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Laptop malfunction study results by manufacturer as reported by SquareTrade.com (click image for report)

Summary. In November 2009, SquareTrade.com released a report about laptop computer failures and ranked the findings by notebook computer manufacturer name. [PDF]

Report Findings. According to the study, Apple notebook computers are of poorer quality and reliability than Asus, Toshiba, and Sony; at least by two percent (see chart).

Report Unreliable. Take a closer look at the details of the study, and it quickly unravels. It’s not Apple computers that are unreliable, it’s the report that is unreliable. It’s not just SquareTrade that has this problem, but most companies that report on product reliability. Most studies aren’t holistic enough to produce meaningful results.

This is an excellent example of how information can be presented in a clinical, scientific, and objective way, yet it can be entirely misleading. The study fails to take into account numerous other factors that could have significantly altered the findings.

To reach its conclusions, the study makes the false assumption that all of  computers are used by the same kind of people, in the same environment, for the same number of hours over a two-year period. However, this is obviously not accurate. The study is nothing like a scientific clinical study. A fair, balanced, and honest report would have had all the computers being used in the same office environment and receiving generally the same amount of use each day. This would have removed the variables that can throw off this kind of study.

Here are some considerations that such a study should examine when evaluating notebook quality and reliability.

  • Type of Usage.  Some notebook computers, like Apple for example, are used predominantly by professionals for their daily work. Some of that work involves travel to extreme conditions. Apple computers are used outdoors and in extreme conditions. Lower quality and lower priced notebooks are often purchased as a secondary computer for occasional travel, but not used on a daily basis.
    • When an expedition team hiked 34 days to cover 680 miles in a journey to the South Pole, they relied on a MacBook Pro notebook. Other notebooks would have likely broken down under the extreme conditions. The report fails to take this into account.
    • When photographer Cheryl Diaz Meyer was embedded with a U.S. Marine Corps unit and sent to a battle zone in Iraq, she relied on an Apple notebook. Meyer states, “I’ve taken my Mac through the worst of circumstances – through sand, grit, and moisture – and it’s always survived.” According to the report of her adventure, “Despite sweltering heat, blinding dust storms, and rudimentary resources, she did more than capture a moment in time: The urgent, gritty photos she took on the mission earned her a Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography.” Many studies of notebook reliability don’t take into account the extreme conditions that some professional-grade notebooks are exposed to.
  • Hours of Usage. When looking at Apple notebooks for example, Apple sales figures suggest that the majority of their sales are notebook sales. This means there are more Apple notebooks than Apple desktops. This means that many Apple users are using their notebook as their primary computer. This isn’t the case for most other computer manufacturers. Someone who has an Asus notebook for example, may only use that notebook for occasional travel. Notebooks don’t break because you turn a few pages of your calendar while they sit on the shelf, they wear out after many hours of daily use. Because of the increase in Apple notebook sales, Apple now sells a 24-inch display for their many customers who use their notebooks as desktop computers as well as mobile computers.
  • Demographic of User. As mentioned above, many Apple computer users are creative professionals who use their notebooks full-time for their profession, and also at home for their personal life. This means that the typical Apple notebook computer gets the wear and tear of two or more computers, yet performs about the same as the occasional use notebook. A similar comparison based on hours of use would likely show Apple leading the pack with regard to meantime between failures. It’s common for professional musicians to have Apple notebook computers used on-stage for live performances. You can’t say the same about other brands.

Report Analysis. To evaluate the validity of the report, consider a similar study where various people are given different medications for a disease. Some take the medication every day, yet others take it only a few times a year. The results of the report would be skewed by the fact that each person has a different use of the medication.

About SquareTrade. SquareTrade.com is a one-stop-shop for all of your warranty needs. Their site claims to offer warranties at about 40% off normal retail prices, and they offer a single centralized account where you can manage and track all of your warranties in one place.

We give consumers something they’ve never had before: a choice. Our warranties are available for ALL your electronics and appliances, whether you buy them at Best Buy, eBay or any other store.

SquareTrade offers a valuable service to consumers. Hopefully in the future, their reports will offer the accuracy and reliability that consumers can rely on.

Consumer Reports Notebook Reviews. A recent Consumer Reports notebook study rates Apple notebooks as #1 in the 12, 13, 15, 16, and 17 inch categories (there wasn’t a 14″ unit tested). According to Consumer Reports, Apple outperforms Dell, Lenovo, Sony, and Toshiba. Their findings are quite accurate, yet don’t really give Apple sufficient credit for reasons explained below.

Reader Feedback. Below are reader comments about the laptop study.

  • “The report must have been made by chimpanzees.”
  • “A carnival clown could see through the holes in their study!”
  • “Add honey and make it into flypaper.”
  • “Paint it red white and blue and run it up the flagpole.”
  • “It’s time to buy stock in stupidity before it goes up.”
  • “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day… unless he throws it back into the water.”
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