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Market research firm Gartner said that personal computer makers have managed to decrease hardware annual failure rates (AFR) significantly in the past few years, yet, there is quite a lot of space for improvements.

Computers Become More Reliable

There are no openly available PC hardware reliability figures because personal computer (PC) suppliers consider such data proprietary and usually do not disclose it. However, many PC vendors and warranty repair providers have shared the information with Gartner “off the record” during the past several years, the firm explained. Gartner has cross-checked this input against feedback of Gartner clients, many of whom manage installed bases of 50 000 or more units, the company explained.

Three years ago, notebook AFRs averaged 20% in the first year, climbing to 28% in the third year. Only about 15% of mobile systems purchased in 2005 – 2005 failed and Gartner predicts that the forth year AFR will drop to 22%. Desktop AFRs have gone from 7% in year 1 and 15% in the fourth year of life to a current level of 5% in year 1 with an anticipated 12% in the fourth year.

Gartner defines a hardware failure as any repair incident that requires a hardware component to be replaced. The component can be as trivial as a notebook latch or as significant as a motherboard. The general pattern is for newly purchased systems to have an early shakeout period with high failure rates that drop back to lower levels after 60 to 90 days.

Hard Disk Drives and Mainboards – Biggest Sources of Failures

Desktop computers have two components, which are the largest sources of failures:

  • Hard disk drives;
  • Mainboards.

“The number of motherboard replacements has been rising over time as more components get integrated onboard. Parts such as network interface cards (NICs) or modems can no longer be swapped out as separate parts. If either of these fails, an entire motherboard swap is required,” said Leslie Fiering, research vice president at Gartner.

Notebook’s failures on systems less than two years old are:

  • Hard disk drives (between 25% and 45% of total hardware failures);
  • Mainboards(between 25% and 45% of total hardware failures);
  • Chassis, including latches, hinges, feet and case cracks;
  • Keyboards, with keycaps falling off or getting discolored, and spilled drinks seeping under the keyboard;
  • Screens.

“For notebooks, screen breakage used to be the single-largest source of failure. However, over time, notebook manufacturers have improved design significantly to reduce screen breakage by adding structural rigidity to the notebook casing and screen bezel, as well as by providing a greater clearance between the screen and the keyboard when the system is closed,” Ms. Fiering said.

Some measures that the smartest PC vendors have implemented to improve reliability include: increasing design and system testing; increasing component qualification; raising the penalty to component suppliers for component failures; and performing overall system tests during repair incidents to spot and fix any imminent problems before they can cause further failures, Gartner explained.

The research firm also published some basic steps users can employ to reduce failure rates:

  • Perform due diligence on PC vendor quality assurance programs and AFRs as part of the vendor selection process;
  • Verify the PC vendor’s escalation and problem resolution processes; checking with PC vendor reference accounts on reliability;
  • Establish query and reporting capabilities within internal help desk, asset management and support systems to extract hardware failure rate data by model and failure type.


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