Again this year, notebook PCs were one of the most trouble-prone sectors of the high-tech world, with 30.9 percent of respondents reporting that they had encountered at least one significant problem with their laptop; the figure in our 2009 report was 31.8 percent.
Apple once again earned the top marks in our survey, with above-average ratings in five categories and no below-average ratings. But Toshiba took over the second spot in our rankings, after having posted unspectacular results in last year's survey (eight average scores and one above-average score). This time, Toshiba chalked up four above-average ratings, all in measures of product reliability. For its part, Acer again showed strong results, with three above-average ratings and none below par (up from two above-average scores last year).
On the other hand, Dell took a rather startling tumble this year, from an upper-middle-tier ranking last year (featuring two better-than-average marks and one worse-than-average mark) to a finish near the bottom this time around (with one above-average score and four below-average scores).
HP retains its hold on the bottom rung, due to subpar marks on six of our nine reliability and service measures. HP did improve its standing on the "problem on arrival" criterion (the company was about average on that measure this time around). Unfortunately, instances where HP tech support failed to resolve a problem increased, leaving the company below average on that important service measure.
In our desktop PC ratings, Apple received better-than-average ratings on every question we polled users about--perhaps the best showing by any company in any product category in our survey. Meanwhile, Acer and eMachines repeated their shared (distant) second-place finish of a year ago, but with one above-average rating each instead of three each.
The big surprise this year was the improvement by Sony, which had been the worst performer in our desktops category last year, collecting three worse-than-average ratings and no better-than-average ones. This year, the tide turned in Sony's favor: The company received average marks on every measure for which we received enough data, except on the "any core component problem" criterion. On that measure, Sony earned an above-average rating.
At the bottom of the list, CyberPower, Gateway, and HP had pitiful scores. Gateway concentrated its three subpar ratings on service and support measures, while both of CyberPower's negatives came on reliability measures (the vendor didn't draw enough responses on the service and support criteria to receive ratings on them). HP's problems were more general: It collected four below-average ratings on measures ranging from general reliability issues to excessive hold times.
Even though laptops have tricky assembly issues, limited space for components, and various risks associated with being carried around, readers in this year's survey rated desktops as being significantly less reliable than laptops. Overall, users had 15 to 30 percent more problems with desktops than with laptops, depending on which reliability metric we asked about; the disparity may reflect vendors' efforts to cut all possible corners to keep desktop costs at rock bottom.