Usually when shopping for a computer, the only two factors that really matter to most people are cost and features; if you can get the specs you want at a price you can afford, well, you're probably a happy camper. What many folks don't consider -- until it's too late, that is -- is the quality of the tech support provided by your PC's manufacturer when a problem arises. Well luckily Laptop magazine is very interested in customer support: so interested, in fact, that they actually concoct fake problems and call up the various manufacturers to see how they fare with what would normally be considered very simple issues. This time around, they switched off the WiFi on their notebooks and installed a number of startup-slowing applications, and then graded the nine major laptop makers on both their online and phone support. Coming out on top were Apple and Lenovo -- followed closely by Fujitsu -- whose websites were so well stocked with info that they precluded the need to call for help in the first place; they still called, just for kicks, and found all three support teams to be prompt in both picking up the calls (no long hold times) and solving the problems. Gateway, Sony, Dell, and HP all ended up in the middle of the pack, performing well in some areas but floundering in others. The worst of the bunch were Acer and Toshiba, with the former earning a "D" for its lousy online documentation (though hold times were non-existent), while the latter apparently experienced some damaged phone lines to its Manila call center during the testing, and was unable to solve any of Laptop's problems (or even answer the phone in under an hour, for that matter). While these results should not be considered gospel on the quality of the support you're going to get from each manufacturer, they're probably a decent representation on what you can expect following your purchase of a particular machine -- or maybe not. Readers, do you have any first-hand experiences which either support or disprove these rankings?

HDTV Listings for August 15, 2006