For years, weve asked you to tell us how the companies that supply your tech needs are doing. This year, for our "17th Annual Reader Satisfaction Survey," we wanted to know—and more than 8,000 of you told us—how happy youve been with computer makers. Now weve taken that feedback and rounded up reviews of the top products from your favorite vendors, letting you easily find the best systems from the best manufacturers.
Once again, Apple demonstrates that it knows how to please its audience. In both desktops and notebooks, users gave the company significantly higher overall ratings than the competition. Mac fans on a budget will appreciate the Apple eMac (SuperDrive), an all-in-one package that doesnt skimp on extras but costs less than $1,000. And anyone looking for a desktop-replacement notebook cant help but covet the Apple PowerBook G4 (17-inch), with its cool design and high-end features like gigabit Ethernet.
On the PC side, Dell, perennially a user favorite, comes through again in desktops. The Dell Dimension 8400, when pitted against four other Pentium 4 systems using Intels latest chipsets, came away with one of the two Editors Choice awards. This is a machine for those who want top-notch multimedia performance at a reasonable price without a lot of gimmicky glitz. Buyers looking for corporate PCs will want to check out the Dell OptiPlex GX270. In a head-to-head comparison with six other systems, this one was just a hair behind the Editors Choice IBM ThinkCentre S50. But the wide gap in desktop reliability ratings favors Dell.
Readers also expressed the most confidence in Dell for servers. Businesses that need hard-drive horsepower will find a good fit in the Dell PowerEdge 750. The unit we recently reviewed packed two 15,000-rpm SCSI U320 drives in a RAID level 0 configuration and came away with a four-star rating.
For knowing how to help customers, though, IBM leaves all others choking in its dust. Unlike most competitors, Big Blue refuses to route support calls overseas, and the difference shows. In desktops and notebooks, readers give the company unrivaled marks for tech support and repairs. Unfortunately, with desktops, a poor reliability score pulls the overall rating down—but notebooks are another matter.
When we recently reviewed 11 mainstream portables, the 4-star IBM ThinkPad T42 got an honorable mention, coming in a close second to the Editors Choice HP Compaq nc6000. But extras like IBMs five-star management utilities put it ahead overall. Concerning the IBM ThinkPad X40, what can we say beyond "get it?" This Editors Choice ultraportable is a dream.
Determining how well manufacturers serve customers is an extremely complex process with a bewildering array of nuances. This years Reader Satisfaction Survey considered numerous factors—reliability, tech support, repairs, and more. Companies other than the four mentioned here may appeal to you, depending on your needs. For example, our survey shows that PCs from eMachines, although low cost, are less likely to need repairs than any other Windows systems. Because of details like this, reading the complete report is vital to making an informed decision. Laptop shoppers should also check our recently updated notebook buying guide.