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HP vs. Dell: Which Brand is Better?

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 5/23/2011

HP and Dell are two of the largest PC vendors in the world. Chances are that if you're looking at a new laptop you've considered products from these brands. But which brand is actually better? This article pits HP vs Dell to find out which you should buy.

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    Dell vs HP: Battle of the Titans

    The battle of Dell vs. HP is one of the most relevant to laptops consumers. Dell once held the crown of the world's largest PC vendor and is still one of the industry's largest players. HP currently owns the crown of the world's largest PC vendor, but has only held the title for a few years. Both of these companies generate a high sales volume because they specialize in making the kind of laptops people buy most frequently - low cost mainstream laptops which offer a good design and great bang for the buck.

    But which should you buy? This article covers the Dell vs. HP battle from a few specific perspectives, including design, reliability, customer service and price.

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    Dell Laptop HP and Dell both make laptops which are very specifically targeted towards mainstream laptop buyers, but the way they go about doing this is actually quite different.

    Dell tends to create designs which are simple, but can be spiced up with a splash of color if your choose (and are willing to pay around $30 or $40 dollars more, as the special color options available with Dells are an extra cost). Dell products don't stand out overly much, but when examined closely they do provide very solid build quality for the price. The keyboards are some of the best in the business, although they do show a little flex. The trackpads are simple, but functional. Displays are pretty much par for the course, with poor viewing angles but good brightness.

    HP designs usually don't have as much color, but instead make themselves stand out by adding patterns and textures to the lids and interiors of the laptops. The degree to which you'll like this is going to be determined by personal tastes - I prefer Dell's simplicity, but your opinion may differ. The same goes for the keyboards and trackpads. HP has been experimenting with keyboards and trackpads quite a bit and has many different styles available. I generally find the keyboards lacking in feel and the experimental trackpads - such as those which have no visual indicator of where the trackpad begins or ends - do not earn much praise in my eyes. However, HP does make good use of multi-media keys in their multi-media laptops.

    Overall, Dell has a slight advantage in this area, mainly because of the keyboards and trackpads. Overall build quality is very similar between the two laptop brands.

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    The best reliability information currently available comes from the Squaretrade reliability report. Squaretrade is a company which sells laptop warranties and keeps track of warranty claims (as you'd expect). This puts them in a very good position to determine how well laptops stand up over time.

    The battle of HP vs. Dell swings heavily in favor of Dell when it comes to reliability. Squaretrade found that Dell laptops are essentially average. The three year failure rate was around 18%, putting Dell squarely in the middle of the pack. HP, on the other hand, had the worst reliability record in their survey with a three year failure rate of 25%. This is not including failures due to accidents - just failures due to quality.

    This poor record can be tempered somewhat by asking yourself just how long you plan to use your laptop, anyway. People tend to grow tired of laptops quickly, and if you replace your laptop every two years this reliability won't be a factor. If you want your laptop to last five years, however - dude, you'd better get a Dell.

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    Customer Service

    HP Laptop Both HP and Dell have had their customer service examined by Laptop Magazine and by Consumer Reports, and their results are consistent with each other. The findings are that when it comes to customer service, the HP vs Dell battle again swings in the favor of Dell, but that this may not being saying much.

    Laptop Magazine and Consumer Reports both reported ratings from HP and Dell which were less than what I'm sure all consumer would like. Both companies can be a hassle to deal with sometimes when you have a customer service question. That aside, Dell was generally found superior. The main difference seems to be the rate at which problems are solved. Consumer reports states that Dell is a little better than average in this regard, while HP is a bit worse than average. Laptop Magazine had similar problems and found that HP tech support was plagued with bad information, stating that "When we asked [the customer service rep] our question, rather than give us an answer, he mistakenly told us that our notebook was 17 days out of warranty, and that we would have to pay for service."

    Both companies could make big improvements, but it appears Dell wins another solid victory when it comes to customer service.

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    Both HP and Dell are very competitive when it comes to pricing. The basic HP G60t, which comes with an Intel 2.1 Ghz processor, 2GB of RAM and a 250GB Hard Drive, starts at $429.99. The Dell Inspiron 15, which comes with an Intel 2.2Ghz processor and the same specs otherwise, starts at $379.99.

    However, it would be wrong to consider this a victory in favor of Dell, because pricing for both companies is heavily dependent on the deals which are currently being offered. Dell frequently offers major discounts through their online store, while HP sells their laptops through many retail outlets which often provide significant discounts on their products. Overall both companies have very inexpensive products, and neither has an edge in this area.

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    Dell has won three victories, one of which was small (design). The two companies tie on price. The victor is clear - in the HP vs. Dell battle, Dell earns the win.

    Does this mean that all Dell laptops are better. No, not necessarily. The large number of products available from each company means that you may find an HP that better fits your needs. However, the reliability and customer service problems are a serious concern when buying HP laptops. HP may be the largest PC vendor in the world, but this is largely because it provides competitive pricing and its products are available at virtually all retailers. If you want a quality laptop you are, generally speaking, better off with a product from Dell.