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PC users happier--especially with Apple, Dell

Customer satisfaction with home computers reaches four-year peak, with highest marks for Apple Computer and Dell, survey says.

U.S. consumers are happier with their PC purchases than they have been in the past three years, with Apple Computer and Dell pleasing them most, according to a report.

The score for PCs in the American Customer Satisfaction Index rose to 74 from 72 a year ago, according to ACSI figures released Tuesday. The uptick was due to lower prices for home computers, upgrades in power and capabilities, and an increase in experience on the part of users.

The ACSI is a national economic indicator of how satisfied customers are with the quality of products and services available to households in the United States. The evaluations, gathered in a report by the University of Michigan Business School and other organizations, carry a top score of 100.

Apple led the list of PC makers in the ACSI with a score of 81, making a 5 percent improvement for the second year in a row. Dell ranked second with a score of 79, a slight increase from last year. Gateway's mark jumped from 69 to 74.

Despite making slight gains, Hewlett-Packard's two computer brands scored below the industry average of 74, with HP at 71 and Compaq at 69. Once a leader in customer satisfaction, HP dropped below the average for the first time a year ago. The merger of HP and Compaq Computer in 2002 did not have a significant positive impact on the brands' ACSI score, according to the report.

"HP remains competitive on price," Jack West, past president of the American Society for Quality, an ACSI co-sponsor, said in a statement. "But this is a reminder that there's more to satisfaction and loyalty than meets the eye. HP's problem is that the quality of both their products and service support has fallen off sharply since the mid-1990s, when HP was leading the industry."

HP has had better success in pleasing corporate customers. The company overtook Dell for the top spot in a separate measure of customer service and support satisfaction for the first quarter.

The ACSI covers a number of industries, including automobiles and appliances. It comes out quarterly, although particular industries are updated once a year. The overall index was 74.4 for the second quarter, unchanged from the first quarter and holding steady at its highest level in 10 years.