Report slams PC reliability

An average of one in eight PCs can't run the first time a user turns it on, according to a magazine report.

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Computer vendors are not measuring up when it comes to shipping computers that work, according to a new report from Windows Magazine.

An average of one out of every eight PCs is dead on arrival and can't run the first time a user turns it on, the report said. The data was gathered from a survey of more than 2,900 users.

Computer hardware accounted for 37 percent of the problems, followed closely by a problem with software programs called "drivers" that control hardware functions, and other hardware-software conflicts. Application and operating system software accounted for almost 60 percent of the problems encountered.

When trying to get help for these and other problems, expect to spend an average of 10 minutes on hold waiting to get an answer--after making an average of 2.7 calls, the report said. It took an average of 3.6 days to resolve problems, users reported.

The news doesn't bode well for PC makers, which are trying to get their products into more and more homes. Currently, the penetration of PCs is hovering at around 42 percent of U.S. homes, but repeat buyers still make up two-thirds of those who buy a consumer PC, reports San Francisco-based market research firm Odyssey.

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One of the issues keeping the PC from being as ubiquitous as TVs, aside from their relatively high cost, is its complexity and evidently its fragility as well. Consumers are used to TV sets being many times more reliable than personal computers, and PC makers will have to strive to improve both their track records and their images.

For Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Gateway, the good news is that they topped the industry average in terms of shipping systems that worked out of the box, with 92 percent of HP and 91 percent of Dell and Gateway users responding to the survey saying that their systems worked properly on first start-up.

Overall, users gave Dell and HP top marks for their technology support, while Gateway, Compaq, IBM, and Micron earned marks of "good" technology support from respondents.

Packard Bell continues to lag behind the industry in terms of both system reliability and time taken to resolve problems, showing up last in both categories. The company was next to last in user ratings of the quality of technology support, placing just ahead of Toshiba.