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Mac laptops are less reliable than PCs

Research reveales 17% of Apple laptop fail within three years

Apple laptops are less reliable than those manufactured by Asus, Toshiba and Sony, says SquareTrade.

Research by the after-sale warranty company revealed that Apple took the Number 4 spot, behind ASUS, Toshiba and Sony, which held Number one through to Number three, respectively.

Over a two-year period, slightly more than 10 percent of Apple laptops - the company sells two lines, MacBook and MacBook Pro - failed in some fashion, said SquareTrade. The projected failure rate of Apple's laptops within three years, added SquareTrade, was 17.4 percent.

ASUS, Toshiba and Sony, on the other hand, sported projected three-year malfunction rates of 15.6 percent, 15.7 percent and 16.8 percent.

"It's not really surprising that Apple's in the middle of the pack," said Vince Tseng, the vice president of marketing at SquareTrade.

"What was surprising was that ASUS came out on top."

Tseng defended his company's rankings against the inevitable backlash by opinionated Mac owners.

"Ours is pretty similar to other studies that have been published," he said, pointing to those by Consumer Reports in particular.

HP, which shipped more laptops in the past year than any other OEM, came in last out of the nine manufacturers, with a two-year failure rate over 15 percent and a three-year projected failure rate of 25.6 percent.

SquareTrade based each company's three-year projected rate on the failure curve of all laptops, which rises quickly from year one to year two to year three.

"There is a notable acceleration of malfunctions in the second and third years," SquareTrade said in its report.

While only 4.7 percent of all laptops failed from a hardware malfunction in the first year of ownership, that more than doubled to 12.7 percent by the end of year two, and then leaped again to 20.4 percent by the time three years had passed.

SquareTrade said that the increasingly high failure rate was no surprise. "Laptops have a high usage rate," said Tseng.

"People leave them on all the time, and laptop components are sensitive to heat. Two, they're portable and take a lot of abuse. And three, they're more complex than most other consumer electronics devices."

Apple may have played its cards right by not moving into the netbook market, according to SquareTrade's data.

Netbooks, which the warranty firm defined as laptops sold for less than $400 (£237), fail at a higher rate than more expensive alternatives.

After just a year, netbooks fail at a rate 23 percent higher than entry-level laptops, those priced between $400 (£237) and $1,000 (£593), and at a rate 38 percent higher than laptops that cost more than $1,000 (£593).

By the end of three years, a quarter of netbooks will have malfunctioned, said SquareTrade.

"It's difficult to compare apples to apples," noted Tseng, "no pun intended," referring to comparisons between netbooks and higher-priced notebooks.

"Netbooks have been sold in scale only the last 12 months, and up until the last six months, netbook sales were dominated by ASUS and Acer."

While ASUS held the Number one spot of the nine notebook makers, netbook rival Acer was Number seven, with a three-year projected malfunction rate of 23.3 percent.

"It's just a guess, but one explanation for the higher failure rate of netbooks is that the components are typically cheaper," Tseng said when asked why netbooks failed at a higher rate than more expensive laptops.

"Early on, when component costs were fairly high [for netbook makers] because of their low volume, they were taking the lowest bidder on components."

Apple's executives, including its CEO Steve Jobs, have repeatedly dismissed netbooks when asked whether the company would enter that category. In October 2008, Jobs famously said: "We don't know how to make a $500 (£300) computer that's not a piece of junk".

SquareTrade's data was based on an average of 3,000 laptops from each of the nine manufacturers, and tracked the actual lifecycle of the machine, since it offers warranties only to buyers within 90 days of a hardware purchase.

"The vast majority of the warranties are bought within 30 days," Tseng confirmed.

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