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Consumer Report on Computers
May 27, 2003 2:54 PM   Subscribe

The most reliable computer you can buy is... June's Consumer Reports surveyed 39,000 readers and...dare I say it? That not said, how reliable are reliability reports?
posted by Carlos Quevedo (49 comments total)

 
*MacFilter*
posted by divrsional at 3:00 PM on May 27, 2003


It's not really surprising to me that apple's machines require the fewest repairs; when you build all the hardware for a computer in house, there better not be very many issues. Notice that while Apple has a huge lead over several other manufacturers in terms of general repair, they're much closer to other high-quality manufacturers in terms of chance of complete, overall failure.

I'd be interested in seeing the comparison extended to some smaller-time manufacturers (i.e., Alienware) as well.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 3:02 PM on May 27, 2003


Also, for those not in the U.S., Consumer Reports is generally considered extremely reliable.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 3:03 PM on May 27, 2003


Hmm. This link (sans Carlos' session information) might get you closer to the results.
posted by pzarquon at 3:09 PM on May 27, 2003


when you build all the hardware for a computer in house

No computer manufacturer builds all the hardware in house. Hard drives, optical drives, RAM, etc. are all third-party. It would be interesting to see how many of the failures were due to generic parts like these vs. proprietary motherboards and such.
posted by joaquim at 3:09 PM on May 27, 2003


Thanks for the link repair, pzarquon! It's this damn Compaq shite machine that keeps forgetting to disregard the session data, like it was supposed to. ;)
posted by Carlos Quevedo at 3:14 PM on May 27, 2003


Also, for those not in the U.S., Consumer Reports is generally considered extremely reliable.

Really? I'm in the U.S. and I thought the general consensus was that Consumer Reports is utterly clueless on many of the things they report on, especially computers.
posted by gyc at 3:26 PM on May 27, 2003


Macintosh users are probably more likely to lie and cover up problems with their computer than are Windows users. It's fashionable to hate your PC, but if you have a Mac it is fashionable to love it.

I say this as a Macintosh user, of course.
posted by alms at 3:31 PM on May 27, 2003


Makes sense to me that Apple scored highest. The machines are built in conjunction with the software development. And there are so many different manufacturers in the PC space that the software's gotta be somewhat "looser" to work on all of them.
And the looser it runs, the more likely it'll fail.

But then, my Airport at home is perpetually busted right now. Don't know if that's me or not but I'm switching to a Linksys for home wireless. And yeah, I realize that the Consumer Reports article isn't about peripherals. Just thought I'd mention that not all things Apple are golden.
posted by fenriq at 3:34 PM on May 27, 2003


alms, you're a mac user and you're saying that mac users will lie about issues they're having? Just because its uncool?

Sorry but that's utterly bogus.

I work in a survey company and, while there are people who do lie, the vast majority of people don't.

Or, applied inversely, maybe the PC owners are lying about how often their systems implode because its cool to not like PC's? See, it just doesn't follow.

But nice try though, shows Mac users are at least imaginative. Hehe.
posted by fenriq at 3:38 PM on May 27, 2003


fenriq, the logic does follow if you factor in that Mac users must reduce the dissonance produced by the amount of money they paid for their computer. They have to believe their computers are better otherwise they would have to face the belief that paid a couple of hundreds smacks more just for a brand.
posted by srboisvert at 3:48 PM on May 27, 2003


Are you kidding? Mac users complain about things that other computer users would call inconsequential or unavoidable, like the minutiae of user interfaces and fan noise a few dB too high. I have been paying close attention to Mac web sites since I switched in 11/01; I have determined that Mac users are picky fuckers.
posted by mcwetboy at 3:56 PM on May 27, 2003


Macintosh users are probably more likely to lie and cover up problems with their computer than are Windows users.

Absolutely.

The Mac-loyal are definitely likely to gloss over their problems in a survey. They've already had to go way against the grain to use a Mac at all. Defending that choice is practically a daily duty.

I'm really surprised to see Macs score highly for reliability. In many years of experience I've found them slower, crashier, less compatible, and with lower overall quality of software & drivers developed for them (makes sense since it's such a small market and testing/QA is expensive).
posted by scarabic at 4:12 PM on May 27, 2003


Wow. Are you people saying Americans are eager to find fault with anything to do with Bill Gates and Microsoft and Windows, as they secretly hate or envy them; but will go to great lengths to cover up the faults of Steve Jobs and Apple and OSX?

That is so against my impression of American consumers! Why would anonymous readers of Consumer Reports cover up for their Macs' faults? It's neurotic!
posted by Carlos Quevedo at 4:23 PM on May 27, 2003


Heh: The most reliable computer you can buy is... clearly something other that what their server is.

[from link]
Error:

The Content is missing or empty - unable to retrieve details.

:p
posted by quin at 4:43 PM on May 27, 2003


I thought the general consensus was that Consumer Reports is utterly clueless on many of the things they report on, especially computers.

No. Consumers Digest is utterly clueless. This is a company that sells -- out and out sells, cash for ratings -- reviews to companies. Unsupported claims that Consumer Reports is anything less than fantastically accurate are not worth taking seriously.
posted by waldo at 4:47 PM on May 27, 2003 [1 favorite]


I have to say that if I were a first-time buyer and tunred to this post and comments I would not buy but rent any old thing...
posted by Postroad at 4:56 PM on May 27, 2003


I'm a computer systems buyer for several DC area companies. I personally have given up on those top 4 worst companies long ago and urge everyone to consider doing the same. Their products are fragile, the deals are negligible and their service is less than my last 2 adjectives.
posted by omidius at 5:15 PM on May 27, 2003


Mac users complain about things that other computer users would call inconsequential or unavoidable, like the minutiae of user interfaces and fan noise a few dB too high.

Perhaps (and perhaps not), but if so it'd be because there are far more PC users who simply aren't tech savvy enough to know what computers are capable of, ergonomically speaking. Owing to Wintel PC's overwhelmingly larger market share though, there's no shortage of finicky PC users as well. Hence the existence of resources for PC users like TweakXP and SilentPCReview.

For my part, my PC runs more silently than any Mac I've encountered. We're talking put-your-ears-next-to-the-exhaust silent. If you put together your own system, it's amazing what some simple mods like VGA heatpipes, 5 volted fans, and suspended/enclosed harddrives can do for computer noise. Macs are pretty quiet out of the box, of course, but then so are certain Dells.

For the much higher price one pays for a Mac, it had better be easy-to-use, quiet, reliable, etc. And it should do the laundry as well.
posted by DaShiv at 5:21 PM on May 27, 2003


It's worth pointing out that the top 3 manufacturers listed in the chart are rated within 5 percentage point of each other, which CR lists as within the survey's margin of error. Doesn't appear terribly conclusive to me.
posted by scarabic at 6:30 PM on May 27, 2003


Is there a certain irony that Compaq rates so much lower than HP, and yet they have combined their production and repair facilities?
posted by benjh at 6:40 PM on May 27, 2003


(first) I'm a Mac user. Used apple machines hold their value far, far longer than any PC. Meaning?...rep for quality? Mac user fanaticism?

One suggstion - Apple has a rep for building in advanced features ahead of the curve. Thus, my 1998 iMac is still both (almost) fast and will also perform any "modern" function I require of it. Try that with a 5 year old PC. Hah. (time for an upgrade though).

Also, the Apple upgrade business is far more advanced than the PC biz despite the almost 20:1 differential in PC to Mac sales. This suports, perhaps, Alms's and srboisvert's claims: perhaps Mac users hang onto their machines longer because and even lie about their Mac consumer experiences because they paid through the nose for them in the first place?

I think it's more complex...as in: 1) psychological comittment to initial purchase decision, 2) more user friendly OS (regardless of crash frequency or speed - that happy Mac face on booting up is worth many millions of $'s), 3) more advanced features - machines ages better, 4) cult status, 5) 1,2,3,4 lead to feedback whereby upgrade companies thrive, 6) Macs hang around, retain resale value, develop a rep for quality (warranted or not).
posted by troutfishing at 7:44 PM on May 27, 2003


Saying 'I'm a mac user' will get you more degative reasctions than 'I'm an atheist' or 'I'm a card-carrying communist'. Meanwhile OS X still owns your mom.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:44 PM on May 27, 2003


Yada yada yada...
posted by troutfishing at 7:44 PM on May 27, 2003


spafe coyote - Too true. My mom was scrabbling at my door this morning screaming - "My OSX!!! where's my Goddamned OSX!!............It was both pitifull and horrendous.
posted by troutfishing at 7:47 PM on May 27, 2003


i prefer using my 5 year old non-upgraded HP PC over my 3 year old mac. faster, more reliable, crashes less, cheaper, and has a much wider selection of software. the mac is pretty though...
posted by lotsofno at 7:50 PM on May 27, 2003


I say Mac fanaticism. The link doesn't seem to work right now so I can't see the article (my bad for commenting but I get the jist of the conversation here) but surveying the users is not the way to go. In another life, I was a computer tech. Factory certified by Apple Computer as well as IBM, Compaq, HP, NEC, and some others. They all have the same amount of repairs. As a repair tech for an honest answer.
posted by AstroGuy at 8:21 PM on May 27, 2003


Astroguy - that's what I thought.
posted by troutfishing at 9:00 PM on May 27, 2003


Also, for those not in the U.S., Consumer Reports is generally considered extremely reliable.

I'd say that it really depends on what they're reviewing. Some things they're good at, some they aren't. The more high tech something is, the less I tend to trust them. Their car reviews should be taken with a grain of salt (I find the car reviews are heavily biased on fuel economy, to the point where they're more or less useless).

Several times in the past they've "covered" things like digital cable and satellite, and tivo type devices. These articles were usefull solely for the entertainment factor (read: falling on the floor laughing).

For computers I tend to take them pretty lightly. They sometimes hit a good point, but other times are pretty far off. I think it's also important to note that the graph that's in the article is pretty misleading. Read the fine print, and note that differences of 5 points are insignificant (which makes the top several computer brands insignificantly different from each other). I'd also question whether their data gathering method is scientifically valid. It's done by people voluntarily returning their surveys (subscribers only). I would guess that there's probably a significant bias of people who return their surveys doing so because they had a problem with a device on their survey.

Basically, if I'm buying a toaster, I'll check consumer reports views on it (that said, the last toaster I bought was highly rated by them, and I've never been happy with it). If I'm buying a car, I'll read something like edmunds.com. If I'm buying a computer for work, I'll go by past histories I've seen personally (for home I'll build my own, which pretty much eliminates macs).

Heck, about the only reason I still have a consumer reports subscription is because my wife likes to read their last page where they mock packaging and advertising.

(BTW, for those that the link isn't working for, it's pretty easy to find the article, just go to their home page, there's a link off that to it.)
posted by piper28 at 9:03 PM on May 27, 2003


Floppy drives give out quite often now a days. Macs exclude floppy drives, I suspect this is partly why they have less problems.
posted by bobo123 at 9:28 PM on May 27, 2003


The most reliable computer you can buy is... clearly something other that what their server is
Obviously a Mac ;-) *ducks*

As a dedicated PC user, I often salivate over the looks and general build quality of Macs (in appearance anyway). I have never quite been able to bring myself to pay so much more for a computer that does the same job but only looks better. I also like being able to build my own machines to do exactly the job they need to do. That way the standard of support provided by major computer companies never becomes an issue.
posted by dg at 9:34 PM on May 27, 2003


christ-crying-on-the-cross! they're tools! what's next?! we debate whether a makita is better than a ryobi?!

here's a dollar - go buy a life.
posted by photoslob at 10:22 PM on May 27, 2003


Unsupported claims that Consumer Reports is anything less than fantastically accurate are not worth taking seriously.

What piper28 said. CR is useful; I've had a subscription (== been a member of Consumers Union) for almost two decades. But like all info sources, they have their weaknesses and biases. CR is very good when it comes to evaluating mature technology, like washing machines or lawn mowers. It isn't very good on emerging technology, though. I would never buy a video card or AV receiver based on their recommendations. 'Budget desktop' PC's may be enough of a commodity now for CR reviews to mean something.

Now, biases. There may be a pro-Mac bias going on here. Note the Mac reviewed cost substantially more than any of the Wintel PC's, and almost twice much as the Dell. For the price of the Mac, you can get a Dell that will blow the Mac away. The box on page 44 showed the Mac as being much better at 'Application speed' and 'Graphics speed' than most of the Wintels. Yeah, no kidding, it's a higher end, more expensive machine. CR is cheating.

The other conspicuous bias at CR is political. Its politics are strongly left wing, and support the interests of trial lawyers. Members of its board are graduates of the Nader organizations. If this is okay with you (and it will probably be okay with 95% of Mefi), so be it. Just be aware that when CR gets into political areas it is feeding you a political line, spun to support the interests of political interest groups that probably aren't you.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 10:50 PM on May 27, 2003


I'm going to agree with Piper28 and Slithy_Tove here. I've seen some general stuff from Consumer Reports be right on the nose, whereas a lot of stuff, specifically cars (I'm a huge car buff) are so far off it's nearly ridiculous.

I also agree with the above comment about Speed vs. Price. While the Apple may be a better product than that particular model of Dell, that's sort of like comparing the lowest end car of a Manufacturer (say, the Porsche Boxster) with the best car of another (say, a Ferrari 360 Modena). A much fairer test would be the high end car from both manufacturers.

Bang for your buck is VERY important, especially in computers. I would love to own a G4 desktop, but I would advise, say, my parents, to buy one of the $500 Dells before they'd buy one of the G4s, because they're getting a better deal. They can keep the rest of the money and buy me christmas presents.
posted by christian at 11:29 PM on May 27, 2003


No kidding.

You know how long the Mac I've been writing this on (Beige G3) has been powered up for?

(4/5) straight years (I think since 1998), not including restarts and about a month's worth of vacations. It runs the latest version of the Mac OS, too, though I concede it's on its last legs.

You know how long my last PC lasted before it fried its motherboard in a freak powersupply accident?

6 months.

Apple's also really good about repairs and such. All you Athlon supporters - What happens if your motherboard/CPU fries and you're not sure which part has the problem? You're pretty much on your own. That's what really sucks about custom-building stuff.

Regular PCs aren't much better. Most PC technicians are self-taught/morons/both. You'd better hope your hardware doesn't develop a serious problem or you can say goodbye to it for weeks. Apple's MUCH better about fixing stuff on the rare occasions that it breaks.
posted by Veritron at 7:30 AM on May 28, 2003


I bought an iMac after pricing a comparable Dell w/ Flat Panel and DVD-R 18 months ago. The Mac was $100 less expensive. The bundled applications added considerable value on the mac side too. I only mention this because several posters here have mentioned price as a deciding factor against apple. For me, a first time mac buyer, price came done on the mac side. Now I can do all my UNIX development work on the same pretty machine with the same pretty OS that manages my photos, cds, and home movies quite handily.
posted by putzface_dickman at 7:33 AM on May 28, 2003


how many survey participants can tell the difference between a broken computer and a deranged OS?
posted by quonsar at 7:43 AM on May 28, 2003


"Have you ever heard of yooks and zooks? No, but I know what they are. They are people. In this story there are yooks and zooks. Yooks keep there butter on top and zooks keep thier butter on bottom."

- Samuel N (age 8), writing about a book Ralph Nader called "a bundle of wisdom in a small package."
posted by eustacescrubb at 7:52 AM on May 28, 2003


I'm still waiting for someone to take on the "Consumer Reports is part of the vast left-wing media conspiracy" derail. What a laugh.
posted by terrapin at 8:01 AM on May 28, 2003


6) Macs hang around, retain resale value, develop a rep for quality (warranted or not).

Anecdotally speaking, I've been a Mac fan since I first owned an SE. I had a Powerbook 190 through Uni and have recently left work so needed a laptop.

No worries think I, I've got that old G3 hanging about (Kanga I think it was called. Angular like a paving slab.)

So, it's got OS8 on it and Netscape 4 which won't run modern sites with Javascipt et al. I can't hold of a copy of OS 9 without paying silly money on eBay and can't download a modern browser down a 56.6k. The beast objects to OS9.6 which is the oldest that Apple deign to support these days.

My P4 Dell's going to be supported forever and I'll never have trouble getting an OS or browser onto it. While Mac kit certainly keeps its value, there's a hassle factor in trying to get it working that there isn't with Wintel machines.
posted by dmt at 8:02 AM on May 28, 2003


Veritron, you're going from your own personal experience.

I used to be a PC/Mac tech. Other than an electronics school, which taught me nothing in the way of how to fix a PC, I was self taught/trained on the job.

Macs had as much trouble as PCs. The difference is, with a PC we were able to troubleshoot them. Swap out the video card, the hard drive, boot to a floppy and check out the FAT, etc.

Macs, on the other hand, were usually "replace the mother board and hope for the best."

Granted, the last Mac I worked on was a IIcx or something like that but whenever I hear a Mac user claim Macs don't crash or have problems I silently chuckle to myself.

Then I turn on my PC and do something useful.

And anyone who custom builds their own PC, as I do, will generally know how to troubleshoot them.

You are correct about most techs being morons though.
posted by bondcliff at 8:13 AM on May 28, 2003


Granted, the last Mac I worked on was a IIcx…

You must be my age.
posted by timeistight at 8:57 AM on May 28, 2003


I'm going to agree with Piper28 and Slithy_Tove here. I've seen some general stuff from Consumer Reports be right on the nose, whereas a lot of stuff, specifically cars (I'm a huge car buff) are so far off it's nearly ridiculous.

My favourite "CR doesn't know jack about cars" story is one test of small cars. In the test they compared (among many) the Geo Metro and Toyota Corolla. And the Toyota was considered to be significantly more reliable. Of course this is hilarious because they are are the exact same car built by the same people. But the demographic that bought each was different and the CR reflected that.

Probably the same thing is happening in any Mac vs PC

All in all a great lesson in knowing your data.
posted by Mitheral at 12:34 PM on May 28, 2003


Wow, a thread that mentions Apple without using the word 'artfag' to describe their users or somebody posting that lame Penny Arcade strip. Amazing.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:01 PM on May 28, 2003


the penny arcade strip is hilarious, as all their strips tend to be...
posted by lotsofno at 4:35 PM on May 28, 2003


Wow, a thread that mentions Apple without using the word 'artfag' to describe their users

That shouldn't be so amazing; I've never even heard the term "artfag" in relation to Apple users, and I've been one since 1981.
posted by kindall at 4:43 PM on May 28, 2003


Makita.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 4:49 PM on May 28, 2003


It depends what you really want. The problem with Macs is the same as with HPs and Compaqs: the proprietary hardware.

I mean, say Mac hardware was twice as reliable as generic PC hardware -- something will still break, sometime, and when it does it will cost a LOT more to fix. If it's something major, you'd do just as well to buy a whole new computer -- whereas with a generic PC, there's always something worth saving.
posted by dagnyscott at 6:36 PM on May 28, 2003


The problem with Macs is the same as with HPs and Compaqs: the proprietary hardware.

This used to me quite true, but currently the real issue is that when you replace a part, you are typically unable to upgrade it. Currently all parts on a Mac are fairly easy to upgrade/replace, but, for example, if my processor fried I would only be able to replace it with a processor from the same line. With a PC I would typically have more choices unless my processor belonged to an unfortunately short-lived line (PPro) in which case an expensive overdrive chip would be my only option.

I am a die-hard PC user, but I gutted a Bondi Blue iMac awhile back and use it quite successfully as a server. It's small and quiet, and with OS X I am able to sit at a command line (you can choose not to load Aqua) and do my normal things. I think Apple's doing pretty well for themselves these days.
posted by j.edwards at 8:12 PM on May 28, 2003


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