Survey: Computers not as reliable as toasters

The Australian Consumers' Associations has polled over 3000 computer users to find that the average PC ranks lower for performance and reliability than any other home appliance.

The poll takes the angle that as you can now buy computers and related hardware like scanners and printers in stores alongside fridges, microwaves and other white goods, you should be able to expect the same degree of reliability from a PC as an air conditioner. Interestingly, while scanners came out as the single most reliable appliance in the homes of those surveyed - with only three per cent of units requiring service in the last 12 months - computers came out on the very bottom of the list, with one in four systems needing servicing over a similar period.

Apple computers turned out to be the most reliable, and most brands had a better than 80 per cent reliability rating. Compaq and non-branded systems performed poorly, however, coming in at 77 and 73 per cent respectively.

Brand loyalty was also put to the test, and with only a few exceptions it proved universally poor across the board. Apple systems - perhaps unsurprisingly - had the most loyal users, while Compaq again came close to the bottom of the class.

Unsatisfactory and difficult to obtain service was cited as the most common reason that a consumer might switch to another brand.

Gail Kennedy, spokesperson for the Australian Consumer's Association, believes that this is the chief lesson for manufacturers to learn. "Because the marketing and advertising is so enticing, there's a real roaming mentality amongst consumers, and computers need to be up to scratch not only in terms of functionality," she said, "but even more so regarding the level of service - that's what will increase consumer satisfaction levels."

Kennedy doesn't hold much truck in the idea that computer reliability is often linked to user error. In this case, she believes, the poor tradesman is not the one who blames his tools.

"The human element should not be a scapegoat; a computer should be able to deliver reliability," Kennedy said. "If there's a problem, then the supplier's service provision should be adequate to deal with it."

Printers and scanners are on the whole much more reliable animals than PCs, while inkjet printers are overwhelmingly more reliable than their laser cousins. Ink cartridges were also tested and the verdict was that brand cartridges and generic cartridges offer more or less the same level of quality, while non-branded ones tend to be more unreliable. Printers also seem to inspire greater brand loyalty, although there is a definite drop-off with printers that have expensive ink cartridges. For instance, only 71 per cent of Lexmark users will buy the same brand again. Most users planning on switching brands blamed cartridge costs for the defection.

While scanners scored very high on reliability, they flunked in brand loyalty; an average of only 85 per cent of users would buy the same brand again. The reason for this is that most consumers - 44 per cent - see other brands as more appealing.

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