Your computer is working now. Will it work tomorrow? What
about the next PC you buy? Will it be a reliable workhorse
or a lemon?
One of the most pressing issues regarding computers
is reliability. Nearly a quarter century after the introduction
of the first IBM PC and the outset of the personal computer
revolution, PCs have largely become commodities, with
little differentiating one brand from another in terms
of capability and performance. Most of today's software
is similarly mature, having gone through many upgrades,
with less opportunity for the introduction of groundbreaking
These days, what most differentiates one computer product
from another is reliability—the hassle factor.
The PC industry may be maturing, but computer products
are still prone to glitches, bugs, security vulnerabilities,
incompatibilities, premature failure, and other problems.
The reliability factor (the chance that any given product
will be a major headache) becomes paramount.
Computer and consumer magazines regularly survey computer
users to determine the most reliable PC manufacturers.
Along with recommendations from trusted colleagues,
friends, and family members, using the results of these
surveys is an excellent way to increase the chances
of your having a low-hassle computing experience (with
computers, there's no such thing as hassle-free).
According to its latest survey of subscribers about
who makes the most reliable personal computers and backs
them the best, PC World magazine gave Dell,
eMachines, Gateway, IBM, and Sony its top score, along
with the generic "white boxes" made by local
independent computer stores. (It didn't receive enough
responses to include Apple computers in its ratings.)
Companies making the most reliable notebook computers
and supporting them the best, according to PC World
readers, were Dell, Gateway, IBM, and Toshiba.
The most reliable printers were from Samsung (followed
by Brother, Canon, Epson, and Hewlett-Packard), while
the most reliable digital cameras came from Sony (followed
by Canon, Fujifilm, Hewlett-Packard, Kodak, Minolta,
Nikon, and Olympus). The most reliable personal digital
assistants were from Handspring, Palm, and Sony, according
to the PC World survey.
Interestingly, PC World’s survey also
showed that of the devices measured, digital cameras
in general were most reliable, followed in order by
printers, personal digital assistants, notebook PCs,
and desktop PCs.
In a survey from PC Magazine, Apple received
the best overall scores for reliability and service
in the desktop category, followed by self-built machines,
Dell, ABS, and machines from local computer stores.
Companies earning the best reliability ratings for
notebook PCs from PC Magazine subscribers were
Apple and IBM, followed by Dell, Fujitsu, and Toshiba.
Self-built machines received the highest rating in
the server category from PC Magazine, with
Dell and clones following suit.
According to the most recent survey of Consumer
Reports magazine readers, Apple ranked best for
reliability for desktop computers, followed in order
by Dell, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard. Apple also received
the highest rating for laptop reliability, with Toshiba,
Sony, and IBM following suit.
Apple also ranked at the top for technical support
with both desktop and laptop users, according to Consumer
Reports readers. Following (in order) were Gateway
and Dell with desktop support and IBM and Gateway for
Another recent survey, this one sponsored by the University
of Michigan and part of the quarterly American Customer
Satisfaction Index (ACSI), also indicated that Apple
computer users were more satisfied than those using
other computer brands, with Dell a close second.
According to the latest ACSI, both Apple and Gateway
have improved significantly in customer satisfaction
from the previous year. "Apple has had a history
of very poor scores in the index, but has been steadily
improving," says Sarah Allen, a spokesperson for
the ACSI. She attributes Apple's improvement to service
and product innovation in its PC line.
Interestingly, the overall satisfaction level among
all computer consumers is at a 4-year high, according
to the index, which can be attributed to lower prices,
upgrades in power and capabilities, and a more experienced
and savvier base of computer users.
Another trend that's clear is that despite its tiny
market share compared with Windows PCs, the Apple Macintosh
warrants consideration if you value reliability. As
always, however, the Mac comes with trade-offs.
Though it's easier than ever for Mac users to share
files with Windows users, it's not always smooth sailing.
Also, Mac users have always had fewer choices in software,
although the Mac covers all the major bases.
Finally, the Mac comes with a price premium. On the
other hand, as with many things, you get what you pay
Reid Goldsborough is a
syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight
Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org