Within three years of purchase, nearly one in three laptops will fail, according to warranty-provider SquareTrade. Two-thirds of these failures will be due to hardware malfunctions; the rest, from accidental damage. “In SquareTrade’s experience, the 31% laptop total failure rate is higher than most consumer electronics,” write the report’s authors, Austin Sands & Vince Tseng. “Given that the typical laptop endures more use and abuse than nearly any other consumer electronic device (with the possible exception of cell phones), it is not surprising to see such high failure rates,” the authors write.

Of the major notebook manufacturers, Asus and Toshiba are the most reliable, with three-year failure rates of 15.6 and 15.7, respectively. HP are the worst with more than one-quarter (25.6 percent) of HP’s notebooks malfunctioning within three years.

To be fair, that’s still a lot better than the Xbox 360’s two-year failure rate.

Following HP as least reliable are Gateway (23.5 percent) and Acer (23.3 percent). Apple, whose reliability is one of its selling points, sits near the middle with a failure rate of 17.4 percent.

The results are based on a study of laptops purchased by over 30,000 SquareTrade customers.

While notebook failure rates are high, those for netbooks are significantly worse, as they are 20 percent more likely to have hardware malfunctions than their larger and costlier cousins. The netbook market is too young to project three-year failure rates, but they are pretty brittle compared to bulkier notebooks.

The Asus Eee, which has the highest visibility on the netbook market, infamously shipped with an out-of-the box keyboard problem that made typing on its cramped surface even more difficult.

I would expect netbook failure rate to push even further than 20 percent above notebook failures once three-year data becomes available.

By Mark Alvarez