February 22, 2012

Lenovo Leads Reliability Ratings, Apple Drops to Fourth


“Lenovo has climbed to the top of Rescuecom’s computer reliability ratings for the beginning of 2012, achieving a significantly higher score than its competitors. Apple has fallen to fourth in the lineup, despite maintaining a stronger rating in past years and achieving a surge in overall market share, with a score that is just over half of Lenovo’s rating.”

This report emerged the day after my previously reliable Lenovo Thinkpad’s hard drive failed. ‘Twas a fine machine while it lived, but it needs a new main storage drive and cooling fan now.

Our Apple products continue to chug along just fine, though.

This brings up thoughts of replacement cycles. Well-managed (and well-funded) IT departments put their machines on a life cycle clock. Three years is a common lifespan; when a machine is approaching its fourth year there is a replacement order made, client software installed, local data transferred and the old asset retired.

Major manufacturers often buy used equipment by the pound, crediting owners for retired products against the purchase of new. In that way the manufacturer locks in customers.

It’s less likely an individual will adhere to a computer life cycle. Who wants to plan for another computer purchase when they’re still paying off their current machine?

Think of it as insurance. That new machine is going to fail at some point, sooner the more it’s used. Laptops will fail sooner than desktops from reduced cooling capacity and wear from physical movement. A hardware failure, particularly a main storage drive failure, is usually more disruptive than a software fault because it renders the machine useless.

How to deal with this eventuality? Begin by implementing a smart backup strategy. Ensure that you can recover from a failure in a day or less. That entails daily (or nightly) backups to an external drive and some means of booting from CD or USB drive.

There are many good software solutions available for this, and both Windows and OS X ship with built-in backup software. There’s no excuse for not enabling and using it.

The better products are set-and-forget. Plug in an external drive, answer a few questions and you’re all set. Be sure to test your backup periodically to make sure it’ll be useable when you need it.

Consider putting away a few dollars each month after buying a new machine. It need not be much. Five or ten dollars a month is enough to replace an internal hard drive after a couple of years. A drive that makes it through the first month of use is not likely to die in the next couple of years.

At some point replacing a failed drive won’t satisfy the urge for a new machine, even if the replacement drive is a speedy SSD. Sock away more money if you want your next machine paid for when the current machine’s life is up. Divide the purchase price of your most recent machine by twelve, then again by three or four. That’s your monthly saving target against a three or four year life cycle.

Doing this is not any more interesting than paying your monthly car insurance premium, but you’ll find purchasing your next machine so much more palatable when you already have the money in hand to do so.

What to do with a retired machine? Services like Gazelle will buy your old equipment. The payout varies by the age and condition of the old equipment, so a three-year replacement cycle will net you more for your old machine than will a four-year cycle. Taking care to reduce physical wear of a mobile device such as a laptop will bump up what you’ll be paid when you’re through with it. Just be sure to securely wipe the contents of the storage drive before sending it off.

By putting your new machine on a life cycle replacement schedule and adopting a systematic backup scheme you’ll make hardware failure or the urge to buy a new machine much less painful.