computers still more reliable than laptops
Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business
August 1-7, 2006; issue 875
High Tech Office column
Whether laptops are getting cheaper to purchase because they’ve
become more popular or they’ve become more popular because
they’ve gotten cheaper, there’s no doubting that portable
computers have become increasingly popular- they now account for over
50% of personal computer sales. And they’ve certainly become more
affordable. I recently replaced a three-year-old notebook with another
from the same manufacturer. The cost: just over 50% of what I paid
But according to technology consultants Gartner, users looking for
reliability rather than portability may want to stick with more
traditional desktop models. Their recent study suggested that one out
of five laptops purchased in 2003 or 2004 required replacement of a
part within a year of purchase. Within three years, that rate had risen
to one in four, and to 28% by year four. By comparison, only
seven percent of class of ‘03/’04 desktop computers
suffered the same degree of hardware failure in the first year of use.
A few years ago, laptop displays were most often replaced; Gartner
reports that now motherboards and hard drives are the most likely to
That matches my experience; I purchased both a Mac laptop and a Windows
laptop in 2003; one required a motherboard replacement, the other
required a hard drive replacement. I always recommend that notebook
computer buyers invest in an extended warranty.
Both notebooks and desktop systems appear to be getting more reliable;
Gartner’s study reports that only one in seven laptops purchased
in 2005 required a part to be replaced in that year. (That’s
still a failure rate triple that of desktops). Gartner predicts the
four-year failure rate for notebooks will drop to 22%. The failure rate
for recently-purchase desktops dropped to 5%.
The higher failure rate of laptops is not surprising; even if treated
with care, carrying laptops around places parts under more strain than
a computer anchored to a desk. And the tight fit of components into
laptop cases makes it difficult to adequately cool components;
overheating is a major cause of computer failure. (And many modern
notebook computers get too hot to sit comfortable on users’ laps).
Gartner noted that notebook computer manufacturers have started paying
more attention to design details that can increase reliability; a
number of models now include features to detect movement and
automatically park hard drives when the system is dropped, for
instance. Suspension mounts also help protect hard drives (and your
data). Even seemingly minor details like small rubber bumpers on
notebook lids can help reduce damage to screens, according to Gartner
analyst Leslie Fiering.
Fiering points out that while manufacturers have to remain competitive
on price, it is also in their long-term interest to increase
reliability; saving money by scrimping on quality increases costs due
to warranty returns, as well as annoying consumers.
The higher failure rate of notebooks puts more onus on notebook users
to backup their data regularly; getting a crashed hard drive replaced
without charge by an extended warranty is small consolation for the
loss of data that hasn’t been backed up. (Here, too, desktop
computer users have it easy; many of them are automatically backed up
by their organization’s IT department, or access user data stored
on a network server).
And then there’s the ongoing high rate of theft of notebook
computers. If you use a notebook computer, a recent backup is your best