Saturday, October 14, 2006

Infinite Loop

October 13, 2006 @ 4:52PM

Consumer Reports picks the Mac with caveats

Magazine CoverConsumer Reports for November 2006 (subscription required) gives recommendations on personal computers, as well as a reliability survey of "127,800 computers" from readers. Desktops and laptops include models from Apple, Compaq, Dell, eMachines, Gateway, HP, Lenovo, Sony, and Toshiba. Not surprisingly, Consumer Reports did not choose any Mac as a "Best Buy" model, possibly because "buy" is suggestive of low prices. Let's not even get into the testing methodology used, if any, except to say "test results" include things like "speakers" and "expansion." How the hell do you test expansion? Is that like a test for Transformers—more than meets the Mac! Nonetheless, Consumer Reports carries some weight in public opinion, especially being noted for the their reliability surveys.

So, how did Apple do?

Among desktops, the Mac Mini had the highest price and the lowest overall score among budget models. It should be noted it was the 1.5 GHz Core Solo being tested, but then it was the up against models with Celerons and Semprons, so go figure. Among "workhorse" models, the 17" iMac (Core Duo 1.83 GHZ) also had the lowest overall score, but not the highest price. The iMac was given a recommendation, "if reliability and tech support are of paramount importance."

The situation among laptops was. . .bizarre. Possibly because it cost more than twice as much the best pick among budget laptops, the MacBook (1.83 GHz Core Duo) somehow ended up in the "slim and light" category. Even then, the MacBook had the best overall score, yet still managed to lose out to the Sony which cost $400 more. The 15" MacBook Pro (2.0 GHz Core Duo) had the highest overall score in the "workhorse" category (note to CR: the 19th century wants their idiom draft animal back), but didn't even show up among the editor's picks. However, the 17" MacBook Pro (2.16 GHz Core Duo) not only scored highest among desktop replacements, but was also judged as such. Of course, it cost more than the two runner-ups combined, so there is that.

So much for the ratings. As for reliability, Apple Computer crushes the competition, at least among desktops. Based on 77,700 responses, 11 percent of Macs bought between 2002 and 2006 went in for repair or had a serious problem. Sony was next best, at 15 percent, and Gateway was last at 19 percent. Among 50,100 respondents with laptops, Apple was at 18 percent, along with the majority of manufacturers. Sony was at 15 percent, but it should be noted that 3 points or less is not considered meaningful. In terms of satisfaction with tech support, as of July of this year Apple was more than 20 percentage points ahead of its nearest competitor. Of course, problems better be within the first 90 days, the length of the lousy coverage for telephone support. And considering the price of extended warranties, tech support should be good.

It will be interesing to see if these numbers change over the next year, considering the number of problems faced by MacBook and MacBook Pro owners since the switch to Intel. Hopefully, those problems are just a case of "Rev. A" disease, but we will see.