Apple's MacBook Air takes laptop reliability crown

Consumer Reports' survey shows that just 7 out of every 100 Airs breaks down in the first three years, the lowest rate of all notebooks

Apple's MacBook Air is the most reliable laptop on the market, according to a survey of nearly 60,000 American consumers conducted recently by Consumer Reports.

The ultra-light notebook has an estimated failure rate of 7 per cent within the first three years of ownership, according to the publication's poll of people who purchased a laptop in the last five years.

Apple's other primary line of laptops, the pricier MacBook Pro, came in with a failure rate of 9%. Combined, Apple's mobile PCs turned in a failure rate of 10%, the lowest of any OEM (original equipment manufacturer).

MacBooks fail at lower rates than those powered by Windows even though they're used three hours more each week than the overall average.

Consumer Reports found that Windows-powered laptops, which on average are much less expensive than those sold by Apple, failed at significantly higher rates. Those made and sold by Gateway and Samsung, for example, failed at an estimated rate of 16 per cent in the first three years. Notebooks from Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo and Toshiba, meanwhile, were in the 18 per cent to 19 per centrange.

Each Windows OEM had specific models that failed at rates less than the average, just like Apple: Lenovo ThinkPads, for instance, failed at an estimated rate of 15 per cent during the first three years, three percentage points under the Chinese OEM's average, while Dell's XPS portfolio, also with a 15 per cent failure rate, was four points better than average.

Consumer Reports noted that Apple's notebooks were more expensive to repair than Windows PCs when they did go south, with a third costing $US300 or more, more than three times the repair cost of an average Windows notebook.

That's why the website recommended Apple notebook buyers also purchase AppleCare, the Cupertino, Calif., company's extended warranty. The program lengthens the warranty from one year to three, and free technical support from 90 days to three years.

More than a third of those polled who bought an Apple laptop added AppleCare, more than twice the fraction of Windows notebook buyers who purchased an extended warranty from the retailer or maker. But AppleCare isn't cheap: It costs $US183 for a MacBook Air, or 18% of the purchase price of the $US999 13-in. model.

AppleCare runs $US183 for the 13-in. MacBook Pro and 12-in. MacBook, or $US239 for the 15-in. MacBook Pro.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
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