Saturday, August 13, 2011

Age and Reliability

I read a 2 year old report by SquareTrade on the reliability of mobile computers which observed that on average one third will fail from hardware malfunction in 3 years, and that netbooks have a higher failure rate than laptops. Among laptops the premium brands are marginally more durable. This is not an earth shaking revelation and certainly not surprising, although very disappointing that failure should begin so early. I think nothing should ever fail within 5 years of purchase/use but maybe this apply only to goods made 100 years ago!

Seriously, I wonder if mass production and using faster end of life materials and engineering designs to spur the business competitiveness and survival may not contribute significantly to shorter shelf life of many products we use nowadays, such that they allow the disposable mentality to creep into our thinking process? It is scary to think that vital hardware like hard disks are now undependable for long life data storage. Many hard disks fail within 6 months of use! In the past older, slower and smaller capacity disks can last as long as the computer is alive, but nowadays some hard disks die faster than their motherboards. Imagine buying a product on instalments and it died before it is fully repaid.

I believe that anything that is reliable during its first 2 years stand a great chance of not failing on you later. Subject to you not abusing it through manhandling or over use. That also if the product was well made, which is what we hope for but are seldom assured. Product warranties are given to protect the buyers, not from failures but from financial loss through repair costs since the warranted goods will be made good during the covered period. Have you heard of a computer warranted for 5 years? Yes, it can but you just have to pay a much higher premium. Higher warranty is not better reliability. Reliability and reputation are related, but reputation is not the same as brand awareness. Lots of companies spent millions to make their products well known in the hope that the public associate awareness with quality, which unfortunately is a term misused to score unfair advantage over gullible consumers. Quality is reliability, it is not appearance, it is not design, it is not specifications, and certainly nothing to do with price. Many people associate a more expensive model to be of better quality than its lower end counterpart. Think this: is flying business a quality flight then economy apart from bigger seats, better food and better stewardess attention? Not for the abominable price that is 3-5 times more! Sometimes I think business people are not very sharp or smart but I salute top brass who dare travel economy and eat side stalls because they don't believe price = quality.

All things age. This is the reality of physical life, and I believe only the spirits live forever. Some of us disillusioned with the imperfect world wish to expire early to join their now perfected friends and loved ones above. I wonder if computers can think like this too!

I don't think we should ever expect things to last forever, maybe just to outlast us. But to see them dying after just a couple of years is unacceptable. We cannot be spending our life adapting to replacements. It isn't the money or the technology. Believe it or not, we do form a bond to things we owe, which we hope will last for much longer than their warranties.

My Dell laptop is aging. It is just 3+ years but I discover this is already 'old' for a computer. Sad. I was just learning to like it and now I have to think of what to replace it. If it malfunction again and show signs of unreliability I may do just that. With technology improving so fast maybe I'd like the idea but is there a conspiracy that my new laptop or desktop will also last just as long?

A terrible thought. Human relationship have just joined this short term culture. The generation Y is impatient and used to the disposable way of life. They will make and break relationships like use and throw lifestyle. Divorce rates will skyrocket and maybe people no longer marry, they just hit off and then beat it, as the late Michael Jackson sang it.

Oldies like me, well, we may be obsolete by modern high tech standards but we have longer shelf lives and we do have a thing or two to teach the world, that age = reliability.

Update: My 4 months old Samsung smartphone is malfunctioning again! I think they should stop calling them smartphones. Here's an extreme example of reliability. I bought the National Dimension 4 microwave oven in March 1986 for RM1650, a princely sum. That was over 25 years ago and it still purrs every time we use it. And my Camry of 1999 is as old as our eldest daughter marriage and still fetch the family on errands. We are not ashamed of its age as it stood proudly beside its newer sibling just 2 years old. The grand daddy of all is the 30 year old piano bought for our eldest daughter to play. Well, it is now banged on by her children and played by our eldest grand daughter whenever she visits.



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