The magazine drew on subscribers' experiences with 10,000 desktop and laptop computers in concluding that Apple tech support solved customers' problems more than 80% of the time, compared to only about 60% for other manufacturers. Other companies that stood out in the survey, which will be published in the June issue, include Lenovo and Dell.
Lenovo was "outstanding" at problem solving for notebooks, and Dell was above average for both desktops and notebooks. Hewlett-Packard, including its Compaq brand, offered "inferior support," Consumer Reports said.
Computers are among the most trouble-prone products that the magazine tracks in its annual product-reliability surveys. As a result, a market for extra-cost service plans has evolved around the products' shortcomings.
In general, Consumer Reports doesn't recommend buying a plan on repair coverage alone. Instead, customers can use a credit card that offer extended warranties on products purchased on credit. As is the case with most products, computer repairs on average cost about the same as a service plan, if the computer needs a repair during the first few years, the magazine said.
There are exceptions, however. People who travel a lot with their notebooks may want to consider a plan that covers accidental damage. Mac buyers should consider an extended plan, because Apple's tech support runs out in 90 days after purchase, unless the person brings the computer to one of its stores.
Also, Dell and Gateway customers who expect to need a lot of hand-holding beyond the free tech support may want to consider an extended plan, given that both companies were significantly better at problem-solving for customers with paid plans, the magazine said.
In the June issue, Consumer Reports also compared almost four-dozen notebooks and desktops. Among basic laptops, the magazine's recommendations included the Lenovo ThinkPad T61, $950; and the ThinkPad R61, $870; the Toshiba Satellite A215-S5818, $750; and the Dell Inspiron 1525, $675.
Among inexpensive desktops, the magazine liked the Lenovo 3000 J200, $580. For people wanting more features and performance, Consumer Reports gave high marks to the HP Pavilion m9100t, $970; the Pavilion a6250t, $825; and the Dell Inspiron 530S, $860.