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Laptop Reliability

Update: TumbleDry has a good analysis of the Square Trade report [0]. It seems that there are significant statistical problems in Square Trade’s analysis and a possible conflict of interest.

Square Trade did a survey of laptop reliability and wrote an interesting article about the results [1]. One thing to keep in mind when reading them is that the usage patterns vary greatly by type of product (netbook vs laptop) and probably by brand.

Their statistics indicate that netbooks are less reliable than laptops, but I think that my actions in taking my EeePC to places such as the beach are probably not uncommon – a netbook is ideal when you might need access to a computer at a moment’s notice. I expect that the reliability of my laptop has increased because I bought a netbook!

Their statistics show that Lenovo is far from the most reliable brand, I wonder what the usage scenarios for such machines are. I’ve been using Thinkpads happily for over 11 years. I have had many warranty repair jobs, I lost count long ago. But I don’t think that this indicates a problem with Thinkpads, my use is very demanding, I have done a lot of traveling, and done coding in planes, trains, trams, and taxis in many countries. So instead of criticising IBM/Lenovo for having their machines break, I praise them for repeatedly repairing them no matter how they wear out in my use. The speed and quality of the repair work is very impressive. Based on this I have been strongly recommending Thinkpads to everyone I know who seems likely to wear laptops out through basically doing everything that a laptop is designed to do all day every day! Among people I know the incidence of laptop warranty repairs is probably about 100% as the number of systems that are never repaired are outweighed by the systems that are repaired multiple times.

Generally Thinkpads seem fairly well built to me, I’ve been surprised at how many times they didn’t break when I expected them to.

When articles like the one from Square Trade are discussed people usually cite personal anecdotes. My above anecdote covers just over 11 years of intensive use of four different Thinkpads. Of course it doesn’t prove much about the inherent reliability of Thinkpads (I could have received through random selection either four Thinkpads that were significantly more or less reliable than average). But having dealt with the IBM/Lenovo service in a few countries I can confirm the quality of their repair work. Every time they have returned my machine rapidly, they never complained about my policy of giving them a system with the hard drive removed, and in all but one case they completely solved the problem on the first try. One time they forgot to replace a broken rubber foot and to make up for this they sent me a complete set of spare parts by courier – they had repaired the other two faults without problem.

Now comparing the reliability of rack-mount servers would be a lot easier. The vast majority of such systems are stored safely in racks all the time and tend not to be mishandled. My experience with servers from Dell, HP, IBM, and Sun is that apart from routine hard drive failures they all run well if you keep them cool enough. But of course as I haven’t run more than a few dozen of any of those brands at one time I don’t have anything near a statistically significant sample.

4 comments to Laptop Reliability

  • Anonymous

    The report lists Toshiba and ASUS as the most reliable laptops. I find myself asking whether perhaps these statistics get biased towards those laptops that technical (and thus demanding) users tend to avoid.

  • etbe

    Anon: I agree that there is a potential for such a bias. I believe that Lenovo suffers in this regard.

    But I am not convinced that ASUS is avoided by technical people. The EeePC seems wildly popular among technicians. The Toshiba Satellite was also quite popular a few years ago for similar use.

    Recently based on my positive experience with my EeePC I’ve been more inclined to consider an ASUS laptop too.

  • Anonymous

    This analysis has some good points to make on the statistical validity of the report:

    http://tumbledry.org/2009/11/20/when_information_overwhelms

  • etbe

    Anon#2: Thanks for that, I have updated the post.