There are lots of important considerations to keep in mind when shopping for a new laptop, like the ones in our recently updated report. In fact, it's easy to get overwhelmed in a sea of specifications -- RAM, processors, graphic cards, expansion ports, optical drives, and more. It's a lot to consider. But one of the most important considerations might be reliability and support. After all, your laptop won't do you any good if it doesn't work or is constantly being sent in for repairs. One way to gauge reliability and support is through the results of large customer satisfaction surveys produced annually by publications and sites like PCMag.com, PC World and ConsumerReports.org. What do they tell us? Let's find out.
Survey of surveys
PCMag.com's survey of user satisfaction and reliability is perhaps the best known and most respected, but it is also one of the smaller ones. For 2011, the popular technology site surveyed 12,000 readers for their opinions on the laptops they own. Respondents were asked to rate laptop brands on several criteria, including reliability, customer support and rate of repairs. PCMag.com also asked each survey respondent how likely they would be to recommend a particular brand to a friend.
ConsumerReports.org reports on a laptop brand's likelihood of suffering serious problems or requiring a repair. The result is statistically adjusted to account for things like the age of the laptop and whether or not it is covered by an extended warranty, and based on responses from 43,000 of its readers who have purchased a laptop between 2006 and 2010 (at present). The full information is only available to subscribers, but articles like this one at CBSMoneyWatch.com provide a glimpse into the site's findings.
PC World doesn't specifically breakdown how many of its poll respondents rated laptops but does reveal that, overall, 79,000 people rated their technology products. The survey delves into laptop reliability both on arrival and over time, drilling down to find out if any issues involved key components (CPU, hard drive, motherboard, power supply, etc.), whether the failed component was replaced, and overall satisfaction with reliability. PC World also looks at satisfaction with service, with ratings of phone support (including hold times) and whether or not the maker was able to resolve the problem.
The best laptop brands
Apple tops the PCMag.com survey year after year, so it came as no surprise that Apple takes the crown again in 2011. Even though several manufacturers have a lower rate of repair, customers are overwhelmingly pleased with their Apple laptops. According to the survey, 15 percent of Apple laptops require a repair, but respondents say that they are far more likely to recommend an Apple laptop than another brand. "Based on its stratospheric satisfaction scores, Apple once again receives our Readers' Choice for laptops," says Ben Gottesman.
That tracks well with other surveys. At PC World, respondents place Apple laptops at the head of the class in the magazine's poll in terms of overall reliability. In addition, when problems are encountered, PC World readers report that Apple does a much better than average job of getting them resolved.
Among Windows manufacturers, satisfaction varies a bit more among the major surveys. At PCMag.com, Samsung, Alienware and Asus earn the highest ratings. Samsung tops the list with high scores for reliability. Interestingly, Alienware has the highest rate of repairs (21 percent), but survey respondents are still satisfied overall -- Alienware ties with Samsung with the highest satisfaction score among Windows laptops.
At PC World, Jeff Bertolucci reports that Asus has made major strides in the last year, rocketing from a middling grade to top of the Windows pack. Both reliability (long term and out-of-the-box) seem markedly improved, and phone support is praised (or at least not hated as much as other vendors). Toshiba also pleases when it comes to reliability, but support is only average say the poll's respondents.
Dean Gallea, senior program leader at ConsumerReports.org, tells CBSMoneyWatch.com that Toshiba along with Acer earn the highest reliability scores in its survey. PCMag.com, on the other hand, agrees that Acer has one of the lowest repair rates among laptop brands, but reports that customers are not pleased with Acer's customer support -- it receives the lowest score on that front compared to the other laptop brands.
The worst laptop brands
While the PCMag.com survey gives Apple, Samsung and Alienware something to smile about, other manufacturers are facing a more negative picture. In particular, Gateway, Fujitsu and Compaq fall to the bottom of the pack. Compaq has the lowest overall score in PCMag's survey, and 12 percent of its laptops require a repair at some point. Gateway also has a high rate of repairs at 16 percent.
HP and Dell also have some work to do. At PCMag.com, the numbers don't look too bad, with those companies' laptops finishing in the bottom half of the survey, but well ahead of the bottom three. However, PC World separates out those vendors' consumer-oriented laptops from their business models with revealing results. Owners of those companies' business-oriented laptops (for example, the Dell Latitude or HP ProBook) are far happier with both reliability and customer service than those who buy a laptop from their consumer lines (for example, Dell Inspiron or HP Pavilion). The contrasts are startling. For example, 21.6 percent of Dell's home laptop owners say that the company was never able to resolve their issue, while only 13.6 percent of the company's business laptop owners report the same failing.
While reliability isn't the only factor to consider, it is important if you are deciding between several laptop brands. Still, don't forget that a brand survey doesn't necessarily apply to a specific laptop. Even the best laptop maker will churn out the occasional lemon, while those who have some ground to make up in terms of reliability and service can produce a laptop that won't give you a speck of trouble. Because of that, user feedback on specific laptops can be helpful, and are strongly considered where possible when we select the best ultraportables, desktop replacements, business laptops and gaming rigs for our laptop report.