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How Reliable is Your Laptop, Really?
That isn't any easy question to answer. Reliability information isn't easy to obtain, and so most consumers don't even put major thought into it, assuming one laptop is about as reliable as the other. Savvy consumers might ask on forums for information, but the replies found are usually unsatisfactory, based off individual experiences rather than statistics.
There actually is a very good source of information about laptop reliability ratings available, however. This source is the Squaretrade reliability report. The report, created by a company called Squaretrade which deals in laptop warranties, is the most accurate source of information currently available about laptop reliability.
Let's take a look at that report and what it says.
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Laptop Reliability Is Generally Poor
Overall, laptop reliability ratings leave a lot to be desired. About 20 percent of laptops will fail due to a hardware malfunction in their first three years of use. While most laptops come with a standard one year warranty, the majority of failures occur after the first year. The first year chance of laptop failure is 4.7 percent. This climbs to 12.7 percent in the second year.
When accidental damage is taken into account, the chance of failure within the first three years of use increases to 31 percent. It is not possible to make any comment on the build quality of laptops because of accidental damage, but this does shows that accidental damage is a major factor in overall reliability. This is a factor which usually isn't a major part of a consumer product's reliability. It is rare, for instance, that an HDTV is destroyed by accidental damage, flying Wiimotes included.
If you purchase a laptop today, there is statistically a one in three chance that it will not be with you in three years. However, you can improve your odds by purchasing a laptop from a brand that has a high laptop reliability rating.
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The brand of laptop which you buy has a major effect on the chance that your laptop will fail. The graph below, which is from the Squaretrade report, shows how the laptop brands stack up when it comes to their reliability.
As you can see, there is a significant difference between the laptop reliability ratings of different brands. You are 40% more likely to experience a failure within three years if your purchase a laptop from the least reliable brand, HP, instead of from the most reliable brand, ASUS. That is a large gap. In fact, Lenovo, Acer, Gateway and HP all performed very particularly poorly. This can be noted by the large gap between Dell and Lenovo. The fact that Acer and Gateway have virtually the same reliability also brings credit to Squaretrade's report - Acer owns Gateway and designs are often shared between the companies.
ASUS and Toshiba deserve serious credit and serious consideration from any laptop buyer. They are virtually tied in the battle for first place. Anyone looking for a laptop that needs to last several years would be best served by purchasing an ASUS or Toshiba laptop.
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Price Equals Reliability
An important trend which shows up in the Squaretrade reliability report is a correlation between laptop reliability and laptop price.
According to the Squaretrade report, netbooks have the worst reliability out of all laptops which are currently made. It should be pointed out that this data is more limited than with laptops because netbooks are a newer product. However, 5.8% of netbooks have failed within the first year, which can be compared to 4.7% of laptops. If the were to continue to the third year of use, you could expect to see an average failure chance of about 25% on netbooks (accidents not included), which is 5% more than the failure chance with a normal laptop.
It also seems that "premium laptops" - laptops over $1000 in price - have a lower chance of failure than laptops which are less expensive. There is an 18.1% chance that a premium laptop will fail within three years, which is a little bit lower than the chance of a normal laptop failing. Still, this difference isn't large enough to justifying spending a grand on a laptop if you don't need a premium system.
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Above all, the most important conclusion to take with you from this report is the fact that laptop brand does make a difference when it comes to laptop reliability. Several of the brands which were on the bottom of the list - Acer, Gateway and HP - are brands that often offer laptops with very low prices relative to their hardware. This seems to work in terms of sales, because HP and Acer are the number 1 and number 2 computer vendors in the world (and remember, Gateway is also a subsidiary of Acer). Before you leap at a great deal, consider how long you need your laptop to last. If you want it to last three years or more, you may want to go for a slightly more expensive ASUS, Toshiba or Sony laptop instead.
Another observation which can be made from this report is one that Squaretrade probably has no problems with - laptops are not as reliable as other consumer electronics. Does that mean that you should purchase a protection plan on your laptop? Personally, I say no, it doesn't. While laptop reliability ratings are poor, it is still unlikely that your laptop will fail - as long as you purchase from a reliable brand.
Finally, it can be argued that netbooks are less reliable than laptops. This is not surprising when you consider how inexpensive netbooks are. Of course, despite the increased chance of failure, netbooks are probably not worth worrying about. After all, netbooks are extremely cheap, and you'll probably replace one within two or three years anyway.