When looking for a new laptop, you want a machine that you won’t have to drag back in for repairs for at least several years. Reliability and dependable performanice rank high on buyer’s lists, but which brands are the best?
To find the answer for all you laptop shoppers, we’ve scanned the pages of Consumer Reports, studied surveys of how often laptops were taken back for repairs, read expert opinions, analyzed crowdsourced voting, and much more. Overall, we’ve piece together a consensus on the most reliable brands, and why they work.
Type of laptop
Before we start naming names, we’re going to point on a general rule: the smaller the laptop, the higher the failure rate appears to be.
There are several reasons for this. Small laptops are harder to take apart and repair yourself, so official repairs may be more common. They are also more portable, and therefore more likely to be dropped or banged around. There could also be manufacturing reasons for their shorter lifespans.
So, if you want an especially durable laptop, go for larger models when possible.
Most reliable: Apple
If there’s one thing that nearly everyone agrees on, it’s that Apple laptops are the most reliable of the bunch. When you buy a MacBook, you know what to expect, and that rarely involves failures or returns. Part of this is due to Apple’s solid design philosophy. MacBooks, Airs, and Pros are consistently growing thinner and more powerful, but the overall design style remains the same. The aluminum frame and tightly packed electronics also likely help reduce damage and failure rates. In fact, Apple’s devices tend to get more reliable with later generations, as design becomes tighter. Removing ports, for example, is not a popular move — but it does decrease what can break.
It’s also worth noting that Apple does many of the smaller things well. The keyboards are snappy, pleasant to use, and nigh unbreakable under usual circumstances. The battery life of Macbooks tends to be high, too, and doesn’t suffer from swift performance drop-offs or fluctuation. Displays issues tend to be rare, and in Consumer Reports, Apple beat out nine other laptop brands when it came to needing repairs within the first three years of ownership.
On the other hand, MacBooks are a definite blow to your wallet, ranging from $1,000 to $1,800 for the most popular models. That’s a lot of money for the average laptop buyer. Despite the high price, the default warranty lasts only one year, as with other more affordable brands. But Apple has on multiple occasions offered free warranty extensions for common manufacturing issues, a practice other brands rarely emulate.
Second Pick: Dell
Dell’s work, particularly in the ultrabook field, had yielded an incredible new crop of ultraportable laptops that work great, have powerful specs, and don’t give up the ghost without a fight. If you need a PC for work or school, and want it to last for as long as possible, Dell’s machines are a great choice, especially with their latest XPS models that do a little of everything, and do it anywhere. That includes the latest screen resolutions, connections, and software.
Another important reason Dell gets such high marks for reliability isn’t because the company’s computers never break–they have a good track record, but not as good as MacBooks–but because Dell’s customer support is easily the best you’ll find outside of Apple. If something goes wrong, a quick customer service call with Dell is more likely to yield a solution, or at least a repair plan, than with other brands. Sometimes the most important factor in reliability isn’t the computer itself, but the company you are dealing with.
Third Pick: Asus
If you want an extra-reliable computer, but don’t want to pay too much for it, then you’ll be pleased to see that Asus also makes it on our list of the most reliable laptop brands. The company has consistently scored well in surveys, though it usually doesn’t take top marks.
Asus computers tend to be sleeker and lighter than a lot of brands on the market, so if you are less interested in a desktop replacement and more interested in a portable option, this is the path to follow. Asus also tends to lean toward extremes, with laptops of many varying sizes. There’s a good deal of experimentation and joint ventures in this brand, which makes it an interesting option to explore.
The downside to Asus is its customer support, which is hit-or-miss. The company receives average to below-average marks in customer service surveys we’ve seen. Web support is a particular sore spot. Navigating the Asus website can be confusing — though the company is not the worst in this regard.
Toshiba is in an interesting position when it comes to laptop offerings. On one hand, the company has tied with Asus in some surveys as being one of the most reliable brands around, with some of the fewest repairs required. On the other hand, Toshiba has also scored very poorly in other brand studies, due in part just-okay customer service, and product models that haven’t made an effort to stand out from the crowd.
However, there are signs that Toshiba is increasing laptop quality and focusing even more on durability – they even devoted a section in a 2017 press release to talk about the durable chassis and honeycomb reinforcement of their latest models.
Toshiba’s Portege and Tecra laptop lines tend to be workhouse-like product lines, more affordable versions of common business laptops. They include the latest features (fingerprint sensors, USB Type-C, etc.), but focus on lower prices than other brands, making them similar to Asus in many ways, only with fewer choices. If you’ve looked at other business-oriented laptops and haven’t found anything in your price range or ideal feature set yet, give Toshiba a try.
Final note: Extended warranties
When it comes to repairs and malfunctions, one of the most important computer components is that warranty document. So, what’s the deal with warranties today? Basically, don’t worry too much.
Extended warranties, as a general rule, exist to make extra money for companies. Buying one doesn’t tend to do much good — only about 8 percent of people who have extended warranties ever use them, according to Consumer Reports.
Additionally, the normal warranty that comes with a new machine is likely to cover around 75 percent of common repairs or problems anyway. Yes, it will suck if you don’t buy the warranty and you happen to have a problem. But, over the long haul, the extended warranty tends to cost more than it’s worth.
This article was updated on January 31, 2017 with the latest survey information, and a runner up category was added.