20 – 30% of Notebooks Fail Over 3 Years; HPs Fail Most

I could kill my laptop by stuartpilbrow on FlickrSquareTrade, an independent warranty provider for electronics, released a study today on the reliability of laptops broken down by price and by manufacturer. The first part of the survey doesn’t contain any groundbreaking news: netbooks and budget laptops malfunction at a greater rate than their higher-priced counterparts. The second part is a bit more intriguing and reveals that the manufacturers on top of the market don’t necessarily make computers that last.

SquareTrade divides notebooks into three categories based on price: netbooks (under $400), entry-level ($400 – $1000) and premium (over $1000) and, using data from the laptops they cover, show that over a year netbooks have a 20% higher malfunction rate than entry level and a 40% higher rate than premium laptops. They project that over three years, 25.1% of netbooks will malfunction while only 20.6% and 18.1% of entry-level and premium notebooks will.

Laptop three year malfunction rates

Though this is not a complete surprise, it does make me wonder if netbooks have a steeper malfunction rate not just because they’re inexpensive and not as well made as premium notebooks, but also because people use and carry them around more. My netbook goes with me everywhere. And though I have a sleeve and I’m pretty careful, it gets jostled around far more than my laptop. It also gets used more on a daily basis than my laptop ever did.

Laptop and Netbook First Year Malfunction rates

When SquareTrade broke down which notebooks malfunctioned based on manufacturer, they found that Acer and Toshiba had the lower rate and HP, Gateway and Acer had the highest. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that the companies with higher market share make less reliable products? It’s also interesting that Gateway, which is owned by Acer, has almost exactly the same failure rate as its parent company. Sony, Apple and Dell don’t fare too badly, but we’re surprised to see Lenovo with so high a percentage.

Laptop Failure by Manufacturer

This data also made me wonder if there was some correlation between good technical support and low rates of malfunction. I added the ratings from our recent Tech Support Showdown to the chart above (the letters in red) so you can see for yourself. Many of the lower-scoring manufacturers have higher failure rates, which is disappointing since apparently those users need that tech support more.

Does this data match up with your own experience? I’ve had an Acer laptop for going on three years and haven’t had it malfunction, so I guess I’m beating the odds so far. My first laptop, a Dell Inspiron tank of a machine, stood me in good stead for about 3 years before the hard drive died, and then another 3 until I sold it. Anyone out there had a notebook for more than 3 years without a problem? What about netbooks? Anyone with an Eee PC 701 still kicking?

Image: “I could kill my laptop” by stuartpilbrow on Flickr

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  1. matt Says:

    I’ve had a Dell Inspiron 6000 for almost 5 years and its never failed me once. Just ordered a new Asus so its comforting to see it having the lowest malfunction rate :)

  2. agung Says:

    well, me and my family (mom and my brother) use HP compaq, all of them never made past 3 years. They broke down on second year. And now we use Acer, it run well, at least until now

  3. Marc Says:

    I think it is also important to note the relevance between consumers (and enterprise) pushing the cost down and expecting the same quality and level of service and support. When Walmart sells a million laptops for $260 consumers aren’t getting “something for nothing”.

    I’m not sure pointing a finger at any one vendor is relevant largely because consumer decision making is based on price and the mass production of micro-components is a fickle beast regardless of manufacturer. I’ve seen these studies before and there is also some correlation between quality and outsourced support as well (which almost every vendor deals with except Apple).

    As you can tell, I work in the industry and I’ve worked for several of the manufacturers in the article. My recommendation for any consumer buying any computer is to get a very strong warranty at the point of purchase. Any computer from any manufacturer can prove to be less than stellar. The expectation of a laptop lasting three years or more is borderline ridiculous, largely because each use case is widely different. A tablet user that has a laptop in the field every day will likely see higher break and failure rates than a consumer using a large laptop as a desktop replacement. I think this kind of reporting is a bit dangerous, largely because it lumps a wide variety of use cases and users together in a single general statement.

    Study the vendors, don’t buy cheap hardware, ask the hard questions before you buy a computer and protect yourself with a good warranty.

  4. Tami Brass Says:

    I’m the tech coordinator for a middle school using 1:1 laptops with students. In the past, we’ve used traditional laptops (Toshiba A8 and A9), tablets (Toshiba M700), and now use ClassmatePC Convertible netbooks. The Toshiba tablets ($2000 ballpark) have a similar failure rate to the ClassmatePC netbooks ($500 ballpark).
    Two more factors to add to the list:
    1. Who was the intended user of the machine? Most hardware used by schools is designed for adult business users. Kids use the hardware more intensively and take the hardware with them EVERYWHERE. I’ve been in an Apple 1:1 program before my current school; hardware issues were similar. The issues kids see are rarely anticipated by the engineers who design the hardware/OS. Kids just use the stuff differently from adults.
    2. How are the users trained to care for the hardware? What is the maintenance routine like? For most users, maintenance isn’t even on the radar. Backing up data, virus scans, defrag, etc., are only issues when the machine is failing. Part of my job is to train kids about maintenance strategies and to help them find a routine that works for them and for their machines. Training 11-12 yr olds to do this isn’t easy, but by the time they’re in high school, bad habits are harder to break.
    It’s something to see kids correct adults about how they use their hardware and see that a 7th grader can take better care of a netbook than an adult does of a premium machine!

  5. Bob Says:

    Another factor is the sales/great support cycle. Over the past 17 years, I have watched as manufacturer A gets a high support rating only to see that rating fall the following year. The high ratings generate increased sales and support is not staffed to handle the increased volume – not to mention quality control taking a hit getting the units out the door fast enough to meet the orders. Definitely buy the support when you purchase the unit, and buy from a name vendor.

  6. Claire Says:

    When I started grad. school I had a Sony Vaio that gave me so many headaches (including the partitioned hard-drive) that I’m actually glad that I purchased it at Best Buy because they finally declared it a lemon after 4 years and replaced it at no cost on the extended warranty. This time I called Notebookshop.com and asked them which laptops had the fewest repairs/returns and based on that chose a Toshiba. Aside from seriously crappy speakers, it’s still going strong after 4 years–a little slower, but functioning fine. Neither laptop has done a ton of travelling, though. When I recently purchased a netbook I chose the Samsung NC10 because it has a matte screen and all the newer netbooks have glossy screens. The speakers suck on that, too, but it’s fast and the “6-hour battery” is lasting over 8 hours (e.g., at an all-day conference or workshop) if I don’t mess with the internet and using multiple windows. Too soon to know whether it’ll fail on me and I notice that Samsung wasn’t included in the review of reliability above. So actually I do expect a laptop to last 4 years or so! Now that prices are down it will be nice to be able to replace a laptop without breaking the bank (my first laptop + printer was around $2,000 in 1994).

  7. GlindaNorth Says:

    I don’t like HP’s computers; and I’m not sure I like their Photosmart C7200 series all in one printer either. The printer, designed to print pictures, won’t even accept photo paper for printing pictures.

    Back to the topic….

    Customer service is key, when it comes to repeat and future sales. I firmly believe that Dell’s plummet in the market, was a direct result of their decision to outsource customer service and support to non English speaking locations. My guess is that most of the corporate executives are making these decisions and they probably don’t have any real consumer experience. Look at what happened to Circuit City, they fired all their knowledgeable sales people, and replaced them with people who didn’t know the difference between an USB port and a carport. Customers quit shopping at Circuit City, because of the lack of customer service and support.

    I’ve had 3 HP’s over the years; 2 desktops and 1 laptop, and experienced countless problems with all of them. The laptop went through complete system failure, 3 times in it’s first 10 months. Initially, I blamed Vista for the laptop’s failures, but I was wrong. I replaced with a Toshiba running Vista and no problems at all.

  8. Dan Burns Says:

    I have an IBM Thinkpad T30 that’s 7 years old and still running like a champ. I’ve replaced the hard drive, but just as an upgrade, it’s had 0 mechanical failures and has withstood all kinds of abuse.

    My Dell XPS M1330 on the other hand is only 1.5 years old, and has had the motherboard, hard drive, and graphics card (second motherboard) fail.

    I guess they don’t make em like they used to.

  9. John A Says:

    I had a Sony PCG somethinorother from 1996-2002, and it served me exceptionally well. In 2002, I splurged and bought a Toshiba Sattelite 17inch multimedia laptop, and it’s still going strong in 2009! I’ve upgraded the memory twice and just recently upgraded the HD after it started making funny noises, but I’ve never had a critical failure.

    I open mine up every 3 months or so and clean out the dust bunnies from the heatsinks, so that might explain why mine seems to survive so long. It took me a while to find a screwdriver that would fit those funky screws, but now I can get inside and take proper care of it.

    Oh yeah, no need to buy fancy, expensive mini-vacs? Remove the insides from a Bic pen, wrap some toilet paper around the end to make a ball, then stuff that ball down the end of the hose on your house vacuum cleaner. Voila! Instant laptop vacuum that can get in the tiniest of spaces, with more than enough power to clean the most stubborn of dust bunnies!

  10. Marc Says:

    Folks,

    Do the math – mass production of micro-components, ever decreasing costs and more aggressive consumers in the marketplace. You don’t get something for northing!!! Good computers aren’t cheap and cheap computers aren’t good!

    Marc

  11. McGregor Says:

    I purchased a Gateway Notebook and the thing failed after 6 months. I spent 1200 on the thing. Had to send it into manufacturer two times to fix. Never fixed the problem. It now sits in my closet. I now only use it to hold data during file transfers or backups of old files. Never again a Gateway. Laptop or desk top. I’m now a MAC.

  12. oneDude Says:

    My EEEPC 701 4G is still going strong after about a year of daily use and abuse, though i kinda regret not putting up another $200 and getting a real laptop, it is truly and painful small and hear to read/type on (the pad of my finger could hit 5 keys in one press if i’m not careful).

  13. moose Says:

    I have a Dell Inspiron 2500 that still works since 2002 except for the CD drive.

    I also have an Asus EeePC 900 still in use after a year and a half. I just don’t like the small keyboard, the intermittent stuck keys, and the hard-to-press single bar mouse.

  14. Computer user Says:

    Strange. Well like you stated in your article, theres lots of other factors that are involved with laptops. How people treat them, normal maintanence, the environment that they are used in. I’m really big on laptops and have owned probably about 20 so far. And no i dont buy them because they purposefully break, i get them because I guess you can call it a fetish. Using laptops from different brands. So far from what i learned from all these laptops if your an apple person and you buy your macbook brand new or used…get apple care. Ive had about 7 of these fall into my hands. And they all seem to gain problems which is why mac offers apple care. Not sure why their “superior” design seems to have flaws that no one likes to talk about until you actually surf the net and look for them. Most friends and students i work with have returned brought their laptop to be serviced due to battery issues, logic board issues, ehh..way to many to list. I myself have been screwed on macbook that doesnt charge (due to bad logic board not magsafe board or battery connector but bad logic board), overheating of macbook pro 2007 model (yah…after this ive torn them all apart and would first check the thermal paste…amazing how sloppy a job apple does in putting this on the cpu), issues with isight on macbook (isight cable came loose and another one was a logic board issue), expanding of battery destroying the base of the comp (this was the recall battery), bad batch of apple batterys, and another one that had the nvidia recall….yep this is mac we are talkinga bout. i guess you can be lucky and be that person that never has to use apple care. The only reason i continued to get these…was because of the look and battery life of the new unibodies…. But the one laptop out of the 20 that has lasted was the hp 6735s turion, im sure there are problems with this laptop, as the design of it traps dirt into the laptop but it should be taken apart and cleaned (in that vent area leading to the cpu every 7 months if you use it in dusty places). Im amazed with how well toshiba did on the chart, the 3 toshibas that i had had issues down the road, bad cpu battery after only 1 year, then another that had a generic no name 512 gpu (custom from the site) went bad…after 3 years..which really disapointed me.

  15. FocusShift Says:

    I’m still running the iBook G4 that I bought in August ’05. I’ve used it pretty much everyday for over five and a half years. The battery’s been pretty much shot since late 2007 but other than that it’s been great (knock on wood). Still not sure if I’m going to get another Apple though. They’re pricey for the specs.

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