When looking for a new laptop, it’s common to want a machine that won’t have you dragging it back in for repairs for at least several years. Reliability and dependable performance often rank high on buyer’s lists — but which brands are the best?
To find the answer for all you laptop shoppers out there, we’ve taken a look at what Consumer Reports has to say, at surveys of how often laptops were taken back for repairs, at expert opinions, at crowdsourced voting, and much more. It’s not surprising that these reports didn’t necessarily agree with one another — in fact, some produced conflicting results. Everyone has had a different experience with laptop brands, and that’s okay. But overall, we were able to piece together a frequent consensus on the most reliable brands.
Type of laptop
Before we start naming names, let’s talk a little bit about laptop models, because several exist and it’s tricky to treat them all the same. A desktop replacement is a very different animal from a small netbook or tablet hybrid, and comparing them isn’t always logical. That said, this article will focus on a variety of laptop categories that encompass 13 to 17-inch systems. But it is worth noting that the smaller the laptop, the higher the failure rate appears to be. According to some surveys, those owning netbooks were more likely to take their compact models in for hardware malfunctions.
Perhaps netbooks are just harder to repair yourself, perhaps they are more prone to malfunction, or perhaps it’s just an anomaly. However, if you want reliability, it appears that larger models are the way to go.
Most reliable: Apple
If there’s one thing that nearly everyone agrees on, it’s that Apple laptops are the most reliable of the bunch. When you buy a MacBook, you know what to expect, and that rarely involves failures or returns. Part of this is due to Apple’s solid design philosophy. The new MacBooks, Airs, and Pros are consistently growing thinner and more powerful, but the overall design style remains the same. The aluminum frame and tightly packed electronics also likely help reduce damage and failure rates.
It’s also worth noting that Apple does many of the smaller things well, too. The keyboards are snappy, pleasant to use, and nigh unbreakable under usual circumstances. The battery life of Macbooks tends to be high, too, and doesn’t suffer from swift performance drop-offs or fluctuation. Displays issues tend to be rare, and in Consumer Reports, Apple beat out nine other laptop brands when it came to needing repairs within the first three years of ownership.
MacBooks are a definite blow to your wallet, ranging from $1,000 to $1,600 for the most popular models. That’s a lot of money for the average laptop buyer. Despite the high price, the default warranty lasts only one year, as with other more affordable brands. But Apple has on multiple occasions offered free warranty extensions for common manufacturing issues, a practice other brands rarely emulate.
Second Pick: Dell
Dell’s work, particularly in the ultrabook field, had yielded an incredible new crop of ultraportable laptops that work great, have powerful specs, and don’t give up the ghost without a fight. If you need or prefer a PC for work or school, and want it to last for as long as possible, Dell’s machines are a great choice.
The reason Dell gets such high marks for reliability isn’t because the company’s computers never break — they have a good track record, but not as good as MacBooks — but because Dell’s customer support is the best you’ll find outside Apple’s walled garden. If something goes wrong, a quick customer service call with Dell is more likely to yield a solution, or at least a repair plan, than with other brands. Sometimes the most important factor in reliability isn’t the computer itself, but the company you are dealing with.
Related: The best laptop you can buy
Third Pick: Asus
If you want an extra-reliable computer, but don’t want to pay too much for it, then you’ll be pleased to see that Asus also makes it on our list of the most reliable laptop brands. The company has consistently scored well in surveys, though it usually doesn’t take top marks.
Asus computers tend to be sleeker and lighter than a lot of brands on the market, so if you are less interested in a desktop replacement and more interested in a portable option, this is the path to follow. Asus also tends to lean toward extremes, with laptops of many varying sizes. There’s a good deal of experimentation and joint ventures in this brand, which makes it an interesting option to explore.
The downside to Asus is its customer support, which is hit-or-miss. The company receives average to below-average marks in customer service surveys we’ve seen. Web support is a particular sore spot. Navigating the Asus website can be confusing — though the company is not the worst in this regard.
A look at warranties
When it comes to repairs and malfunctions, one of the most important computer components is that warranty document. So, what’s the deal with warranties today? Basically, don’t worry about them.
Extended warranties, as a general rule, exist to make extra money for companies. Buying one doesn’t tend to do much good — only about 8 percent of people who have extended warranties ever use them, according to Consumer Reports. Also, the normal warranty that comes with a new machine is likely to cover around 75 percent of common repairs or problems anyway.
Yes, it will suck if you don’t buy the warranty and you happen to have a problem. But, over the long haul, the extended warranty will cost you.