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Tech Support Showdown 2014: Who Wins, Who Loses?

You don't have to pay the teenager down the street or wait for your geeky cousin to help with your laptop. The device's manufacturer offers you tech support, and you should take advantage of it. But how do you evaluate the quality of that support? That’s where our annual Tech Support Showdown comes in.

We take a holistic approach to rating the eight major brands. Do the support reps know what they're talking about? Are they super pushy about selling you something? Does it take forever to get an answer? If sitting on hold or getting passed from one representative to another isn't your thing, there's the company website (which might have live chat). Some brands will even give you help over Facebook or Twitter.

MORE: Best Laptops

Overall, three laptop makers truly shined in this year’s survey, but only one came away with our top ranking.


2012 Grade2013 GradeAverage Call Time (min)2014 Web Grade2014 Phone Grade2014 Overall Grade

Who Wins, Who Loses?

1st Place: Apple

Proving once again that it knows how to treat its customers, Apple takes the prize for the best tech support in the business. The company reclaims the crown after one year in Sony's keeping. (Sony is no longer in the laptop-making business, so we omitted the brand from testing this year.) Apple's knowledgeable reps offered quick, friendly and accurate help via phone and live chat. We also love Apple's comprehensive support pages for specific devices, as well as the community hub. We do wish the company would get in on the social networking craze, so we could seek help that way as well.

2nd Place: HP and Samsung (Tie)

With valiant efforts, HP and Samsung tied for second place in this year's Tech Support Showdown. HP also earns the award for most improved, rising from the lowest ranking in last year's testing. (That unfortunate honor goes to ASUS this year, which earned a D+, but it was Dell that kept us on the phone the longest, with an average call time of 27 minutes and 3 seconds.)

How We Tested

In the proud tradition of the American spy community, our tech support showdown sends our staff undercover to seek out answers to questions any average Joe might ask. We don't go in with the goal of completely stumping a brand; we just want to gauge the customer experience for ourselves. Armed with three questions (two general and one specific to the brand), we look for quick and friendly assistance through various channels, as well as a breadth of knowledge.

We posed two questions to each laptop maker over the phone: "How do I set up a picture password," and, "How do I change the settings so my laptop doesn't go to sleep when I close the lid?" Then we asked a question uniquely tailored to each brand. For example, we asked Samsung how to use SideSync software to transfer files from phone to laptop and vice versa

Likewise, we explored each company's website for answers to these same questions, looking for ease of navigation and live chat options. If brands offered any other Web-based help, we tried that, too.

And what could be more social than asking someone for help? That's why we examined each notebook maker's social presence and responsiveness. While it is true that neither Facebook nor Twitter is part of a company's warranty coverage, the average consumer has started to expect some level of attention through these media.