Not every company offers first-class tech support for its laptops. With confusing web resources, unhelpful social media accounts and clueless phone reps, many brands put a lot of unnecessary obstacles between consumers and the help they need.
That's why, for over 10 years, Laptop Mag has published its annual Tech Support Showdown, in which we go undercover to test and grade the most popular laptop brands.
After we spent several weeks evaluating 10 laptop makers based on their online support and live chat, social networking resources, and phone-based help, we found that Apple earns top marks once again for its extremely knowledgeable support staff and strong web resources.
In a huge improvement over prior years, Acer leaps into second place by providing quick, helpful phone calls and highly accurate online info. Lenovo rounds out our top three with its excellent callback service and wealth of web articles.
Bringing up the rear are Asus, Samsung and MSI. Asus' live chat and website were especially disappointing. Seemingly still shell-shocked from its exploding-phone debacle, Samsung's support line kept mistaking our Notebook 7 spin for a Galaxy Note 7. And MSI's tech-support reps were shockingly unfamiliar with their company's products.
#1. Apple (93/100)
Web Support: support.apple.com
Phone Number: (800) 694-7466 (24/7)
Key Takeaways: Apple offers the best tech support in the business, year after year. The company's website and mobile app are loaded with helpful, step-by-step tutorials and, whether you reach them via phone or live chat, support reps are knowledgeable and friendly. Apple also answered Twitter messages quickly and accurately.
#2. Acer (88/100)
Web Support: acer.com/ac/en/US/content/support
Phone Number: (866) 695-2237 (24/7)
Key Takeaways: The best Windows vendor for laptop support this year, Acer offers a useful live chat feature and an extremely helpful, easy-to-use website with lots of articles you can use to help yourself. Company reps nailed the answers to our questions on all three phone calls, which averaged less than 9 minutes.
#3. Lenovo (86/100)
Web Support: support.lenovo.com
Phone Number: (877) 453-6686 (24/7)
Key Takeaways: Lenovo's callback service, in which you register online and a rep calls you back right away, is extremely quick and helpful. The company has a wealth of online resources, but it can be challenging to find the page which solves your problem.
#4. Microsoft (82/100)
Web Support: support.microsoft.com
Phone Number: (800) 936-3500 (24/7)
Key Takeaways: Microsoft's support site has a lot of helpful information, and the live chat and Twitter responses were quite helpful. Phone support was mostly good, but one confused rep changed a whole bunch of unrelated settings on our laptop.
#5. HP (80/100)
Web Support: support.hp.com
Phone Number: (888-698-3762 (8 am - 12 am Mon-Fri, 9 am - 9 pm weekend)
Key Takeaways: HP's website features a bevy of resources, including a very useful live chat. The company also provided speedy answers to our Twitter query, though the HP account initially sent us outdated instructions from 2011. One phone rep tried to sell us antivirus software after answering our query.
#6. Dell (76/100)
Web Support: dell.com/support/home
Phone Number: (800) 624-9897 (8 am - 12 am ET Mon-Fri, 9 am - 11 pm weekend)
Key Takeaways: Dell's site has a rich set of Windows tips, how-tos, FAQs and diagnostics, though the company's automated "interactive support agent" wasn't much help. Two out of three agents didn't even know about the built-in Waves MaxxAudio app that comes on most Dell laptops.
#7. Razer (74/100)
Web Support: razersupport.com/gaming-systems
Phone Number: (888) 697-2037 (12 pm - 8 pm ET)
Key Takeaways: Razer's website has some useful FAQs, but offers less information than most competitors; it's also sorely missing a forum. Phone calls were fairly quick, but on one call, the rep kept giving us instructions for the wrong laptop.
#8. Asus (72/100)
Web Support: asus.com/us/support
Phone Number: (888) 678-3688 (24/7)
Key Takeaways: Asus' live-chat and phone-support agents often steered us wrong (example: changing the video drivers to answer our question about disabling passwords after wake from sleep). On one call, we were even exposed to 15 minutes of odd noise before being disconnected.
#9. Samsung (67/100)
Web Support: samsung.com/us/support/computing/windows-laptops
Phone Number: (800-726-7864 (8 am - 12 pm ET Mon-Fri, 9 am - 11 pm weekends)
Key Takeaways: When we called Samsung's phone line, we kept getting routed to smartphone support, even though we asked for help with our laptop. When we finally reached the right people, two out of three answers were wrong, with reps unable to understand the company's own software.
#10. MSI (63/100)
Web Support: us.msi.com/support
Phone Number: (888) 447-6564 (8 am - 10 pm ET)
Key Takeaways: Peppered with broken English, MSI's support form asks for highly technical information, including your current BIOS version, before you can get an answer. Support calls were blissfully short, usually because the reps weren't familiar enough with MSI's products and gave poor answers.
How We Rate and Test
To see how well laptop makers support their products, we went undercover, posing as everyday users, and tried to answer three questions. We used both the online and telephone support systems of the top 10 manufacturers (because it stopped making consumer laptops, Toshiba missed the cut).
For each brand, except for Apple, which has its own OS, we asked one common question about how to stop the computer from going to sleep and then requesting a password upon wake-up. All the other questions were customized for the brands and the consumer laptops we chose for testing.
We initiated three phone sessions for each brand, asking one question per session. We also used each company's web resources, including articles, forums and live chat, to find answers. We attempted to contact the companies via both Facebook and Twitter. If a company offered a mobile app for support, we tried that also.
Each brand received a score out of 100, of which 60 points rate the company's online support — web, social, apps and forums — and the other 40 points score the brand's phone-based support. We gave online support more weight, because it's a more popular way to get help and is most people's first stop.