Hardware is a commodity, so it's price, service, and reliability that separate the PC suppliers on this list.

Larry Greenemeier, Contributor

November 26, 2003

3 Min Read

Other vendors say they aren't aware of significant problems with customer service. "The data we have, and the research that we've done on our own Web site in terms of usability, customer satisfaction, all those things, has been pretty positive," says Jim McDonnell, HP's VP of marketing and sales for the personal-systems group. Indeed, there doesn't appear to be any backlash against HP for customer service. HP is neck-and-neck with Dell for total PC market share, yet it comes in fourth place with a score of 7.2 for customer service in InformationWeek's study.

chartStill, cost is king, and that fact isn't lost on vendors, even with prices being as close as they are. While not every company will do back flips over a $50 savings per PC, "every little bit counts, and these costs add up," IDC's Kay says.

Price is one of the most important reasons The Progressive Corp. has stuck with Dell PCs for the past four years. But just to keep Dell honest, the insurance provider buys some of its PCs from HP. "We want to keep this a competitive process," says Joe Self, Progressive's director of client services and engineering. PC vendors "are hungry today, and we've gotten good value for the money."

The InformationWeek Research study doesn't show any significant change in PC life cycles compared with averages from years past. Forty-three percent of respondents say they'll keep their PCs for three years, and 30% think they'll hold onto their systems for four years. Fifty-two percent of respondents say they plan to replace notebooks in three years, as they tend to take a beating from being dragged along on business trips and shoved under airline seats.

The third most important priority when choosing a PC vendor is reliability and quality, followed by proven technology and vendor and product reputation. Dell's 8.0 score edges IBM in terms of desktop reliability and quality, while IBM's 8.2 takes the top spot, followed by Dell, on the notebook side. Many companies buying PCs see all of these categories tied closely together as a single indicator of how their investments will perform over time.

chart"The $1,500 or so you plunk down to buy these machines is a fraction of the [total] cost," says Rosalee Hermens, who recently stepped down from her CIO job of five years at Aspen Technology Inc. to start her own company. Hermens drove Aspen's decision to migrate its 4-year-old fleet of about 3,500 Dell desktops and notebooks to IBM PCs. IBM won the deal partly because of the IBM Rapid Restore function, a technology that allocates part of the PC's internal disk as storage for important system data, letting users quickly recover from software or operating-system failures.

Hermens expects PC vendors will continue evolving their products to integrate communications and computing functions without losing ground in the areas of price or performance, while increasing the availability of non-traditional PCs. "Five years from now, I won't buy a PC," she predicts. "I will give the sales force a PDA powerful enough that I wouldn't have to give them a PC."

Indeed, vendors say that new form factors with better processors at a good price/performance ratio are all on tap for the next few years. While they're at it, they should devise ways to elevate customer service if they hope to keep the customers they lure with low prices and new gadgets.

-- with Thomas Claburn

Illustration by Scott Laumann

Continue to: Dell: No Room To Bask In Its Success

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