When choosing your next computer, whether it’s for personal use or work, you’re likely going to look at a few familiar brands: Apple, Asus, Dell, HP and Lenovo. After all, these five companies accounted for more than 84 percent of the PCs sold in the United States in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to research firm Gartner. Given such a concentrated market, sometimes it’s easy to forget all the other companies making PCs. Don’t. You may be missing out on a better option.
Among the other 15.9 percent of companies making sales there are familiar names like Acer, Microsoft, and Toshiba and some that you may not run into as often such as Alienware (which is owned by Dell), CyberPowerPC, and MSI. As we launch our 2016 PCMag Readers’ Choice Awards with the laptop and desktop categories, you’ll see that, according to our readers, market share doesn’t correlate to customer satisfaction. Among the top-rated brands in each category are very large companies and not-so-large ones.
The Readers’ Choice Awards are based on the results of surveys sent to PCMag readers. They rate their overall satisfaction with the products they use, as well as satisfactions with specific aspects of product usage such as ease of setup, reliability, technical support, and repairs. Finally, respondents are asked to rate how likely they would be to recommend the brand of PC that they use, as likelihood to recommend has been shown to be an excellent measure of satisfaction. Each company must have at least 50 responses to be included in our analysis.
The Readers’ Choice Award results provide a valuable complement to PC Labs’s in-depth product reviews, where analysts dig deep into each product they evaluate to give you their expert opinions on performance, design, usability, and other aspects. The Readers’ Choice Awards survey results then show you which companies’ products stand the test of time and how well the companies back their products with the support that you need.
So which laptops and desktop brands earn the most praise from our readers? Read on.
The PCMag Readers’ Choice survey for Laptops Desktop PCs was in the field from January 4 through January 25, 2016. For more information on how the survey is conducted, read the survey methodology.
Each person who completed the survey was entered into a drawing to win a $350 Amazon Gift Card.
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It may not be the market share leader, but whenever I’m at tech conferences, Apple always seems to be the laptop brand of choice. However, I was at an accounting software user conference recently and nary an Apple was to be seen. Accounting software still primarily resides in a Windows world and in past years, I would have seen Dells, HPs, Lenovos, and Toshibas at the conference. This year by far the brand of choice was Microsoft. There were plenty of Surface Pros tablets and even a few Surface Book sightings. That’s pretty remarkable considering it’s only been three years since Microsoft introduced the first Surface Pro.
In last year’s survey, Apple and Microsoft dominated the laptop category and the two companies each received Readers’ Choice Awards. Survey respondents rated Apple a 9.2 in overall satisfaction (on a scale from 0 for extremely dissatisfied to 10 for extremely satisfied); Microsoft was close behind at 9.0. No other company received better than an 8.3.
This year, Apple repeats again as a Readers’ Choice Award winner in the overall laptop category, marking the ninth straight year that it has won the award. Remarkably little changed in our respondents’ evaluation of their Apple laptops. Overall satisfaction is once again rated at 9.2 and satisfaction with reliability (9.3) and likelihood to recommend (9.2) are also the same as they were in 2015. Satisfaction with technical support improved slightly from 8.2 to 8.3 while satisfaction with repairs decreased from 8.5 to 8.3. These are excellent results. Very few companies ever have technical support and repair ratings in these measures of 8.0 or higher.
Apple again shares the Readers’ Choice Award but this year, it’s not with Microsoft. The second award goes to MSI (short for Micro-Star International), a brand headquartered in Taiwan that may not be known to non-gamers. However, readers using MSI laptops gave the company some very Apple-like ratings: Overall satisfaction was 9.1 and satisfaction with reliability was 9.0. The likelihood recommend MSI was 8.7. If you’re in the market for a gaming laptop, you should definitely give MSI a look, but don’t ignore Alienware, which focuses on the same market. Alienware didn’t rate quite as highly as MSI in any satisfaction measure, but it wasn’t far behind. For instance, overall satisfaction was 8.8 and likelihood to recommend was 8.5.
Microsoft’s satisfaction ratings slipped slightly from last year, but on average its users are still quite satisfied with their Surface devices, many of which are a hybrid of laptop and tablet (we’ll have a full survey of tablet-only devices later this year). But it earns an honorabl mention with an overall satisfaction rating of 8.8 (down from 9.0). Likelihood to recommend also dropped from 9.1 to 8.9. Part of the reason for the drop may be related to reliability. Last year, only 4 percent of Microsoft’s devices needed repairs; this year, the percentage more than doubled to 9 percent. That’s still better than the overall average of 11 percent but satisfaction with reliability dropped from 9.2 to 8.9. On the other hand, satisfaction with technical support was rated 8.0, far better than any other Windows laptop brand: Dell and Lenovo were next closest with ratings of 6.8. Toshiba rated an abysmal 5.1 for technical support and Asus’s 5.9 was nothing to brag about.
Among laptops less than a year old, Apple and Microsoft receive a Readers’ Choice Award. Within this group of newer laptops, Apple received overall satisfaction and likelihood to recommend ratings of 9.1. Microsoft earned ratings of 8.9 and 9.0, respectively. Apple also got the highest score for ease of setup with a 9.2. Microsoft was close behind with a 9.0, but take note of Asus, which earned an ease-of-use rating of 9.1, in between our two award winners.
Among laptops for home use alone, Apple and MSI win the Readers’ Choice Award and Microsoft again gets an honorable mention. Satisfaction ratings for these companies were very similar to their overall satisfaction ratings although likelihood to recommend ratings were slightly higher. This isn’t surprising: most people have more involvement in purchases they make for personal use than in those made for business use and are therefore more likely to stand behind their choice. (We’ll analyze satisfaction with computers used in the office for a separate Business Choice article soon.)
Tablet and hybrids PC usage is growing. Hybrids, also known as convertibles or 2-in-1s, are PCs with built-in keyboards that can switch between regular laptop mode and tablet mode. Nearly every laptop company has a few tablet and hybrid offerings, but Microsoft has focused all of its design efforts on this form factor and it shows. None of the other companies rated better than 8.1 for overall satisfaction with laptop/tablet hybrids, a far cry from Microsoft’s rating of 8.8. Microsoft wins a Readers’ Choice in the category. (Note again, this category does not include iOS- and Android-based tablets such as the Apple iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab.)
Chromebooks continue to grow in popularity, but they still remain a small niche in the overall laptop market. Respondents reported on several brands of Chromebooks including Acer, Asus, Google, HP, Samsung, and Toshiba but none received the minimum 50 responses we require to be included in our analysis. However, as a group, respondents seem very happy with their Chromebooks, with overall satisfaction averaging to 8.7. That trails Apple’s 9.2, of course, but is far ahead of the 8.0 for all Windows laptops.
When you’re purchasing your next laptop, consider your needs carefully. You may find a Chromebook to be a viable, attractive, and inexpensive option.
See all of our survey results for laptops.
Categories: Overall, Less than a Year Old, Home Use
Once again, Apple receives the highest satisfaction ratings among all the laptop brands. This is the ninth straight year that Apple has won the Readers’ Choice. Even diehard Windows users may want to give Apple a close look.
Categories: Overall, Home Use
If you’re a gamer or simply looking for a powerful laptop for home, you owe it to yourself to check out MSI. Our readers gave the company very impressive satisfaction ratings for their MSI laptops.
Categories: Less than a Year Old, Laptop/Tablet Hybrids
Microsoft has quickly become the Windows laptop brand of choice, especially if you like the idea of a tablet or 2-in-1 hybrid computer. Satisfaction ratings slipped slightly this year compared to 2015 but users remain very pleased with their Surface-brand computers and the company behind it.
Categories: Overall, Home Use
Microsoft’s success with the Surface brand spread enough that even when it didn’t win in a category of laptops, it managed to get an honorable mention, even in laptops overall. Home use is another area where it shines—people are very happy to take home a Surface Pro or Surface Book.
Apple’s product selection has a little bit of Henry Ford’s “You can have any color you want as long as its black” mentality. Apple doesn’t offer a lot of different desktops and within the models there aren’t many configurations. Despite limited choice, the approach works as evidenced by Apple’s long stretch of PCMag Readers’ Choice awards. However, some users (especially gamers) want to design a computer to their exact specs and budget. There’s a small group of PC companies that will let you do just that. When these companies do it right, and build fast, reliable computers and back them with great service, they build a very satisfied user base. CyberPowerPC is such a company and this year it shares the PCMag Readers’ Choice Award with Apple.
Most of Apple’s satisfaction ratings improved slightly this year from their already excellent levels in 2015: Overall satisfaction went from 9.1 to 9.2, satisfaction with reliability was up from 9.3 to 9.4, and likelihood to recommend went from 9.2 to 9.3. In fact, Apple was the only maker of desktop PCs that received any ratings of 9.0 or better in the overall desktops category. The only rating to decrease from last year was satisfaction with technical support, which went from 8.8 to 8.7, but that still puts Apple in a league of its own: the next closest company is Lenovo, which rated a mediocre 7.1 for technical support.
CyberPowerPC won a PCMag Readers’ Choice Award in 2012 but failed to receive enough responses to qualify again until this year. Now that it’s back, it’s once again setting a standard among Windows-based desktop PC brands, receiving the highest ratings for overall satisfaction (8.8), satisfaction with reliability (8.9), and likelihood to recommend (8.4, tied with Asus). Among CyberPowerPC desktops sold for home use, the ratings were even better: overall satisfaction and likelihood to recommend were 9.0, and satisfaction with reliability was 9.1. The company also earns a Readers’ Choice Award for Home Desktop PCs.
Asus won a Readers’ Choice Award in the overall Desktops category last year. Because of CyberPowerPC’s entry, however, it wasn’t able to repeat that feat, but it does earn an honorable mention. In fact, Asus’s ratings improved from 2015: Overall satisfaction went from 8.4 to 8.7, satisfaction with reliability increased from 8.6 to 8.7, and likelihood to recommend ticked up from 8.3 to 8.4.
Apple also wins the Readers’ Choice Award in each of our sub-categories. For systems less than a year old, Apple rated a 9.3 overall, and a 9.5 for satisfaction with ease of setup, far ahead of the next closest companies, Asus, Dell, and HP, which all rated 8.7.
Asus didn’t win overall, but it did earn our second Readers’ Choice Award for its desktops less than a year old: it had the highest overall satisfaction rating (8.6) and lowest percentage of units needing repairs (6 percent).
The chart of home PCs looks pretty similar to the overall PCs (a mix of home and work and all PCs rated)—it’s Apple and CyberPowerPC on top. Asus also earns an honorable mention for its home desktop PCs.
As we mentioned, Apple won our new sub-category, all-in-one desktops, and did so handily. It got a 9.2 overall for this area, and that’s almost a full point higher than the runner up, Dell, at 8.3. Other AIO makers just don’t have what it takes compared to the love users have for iMacs.
One of the biggest changes in the PC market last year was the introduction of Microsoft Windows 10. Windows 10 tries to deliver and improve upon the best of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 and PCMag readers have been fairly quick to embrace the new operating system. Seventy-three percent of respondents with desktops less than six months old were running Windows 10. Among home PCs, the percentage was even higher (86 percent), which isn’t surprising considering the operating system has been standard on new PCs since its release last July 2015. Microsoft has also made Windows 10 available as a free upgrade and 60 percent of survey respondents with home desktop PCs older than six months have already upgraded. Here are 10 reasons you might want to upgrade if you haven’t already.
Our survey doesn’t ask respondents to rate satisfaction with their operating system. However, when we look at overall satisfaction with desktop PCs based on their operating system, respondents running Windows 10 were substantially more pleased. Among desktops less than six months old, overall satisfaction with Windows 10 systems was 8.7 compared to 8.2 for Windows 7. (Windows 8/8.1 did not get enough responses, a sure sign of new buyers skipping that version.) Among older desktops, Windows 10 systems also rated better: 8.4 compared to 8.0 for Windows 8/8.1 and 7.8 for Windows 7.
It’s not clear if the higher satisfaction ratings on these desktop systems are due to the operating system. Perhaps respondents are more likely to upgrade the operating system on a PC with which they’re already more satisfied. But either way, it shows that Windows 10 users are pretty satisfied.
WINNERS: DESKTOP PCs
See all of our survey results for desktop PCs.
WINNERS: DESKTOP PCs
Categories: Overall, Less than a Year Old, Home Use, All-in-One Desktops
It’s a clean sweep across categories: Once again, no brand of desktop PCs has customers who are nearly as satisfied as Apple. Its stellar Ease of Setup ratings show that Apple users are thrilled with their computers from the moment they take them out of the box .
Categories: Overall, Home Use
CyberPowerPC makes build-to-order PCs, primarily for gamers. That can be a tough crowd to please but CyberPowerPC’s fast, reliable systems are generating satisfied, loyal customers.
Category: Less than a Year Old
Asus didn’t win overall, but with the newer systems less than 12 months old, its score was enough to make it the highest-rated maker of Windows-based desktops, and worth of the Readers’ Choice.
Categories: Overall, Home Use
Satisfaction with Asus desktop PCs continues to improve. Among new Windows-based PCs, our readers tell us no other company is delivering a better experience. It’s also a worthy purchase in desktops overall and at home.