Three of my four computers failed in three days. When are we going to get reliable computers?
Updated September 2013.
Ok, I use more than four computers, perhaps 15 or more. I use only four as desktop computers connected to my monitor and keyboard by a KVM switch. The rest run as appliances and servers out of mind and out of sight.
Of the four I use every day, almost every day, some run special applications that crunch data for days at a time. One of my programs is optimised to scream through data but a terabyte still takes 50 or more hours because every byte has to be compared to every byte.
So why did three computers out of four fail in the same week?
The weather was slightly hotter than normal. It was never hot enough to break a well designed computer but few computers are well designed and one computer had poor air flow. That poor air flow made the internal temperature 10 degrees hotter instead of 5 degrees hotter. Components are already 10 degrees hotter than air temperature and that 5 extra degrees was enough to kill a disk in one computer. I replaced the disk and rebuilt the system because I wanted to tested a new operating system.
Computer chips are normally cool other than the CPU. One computer decided to stop producing video for some unknown reason. The computer did not proceed far enough to tell if the problem is just a motherboard chip or is the CPU. I will replace the lot because the old one is almost two years old and the current model CPU/Motherboard/memory combination is twice as fast for the same electricity. Perhaps my 50 hour analysis program will shrink to 25 hours.
One computer broke several times because I was reconfiguring it to use solid state hardware. I tried a USB stick as the boot disk and it worked for a day then broke.
I tried a CompactFlash as the boot device using a CompactFlash adapter but the shoddy CF adapter was made with what looks like a deliberate design error or a truly stupid mistake and it broke. I looked up the industry standard very expensive deluxe CF adapter with the price that should guarantee error free operation and the detailed photograph of the super expensive device shows they use exactly the same hardware. I changed that computer back to using a ten year old IDE disk and it is singing away reliably.
Electronic disks, the solid state stuff, should be faster and more reliable but there are endless reports of failure plus most operating systems and file systems are not designed for solid state storage. If you want to know more about configuring systems for SSD, register, login, and add your questions using the comment box.
Solid state disks are fast and reliable for reads but slow and unreliable for writes. All the various forms, SSD, SDHC, CF, and USB, are so expensive that most people try to use something other than the top of the line hardware. The top of the line SSD is not very reliable and the drop off in reliability is very quick as you go down in price. When you buy normal hard disks, you get what you pay for. With SSD you get far less than you pay for.
The hottest components are sensitive to slight increases in air temperature. The sensitive components are the CPU, disks, optical drives, and graphics cards. Anything with a fan is probably already overloaded and just looking for a chance to take time off. Choose motherboard with no fans because a fan indicates bad motherboard design. Graphics cards for intense gaming might require fans and liquid nitrogen cooling but everything else should work through a graphic card without a fan.
The cheapest modern built in graphics chip can process Bluray video at full speed and the fastest fanless add on graphics card is several times faster. For anything other than an extreme game, the difference in total processing time between the fastest fanless graphics card and a graphics card costing hundreds of dollars more is less than one percent. The games perform better only if they use special code designed for the specific graphics chip in your graphics card. After you pay hundreds of dollars more to get the fast graphics card, you end up with a whiny fan screaming in your ear all day then the card burns out on the first hot day of summer.
Heat is a killer. Good components can survive 10 degrees hotter than the cheap nasty stuff. A good case with adequate ventilation will run many degrees cooler plus, and this is a big plus, there will be no hot stops where the ventilation misses one device. I suggest you get a case slightly larger than what you need. if you need a case for 2 disks, get a case for 4 disks and leave extra air flow around the disks. Make sure there are no cables on top of the CPU fan or anything else to block the CPU cooling air.
Use a modern power supply. The old power supplies had separate sections for each voltage and could fail to supply your computer if just one connection was overloaded. Modern power supplies can spread the workload out in a more efficient manner, use less electricity doing it, and product less total heat in the process.
Modern computers have thermostatically controlled fans. They should rotate at slow speed on normal days and only wind up to turbine screech mode on really hot days. If you can hear the fan then the case hardware is failing to cool the components.
Do you buy everything from the same supplier, say Dell? Lots of people do. They upgrade once per year or every three years using a cheap supplier. Many of their computers fail on the same hot day or from the same over voltage spike. A better approach is to replace one third of your computers each year across a three year cycle so that only one third will fail at the same time. If you use a good brand and buy near he top of the range each time, you only have to replace on fifth of your computers each five years.
Toshiba topped reliability surveys in 2010 then Asus in 2011 and Lenovo is topping the charts in 2012.
Rescuecom list actual reliability based on real service calls and repairs. For late 2012, Lenovo topped the list followed by Asus, Samsung, Apple, Toshiba, HP/Compaq, Dell, Acer, then Sony. Toshiba is listed as the average line, which means Toshiba is dragged down by the millions of cheap models they sell along side their professional models. When you look only at Toshiba professional models, their reliability is usually number one or two. Apple is listed as only slightly ahead of Toshiba, a surprise given that Apple sell only expensive models comparable to the Toshiba profession models and also a confusing result after seeing all the broken Apple computers out in the field.
In 2013, Apple dipped below Toshiba as Apple products moved into businesses where they want real reliability, not just popularity. Apple products also fall further because many of the Apple users were moved to Apple computers from a reliable brand, hell has no fury like someone forced to use an inferior product.
PCWorld surveyed their readers for satisfaction with design, usability, and reliability. Apple topped the reliability list followed by Asus then Lenovo. Strangely the article headline for the reliability chart mentions Apple and Lenovo but not Asus. Perhaps Apple and Lenovo are their top advertisers.
There is also an overall satisfaction list, excluding reliability, and Apple topped that list but failed on expandability and performance, two of the critical items for desktop computers. The list does not match up with any other measurement or survey.
Dell and some other brands were split into
business. A weird split, where do home businesses fit? Businesses are usually more critical with business computers rating lower even through they might have better design and higher quality.
Within a brand, price is important because many brands sell cheap junk along side professional models. Price does not indicate reliability across brands, with mid priced brands showing better reliability than the top priced brands.
Old computers should never be loaded past 70% of capacity. Modern computers can be loaded to 80%. If a fan is rotating at full speed now then it will not cope with a really hot day. If all your computers are similar, they will all fail in similar circumstances. A reliable brand is no more expensive than any other brand.