Netbook failure rate disappoints major user

IS project manager questions short lifespans of netbooks purchased

Netbooks are cheaper, lighter and generally operate more slowly than an ordinary laptop -- but should their expected lifespan be shorter?

That is the question Public Service Association (PSA) IS project manager Richard Finlay is asking after three of the six Hewlett Packard mini notebooks he purchased failed in less than 15 months. He met with HP and distributor The Laptop Company to formally complain and was later informed that the models he had purchased -- HP2140 and HP2133 -- were not expected to last beyond two years.

"The units purchased are essentially low-end models and as such the lifespan is only estimated to be 15-24 month," HP business development manager Gill Brown wrote in an email to Finlay.

He is disappointed with her reply. "HP's netbooks are not the cheapest on the market. My users accept that to get the convenience of the small and lighter equipment there is a trade off in performance. I don't accept that there should be a trade off in quality," he told Computerworld.

The PSA is a union representing 57,000 members in government departments, local government, the health sector and other government agencies. The majority of the union's workforce is mobile, as is reflected in its IT spend -- of the 125 users, only 15 have desktop computers, the rest are supplied with laptops and netbooks.

Finlay points out in an email to HP that the PSA bought more than 80 HP laptops and in 18 months only one has failed (another five have been "destroyed" by users), but he is satisfied with that failure rate.

In response to questions from Computerworld, HP market development manager for business notebooks Simon Molloy says the expected lifespan for desktop and notebook PCs is three to five years.

"Notebooks and netbooks do, by their very nature, tend to have a shorter lifespan than desktop PCs as they can be knocked, bumped or dropped while being carried or moved," he wrote in an email response.

Depending on the model, netbooks and notebooks come with a year or three-year warranty. "As netbook prices continue to drop, the cost to repair the unit can be prohibitive and at times it can be more cost effective to replace it. HP encourages customers to upgrade their warranty to provide total peace of mind for the expected lifespan of the device," Molloy wrote.

He was unable refer directly to Finlay's complaint because "HP is unable to comment on particular customer cases."

As the PSA netbooks were purchased with a standard 12-month warranty Finlay was advised by The Laptop Company corporate account manager Vince Eggels to buy two additional years of warranty to cover the netbooks that hadn't failed, and the others that have been replaced.

Eggels says that netbooks are not designed to the same spec as a laptop and that they are manufactured for a niche market. He describes it as "a student or a person that generally uses email only and doesn't mind the slower speed or the smaller screen."

Sales of netbooks have not been as buoyant as was first predicted he says. "As with anything that comes out to the market there is a lot of rah-rah and there was a lot of rah-rah about netbooks, but I think customers have been quite savvy and realised they aren't the be-all-and-end-all and they probably haven't taken off as much as the manufacturers had hoped."

So are netbooks suitable for the major users? Not according to Gary Wicks, the Toshiba country manager, information systems division. "It is not something we recommend corporates buy. We don't believe the user experience is what they desire from a corporate point of view. We have an offering of course, because there is a demand for it," he says.

Toshiba began manufacturing netbooks after Intel introduced the Atom processor in late 2008 he says. The company has two netbooks specifically for the corporate market, which are a "slightly tougher build" and that these are "definitely three-year machines".

"If I was to look at the whole life cycle and say has it been a good product?," Wicks says. "Well, it has been OK, nowhere near as profitable as other mobile products, but that also puts a negative on it from our point of view."

Meanwhile, Finlay says demand for netbooks continues to grow from users in his organisation.

He has considered purchasing Apple's iPad instead of netbooks, but two things have held him back -- it is not possible to print from an iPad and it does not have an inbuilt camera.

Tags hardware systemslaptopsHewlett-Packardnetbooks




The Consumer Guarantees Act does not apply to business/commercial purchases!



My company purchased two HP netbooks less than a year ago. One was dead straight out of the box. The other has had the hard drive replaced twice. They aren't being subjected to any more use than a standard laptop. It's soured me on HP and I won't be purchasing from them again.



iPhone can be used to make a video call like any other 3G video phone, but it's pretty useless for a business video conference, which would be between multiple users and would definately require a larger screen than the iphone (as well as ability to exchange documents, share a whiteboard, etc). As for printing, it would be basic as it won't be able to use printer specific drivers to fully utilize all the printer functionality or even format the output properly.
However, there are ways around it ->



I brought an Acer netbook with a three year warranty



There have been a couple of surveys now showing that business users are more satisfied with iPhone vs other smart phones. Similarly that users actually use their iPhone devices more often to access information.

PSA would need to make sure their wifi broadband can cope, but they could go to personal videoconferencing with iPhone 4. In some cases (about 20%) staff won't even need a iPad, iPhone is enough.

When I started in computing, I budgeted about $10k per person for a suitcase sized laptop. Part of our country's productivity issue is that we have cut the budget as the price of hardware has dropped, rather than investing more into digitizing some of the more complicated processes. How automated is PSA?

PS You can print from an iPad / iPhone. Just search the iTunes store for print apps; they require a networked printer.



The Consumer Guarantees Act must apply to this.

It is unacceptable that the lifespan of a computer (or any electronic device) is only 2 years!

That is definetely not a fit for purpose design if that is the case!



I'm surprised the IT manager involved has admitted that he tried using such devices - it really only makes him look silly. At the end of the day you get what you pay for.

The iPhone and iPad are also consumer devices - not so much for their build quality but their feature set.



iPad printing...



it maybe true that The Consumer Guarantees Act does not apply to
purchases for
business/commercial usage.

but the HP2140 and HP2133 models are available for sale to the general public, and we are covered by the CGA.

the CGA states, goods must be:

* durable - last for a reasonable time

2 years of usable life for
a computer (or any electronic device) is not acceptable.

i won't be purchasing hp or compaq again, and i'll be sure to let friends and family know not to either, if this is their attitude.



I've had an 11.6" Vista Acer netbook for the past year and use it several times daily for business, and an Asus EEE 7" netbook for the past two plus years which I use for travel. Both are sturdy and serve me well and I expect to get many more years of use from them. But I wouldn't expect to drop them nor would other netbook users. The manufacturing of relatively low cost netbooks is one of the better industry decisions. Perhaps, like with the recent reports of Dell, HP just produces products of lower quality. Let's hope they don't go the way of GM.

Josh Neal


While the Consumer Guarantees Act doesn't apply to business purchases, it does apply to the rest of us. The story recommends upgrading the warranty but HP's statement that they should last 3-5 years means that you should be covered under the CGA for 3-5 years.



I wish someone would have told me that before I bought my iPad. How embarrassing. I've been printing with it both at home and work for months. Perhaps the IT guy should actually USE something before he spouts his nonsense. To be honest, it's not possible to print everything on an iPad, but, then again, you have it on an iPad. Why would you need to print it? The few times I've felt the need to print involved either having to fill a paper form out by hand, or to demonstrate to a worried supervisor that, yes, you can print from it...

Full disclosure: I'm an IT guy too. We are also debating purchasing Netbooks and/or iPads. I have both. Personally, for almost everything I use them for, I wind up picking up my iPad. The last time I picked up my Netbook was to show someone how bad the Flash experience an battery life was on it.

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