the last ten years I have thrown out everything branded Sony because of unreliable results. Based on my experience and comments from other people with extensive experience, each generation of Sony products is less reliable than the previous generation despite hardware components becoming more reliable.
Apple has companies contract manufacturing for them in China and is involved in the design of at least one chip used in one product. You would think their hardware should be good. Lots of surveys rate reliability down near the industry average for professional equipment and give Apple a high rating on customer service. Apple customers appear to quickly forget the Apple products where you could not replace the batter and those where a battery replacement cost more than the device.
Samsung is one of the few companies in the world to manufacture LCD panels. Most other computer companies purchase screens assembled in China by companies who buy the LCD panels from Samsung.
Based on user perception of reliability, Asus are recovering from a bad year and are on the way up. Based on measurements of actual repairs, Asus was more reliable than Apple during their bad year and are now three times as good. Today Asus are more reliable than Toshiba, the long time benchmark of reliability, but Asus owners are still saying it is not good enough. Asus owners must be a fussy.
Asus has some brilliant new designs out. They also sell a million models that are just normal in design and features. If I was after one of the ordinary models, I would look at three other brands, including Samsung, because they all have a big bunch of models in that area and there is a price war on. When you want something above average, none of the shops stock anything worth looking at and you have to buy online.
For a notebook, I want to see the screen and feel the keyboard before buying. You cannot do that online. Retailers work hard to turn customers away without letting them buy anything. One reason Apple sells so many notebooks is the simple try-and-buy availability. You can walk into an Apple shop, try the computer, buy it, and buy the cartons of adaptors, easily. If you take the same amount of money into a regular shop, you could buy two top of the line notebooks, because you do not need all the adaptors, but regular shops refuse to stock anything top of the line. Back to the Apple shop.