Friday, March 18, 2016

How reliable is your MacBook?

Reliable Macbook

Compared to Windows laptops, there can be only one winner

Three simple words have become something of a rallying cry among Apple users, a mini manifesto for our favorite devices: “It just works”. Collectively they’re a mission statement for products that are built to last. An ethos captured in 13 characters. So when Consumer Reports surveyed 58,000 American laptop users about their computers’ reliability, it was no surprise to see Apple’s MacBook Air and MacBook Pro sitting pretty at the top of the pile.

However, this was no close-run thing, no photo finish – Apple obliterated the competition. Between 2010 and 2015 (the period of the survey), the MacBook Air had an estimated failure rate of just 7%, and the MacBook Pro was hot on its heels at 9%. In contrast, the failure rate of the most reliable Windows laptop was almost double that of the Air – the Gateway NV range, which failed at a rate of 13%.

The positive feedback didn’t stop there. The Consumer Reports survey also highlights that Apple customers use their MacBooks longer than their Windows counterparts use their laptops – typically 23 hours a week as opposed to 20. That further reinforces the news about failure rates because the extra workload doesn’t cause them to wear out

quickly. In fact, they also failed far less in the first year of use – around 3% compared to 10% of Windows portables.

What’s the catch?

Before we get ahead of ourselves, we need to look a little closer at the results. One key difference between Apple and its PC rivals is that Tim Cook’s company has its own range of retail stores. Could it be that what is deemed a laptop ‘failure’ in other brands – like sending off the device to the manufacturer for repair – is not recorded as such with MacBooks because they can simply be repaired at an Apple Store?

Not according to James McQueen of Consumer Reports. He told MacFormat that “a ‘failure’ was counted if a respondent’s laptop [either] experienced a breakdown that was ‘catastrophic’ – the laptop stopped working or was not usable – or ‘serious’ – the laptop still worked, but poorly”. Additionally, a ‘failure’ was also recorded if the laptop “had any of its original components repaired or replaced because they were broken”.

Both of those criteria would cover taking your MacBook to an Apple Store for repair. The discrepancy between MacBook repair rates and those of other laptops lay not in the way that they were reported, but rather in the fact that MacBooks appear to be more resilient to failure.

Why is this? What makes MacBooks that much more reliable than other laptops? McQueen stated that Consumer Reports did not ask about the type of failures encountered by respondents. “We don’t know if these failures pertain to hardware or software”, he insisted, “or any particular parts or systems”.

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This muddies the waters somewhat. Did MacBooks fail less because OS X is less prone to ‘catastrophic’ errors, or because the hardware used in them is sturdier?

Really, it’s a blend of the two. One major factor is likely to be malware. While it would be foolish to maintain the old stance that Macs don’t get viruses, the much smaller market share occupied by them compared to Windows PCs makes them a much less attractive target to would-be hackers and other digital malcontents.

That somewhat unfairly sidelines Macs themselves. OS X is consistently rock solid throughout years of iteration, while Apple’s innovative component design utilises fewer parts than previous MacBooks, meaning there are fewer points of failure. Apple picks hardware components that it knows will last, so while that Windows laptop may be a lot cheaper than a MacBook, it may cop out in next to no time. This is one instance where you really do get what you pay for.

Consumer Reports also noted MacBooks are more expensive than their PC equivalents to repair, so it recommended Apple buyers invest in AppleCare when buying a MacBook. But when you consider the dramatically lower failure rates of MacBooks, that higher repair cost may not be such an issue. A PC may be cheaper to fix once, but if it breaks twice – or three times or more – then that cost saving quickly evaporates. A larger initial outlay repays itself in lower maintenance costs.

This is something backed up by the survey, which found that Windows laptops tended to need multiple repairs far more than MacBooks. Among those MacBooks that did break down, 42% did so more than once; however, that figure stands at 55% for laptops from other brands.

This all puts MacBooks in a very good position. They break down less than PC laptops and are far more resilient in the first year after purchase. While they may be more expensive to repair, the lower failure rate means they last longer, meaning the cost differential is less pronounced than it may at first appear.

So, you can go on loving your MacBook for longer because it just works.

By Alex Blake

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