The biggest merger in high-tech history may be a financial success for Hewlett-Packard Co and the former Compaq Computer Corp, but it hasn't made buyers of their computers any happier.
Both brands picked up terrible grades in an annual PC user satisfaction survey released Thursday.
Dell Computer Corp, on the other hand, continued to shine.
And overall, the 18,000 subscribers surveyed by PC Magazine were happier this year than last year about the reliability of their computers and the available technical support.
Much of the credit for that improvement goes to Microsoft Corp's Windows XP operating system, which was released in October 2001, the survey found. Earlier incarnations of Windows were more likely to crash or freeze.
Windows XP "has lived up to a lot of its promise," said Ben Gottesman, executive editor of PC Magazine, which has produced the user satisfaction report for 16 years.
The magazine asked subscribers several detailed questions about their desktop and notebook PCs, servers and printers.
It graded on a curve, so a PC maker with improving service and reliability could get marked down if it wasn't keeping up with the rest of the industry.
Dell led the desktop PC category for the 12th time in 13 years, scoring an A-plus.
Apple Computer Inc also got an A-plus, after not making last year's rankings because too few PC Magazine subscribers used Macs.
Sony Corp got an A, as did ABS Computer Technologies Inc, a Whittier, California-based maker of PCs geared toward value-conscious buyers and video game players.
Meanwhile, HP and Compaq desktops both got an E -- the lowest possible grade -- along with those by Acer Inc, eMachines Inc and NEC Corp.
HP had scored a D-minus last year, while Compaq had the scarlet E last year as well.
When PC Magazine asked its subscribers about their experiences in getting technical support or repair help from different companies, HP and Compaq scored worse than average in 12 out of 15 categories.
To be sure, HP's US$19 billion acquisition of Compaq last year never really was billed as a boon to consumers.
The companies' main goals were to streamline their PC divisions and strengthen products and services for corporate customers.
Still, the failing grades indicate how little progress Hewlett-Packard has made in answering to competition from Dell, which regained the worldwide lead in PC sales from HP in the first quarter.
HP spokesman Roger Frizzell called PC Magazine's report card merely "a small snapshot of our PC business," which he pointed out has been profitable the past two quarters.
He said HP has taken strides recently to improve its customer service, such as introducing support services in Spanish and launching a toll-free number for repair questions.
In laptop or notebook computers, the top grades went to IBM Corp, Toshiba Corp and Apple. Dell picked up a B-plus, while HP earned a B. Compaq got the only E.
Hewlett-Packard can take solace that the luster hasn't worn off its "crown jewel" -- its printer division. HP printers got an A-plus, leading the rankings for the 12th year in a row.
Samsung debuted in the printer results with an A, while Panasonic, Epson, IBM and Brother all got Bs. Another popular printer brand, Lexmark, scored a D.
While overall PC user satisfaction rose in this year's survey, the magazine's editors noted that more readers complained of having difficulty communicating with the people staffing help desks and service call centers that have been moved overseas to cut costs.