Macs grab top reliability, support spot for third year running

Apple leads Asus, Lenovo, Toshiba and HP in support firm's annual ranking

Apple's computers again took the top spot in an annual reliability and support ranking, Syracuse, N.Y.-based technical support franchise Rescuecom said today.

Macs were the most reliable -- and Apple's support the most dependable -- for the third year running, said Josh Kaplan, president of Rescuecom. "They've maintained that position without fail, which is first of all a testament to the reliability of their machines," said Kaplan. "And their support, with the Apple stores and the Genius Bars, is second to none."

Apple's computers beat machines sold and supported by Asus, Lenovo, Toshiba and Hewlett-Packard to take first place, a spot Apple also grabbed in Rescuecom's 2007 and 2008 rankings. But its lead over second-place Asustek Computer, better known as Asus, was the smallest that Apple has enjoyed in the past three years; Apple edged Asus by posting a score just 20% higher than the Asian computer maker's.

Rescuecom calculates its reliability scores by comparing the percentage of support calls represented by each vendor with each computer company's U.S. market share. The greater the difference between the two, the higher the score. For example, although Apple's U.S. market share was 8% -- according to research firm IDC, the source Rescuecom uses -- Macs accounted for just 2.2% of the calls to Rescuecom. According to Rescuecom's reasoning, higher scores indicate more reliable hardware and better support from the computer makers. Owners of machines from lower-scoring manufacturers, on the other hand, are more likely to reach out to third-party support firms like Rescuecom when things go wrong.

Apple captured the top ranking for 2009 with a reliability score of 365. Behind Apple were Asus and Lenovo, each with 305; followed by Toshiba and HP, with 199 and 149, respectively. Dell, the second-largest computer maker in the U.S., didn't make the top-five list but came in at No. 9.

"I'd say Dell is still having problems," Kaplan said. "For so long, Dell was the value-priced [OEM], and when that's the case, the quality of the hardware and support can't be there."

It was Asus that continued to impress Kaplan, even though its yearlong average score was dramatically down from Rescuecom's ranking for 2009's first quarter. "It does appear that Asus leveled off during the last quarter of the year," Kaplan acknowledged, "but regardless, its score for the fourth quarter alone was enough to put it into third place."

Last year, Kaplan speculated that Asus' initial scores were inflated because the skyrocketing number of computers it sold in the U.S., many of them low-priced netbooks, had not been in owners' hands long enough to drive many of them to seek help from third-party support firms like Rescuecom. "Many of them are still under a year old," Kaplan said, referring to the large numbers of Asus netbooks sold during 2009. "So users are likely contacting the manufacturer first for support."

Kaplan also called out two computer makers that have a small market share in the U.S. but do well by their customers. "Both Samsung and Panasonic had a very low market share last year, but their [reliability] scores were off the charts," Kaplan said. Neither company sold enough computers in the U.S. to warrant being included with players like Apple, Asus and HP, but Kaplan singled them out nonetheless. "They're handling their customers extremely well," he said.

It's too early to tell what impact, if any, the release of Windows 7 has had on computer makers' support for the new PCs they're selling. "We have seen a lot of calls from people wanting to convert from XP or Vista to Windows 7," said Kaplan, "but I wouldn't say that it's creating fewer or more issues at this point."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

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