2010 reliability and service survey: Desktop computers

They just sit there. And yet desktops continue to lag behind laptops in their durability and reliability.

Surprise: Desktops are far less reliable than laptops these days. In this year's version of PCWorld's annual Reliability and Service Survey, 30.7% of survey respondents report having had a problem serious enough to render their desktop inoperable. Only 20% of laptop owners report such problems.

When it comes to support, 1 in 5 desktop users (21%) report that their problem was never resolved by the manufacturer (with laptops, the rate is slightly higher at 23.4%).

The three As--Apple, Asus, and Alienware--topped the desktop category. Alienware's impressive showing is good news for the Dell subsidiary, which builds high-end gaming rigs. Two years ago, Alienware customers reported a higher-than-average number of out-of-the-box problems. But this year they say the company's PCs are highly reliable. (We didn't get enough responses to include Alienware in last year's survey.)

Apple had another stellar showing in our survey. Apple desktop users gave the company above-average ratings in all five of our reliability measurements, and in all four of our service measurements. And when Apple desktop owners do have problems, they're generally satisfied with the company's response. Just under 9% of Apple desktop users in our survey report their problem was never resolved by the company's support team, a figure significantly lower than the 21% industry average we found.

HP, the largest seller of PCs in the United States, disappointed again this year, showing up at the bottom of the rankings for the reliability of its home desktops, and for its ability to support them. Dell, the second-largest seller of home PCs in the U.S., also earned poor marks in these areas.

We discuss Dell and HP's general poor performance elsewhere.

But saying that Dell and HP performed poorly in the home PC market doesn't tell the whole story. Both companies profit more from their business computer lines. So this year we separated Dell and HP business and home users in the laptop, desktop, and printer categories, in order to compare the satisfaction levels of the vendors' corporate and consumer customers.

Not surprisingly, we found that Dell and HP business customers are far happier than Dell and HP home computer owners.

Dell's professional PC users tell us that the manufacturer's support is relatively good at resolving problems, while its home customers say that Dell's problem-solving skills are mediocre at best. Similarly, the owners of Compaq and HP business notebooks seem far happier about the reliability of their machines than the owners of HP consumer laptops.

Dell's desktop business systems earned one above-average grade and eight average grades in our nine reliability and service categories. Home desktops fared far worse with six below-average scores.

Click here for a full summary of our survey results for desktops, by brand. For more on the measures used in the chart and the survey methodology, see "The Tech Brands You Can Trust."

In the main story of this package, we dig further into the question of why the two companies' home PC customers seem to fare so much poorer in both the quality of their machines and the quality of the support they receive.

After reading this article, you may want to jump to PCWorld's Facebook page, where readers can add their own stories of product reliability and vendor service.

This story, "2010 reliability and service survey: Desktop computers" was originally published by PCWorld.

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