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Personal computers are mysterious things, representing both promise and peril. Master their wizardry, and play a part in a bright and prosperous future. Fail to catch on, and get left behind in the technological junk heap of history.The lure-the demand-to be computer-literate today is stronger than ever, a trend that’s bound to continue accelerating. Sure, you can do well in society today without knowledge of PCs, but you’ll have to work harder at it, same as doing without a telephone or a car.The problem is, computers aren’t like other appliances. They’re many degrees of order more complex, and they’re much more likely to break down or not work at all, despite continuing improvements in these areas.When consumers invest in a PC, and it doesn’t work as it should, they may blame themselves, thinking: “It’s just too complicated” or “I’m not smart enough” or “You have to be weaned on these things to work them right.” And too often, people give up.Computer companies are to blame, partly. Their business model is based on pushing out millions of machines at a low profit margin per unit. Quality gets sacrificed. In all likelihood, any PC you buy will never be thoroughly tested before leaving the factory. Companies typically only spot-check batches of machines for defects in the manufacturing process.But consumers are partly to blame as well, since most insist on a low price above all else. So it becomes a game of chance. You hand out your thousand or so dollars when buying a new computer, betting that yours will be one of the machines that doesn’t have problems.Fortunately, there are ways to improve your odds. Some companies simply produce higher-quality computers than others, at similar prices. Computer and consumer magazines and market research organizations for years have been surveying the computer-buying public to gauge which brands of computers are of higher quality and which are more likely to have problems. I’ve gathered some of the recent results.

A Roundup of Findings on Desktop PC’s

According to readers of PC Magazine, who are largely business users, companies with the best reliability, in order, were Dell, Micron, Quantex, Gateway 2000, and Sony. Those with the worst reliability were Packard Bell, Tandy, CompuDyne, AT&T, and Zenith.PC Magazine readers were most likely to buy again from Dell, Micron, and Gateway 2000 and least likely to buy again from Zenith, AT&T, CompuAdd, and Tandy.Companies with a consistently outstanding record of both good reliability and service over the past five years, according to PC Magazine, were Dell, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard. Those with a poor record on these scores, and showing no signs of improvement, were Packard Bell, Zenith, and Tandy.In a research survey by Ziff-Davis Market Intelligence-this one to households-the companies with the greatest consumer loyalty were Gateway 2000 and Hewlett-Packard. Those with the worst were Packard Bell and IBM.According to the readers of Consumer Reports magazine, the two companies with the best overall scores for reliability and service were Apple and Dell. The two with the worst scores were Packard Bell and AST.The readers of Windows magazine rated Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Quantex highest on reliability and technical support. They rated AT&T, Digital, and Packard Bell lowest. The companies whose computers needed the most repairs were Packard Bell and AST. Those needing the fewest repairs were Hewlett-Packard and Dell. Companies taking the longest to repair problems were Packard Bell and Digital. Those repairing problems quickest were Quantex and IBM.Windows magazine readers said they would most likely buy again from Dell, Quantex, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM. They said they would be least likely to buy again from Packard Bell, Compaq, Digital, and AT&T.The readers of PC World magazine ranked Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Apple as the companies offering the best reliability. Those companies offering the worst reliability were Packard Bell, Acer, and NEC. The best service scores went to Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Gateway 2000, and IBM. The worst went to Packard Bell and Acer.PC World readers were most likely to buy again from Dell, Gateway 2000, and Micron. They were least likely to buy again from Packard Bell, Acer, and AST Research.

Putting the Surveys to Work

Spread the word. In the computer industry, as elsewhere, money talks. If you buy from companies who place a premium on quality, the companies you don’t choose will get the message. The end result can only be fewer expensive personal computers that wind up collecting dust.

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book “Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway.” He can be reached at reidgold@netaxs.com or http://members.home.net/reidgold.


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