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No Hassles: Buying a Reliable PC

No Hassles: Buying a Reliable PC

More so than ever, personal computers are commodities, with little differentiation between offerings from one vendor to the next.
Sure, you can choose a PC with a faster or slower processor, more or less memory, or a larger or smaller hard disk. But a high-end machine from one vendor is much like that from another, as is a budget offering.
On the other hand, despite nearly 20 years of mass production, PCs continue to be fickle beasts. Too often, after you unpack your spanking new PC and try booting it up, nothing happens. To use the revealing industry term, it’s DOA, or “dead on arrival.”.
And that’s not all. Many times, even if it’s not completely unusable, some components conflict with others, or they don’t work as they should. And even when a unit runs fine initially, there’s still a high risk it will need repairs within the first year.
Various estimates indicate that as many as one out of four personal computers breaks each year.
All this spells hassle. Who wants a machine you paid good money for to cause downtime and lost productivity? Therefore, the single most important factor in buying a PC becomes reliability.
To maximize the chances of buying a reliable PC, you can use your past experiences and those of colleagues or friends. But you’ll get a clearer picture of a system’s likely reliability from surveys that tally the experiences of thousands of people.
Among the most thorough surveys of PC reliability are those by computer publications. PC World and PC magazines, the two most widely read national computer publications, recently published surveys of the latest findings among computer users. Consumer Reports periodically surveys computer users as well.
As it has in the recent past, the vendor that surpassed all others in reported reliability was Dell. PC World readers deemed Dell “outstanding” for both work and home use, the only vendor of the eight ranked to receive this designation. PC magazine readers gave Dell the only A grade among the 16 desktop PC makers rated. Con-sumer Reports readers gave Dell the top reliability score of the nine PC makers ranked in the magazine’s latest published findings.
Dell’s PCs aren’t for everyone, of course. Other vendors may offer a system more attractively priced or available through a more appropriate channel. IBM, which received the second-best reliability rankings overall, has long been known for its attentive service through its worldwide system of dealers. But it has stumbled over the years in the
PC market.
After legitimizing the PC in the early 1980s, IBM ( nearly knocked itself out of the market, a victim of proprietary designs and bureaucratic inefficiencies. Lately it has made a comeback, and today it’s a leader in many areas, including notebook PCs, hard disks, and e-business.
Hewlett-Packard ( is best known for its printers, but in recent years it has grown its PC business in both quantity and quality, and it now ranks third overall for PC reliability. HP is a major player in the retail market and is a good choice when shopping at a local computer, office-supply or consumer electronics store.
While still a niche product, the Apple Macintosh ( has a user base whose loyalty is legendary. Its reliability scores, though, are middle of the pack. Consumer Reports readers placed the Mac in fourth place out of nine vendors ranked, and PC magazine readers, not the most fervid of Mac fans, gave it only a C grade.
In buying a PC, support is the second-most important criteria after reliability, since even the most reliable PCs can have problems. Dell also received the top support scores, followed by Gateway and Hewlett-Packard.
Though playing the percentages doesn’t guarantee you’ll have a hassle-free experience, it can stack the odds in your favor. Buying from vendors that rank highly in reliability also sends a strong signal to the entire computer industry that it needs to pay more attention to quality control.   

— Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at [email protected] or

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