I didn’t realize that the question of Packard Bell vs Hewlett-Packard existed anymore. The search engines say otherwise. So here’s the difference between these two rather old brands.
Packard Bell vs Hewlett-Packard: There is no relation
First things first: The two companies are completely unrelated. Packard Bell is what we call an “undead” brand.
The original Packard Bell was a respected maker of radios and televisions in the mid-20th century that faded away in the late ’60s. In the 1980s, an investor bought the brand name and slapped the name on cheap IBM-compatible computers. It was a ploy to make an upstart look like an old company. Bringing back old brands doesn’t always work. I really think one of the reasons this one did work was because the name Packard Bell sounds so much like several other brands that people respect. Hewlett-Packard is one of them. Packard, the defunct maker of luxury cars, is another. Pacific Bell, which was still a major telecommunications company in the 80s and 90s, is a third.
Hewlett-Packard is one of those fabled Silicon Valley startups launched in a garage. Originally a maker of scientific equipment, HP got into computers in the 1960s, and got into personal computers and printers in a big way in the 1980s. Its printers and computers were very expensive, but if you wanted the best, HP belonged on your shortlist in both categories in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Pressure from companies like Packard Bell forced HP to find ways to build its computers more cheaply.
Early Packard Bells were just relabeled clones OEM’ed in Korea, and there was nothing remarkable or distinctive about them. They worked well, pretty much like any other comparable XT or 286 system in the late 1980s. In the early 90s, Packard Bell started manufacturing machines themselves and trying to undercut competitors in cost. And that’s when the quality started declining, generally with their 386SX and later systems.
I know a few people who had OK experiences with Packard Bell computers, but I know more people who had problems with them. I also know from my time selling computers at retail in the 1990s that I saw more Packard Bell computers come back for return or repair than any other brand. They were cheaply made, and the parts were nonstandard, so when one broke, you didn’t have a lot of options to repair them.
Packard Bell’s quality issues caught up with them and it ceased operations in 2000. If you find a Packard Bell today that still works, it’s probably not going to get worse. The lemons were discarded decades ago. I find Packard Bells in the wild in comparable numbers to other brands like Hewlett Packard today, but the big box electronics stores sold a lot more Packard Bells than they did the more expensive brands. Not as many survived.
HP computers are no longer the quality they once were, but they’re much better than Packard Bell was.
Wait. I thought HP computers were terrible?
You certainly do hear stories of people who had a bad experience with HP and will never buy one again. But if you cherry-pick stories, I can find about the same number of people who had a comparable experience with Dell or Lenovo or Acer.
The story is always about the same. They bought the computer, had problems with it, tried to get it fixed under warranty and nothing helped, and customer support just read from a script and wasn’t helpful. The only part of the story that ever differs is whether the person got their money back.
When you buy a $300 computer, you get a $300 computer. There’s very little difference in quality between the various manufacturers, especially today. They all use the same suppliers. If you bought a $300 Dell and it was fine, I believe you. More often than not, a $300 computer is fine, for about four years. That’s why you can still buy one. But you’ll have more problems at the $300 price point than at much higher price points.
Cheap computers are a lot like cheap tires. A $50 tire isn’t going to last as long or drive as nicely as a $350 tire. And it’s not fair to judge a $300 computer next to a computer that cost several times as much.
Business-class machines and quality
When you talk business-grade computers, the difference in quality is also negligible, and problems are also relatively rare. When I did a breakdown of problems by brand while working at a Fortune 20 company several years ago, brand wasn’t a significant predictor. If one particular brand accounted for 15% of the overall population, it also accounted for about 15% of the problem machines, within a percentage point or so. I found they became more problematic as they aged. But I didn’t find anything that indicated any brand aged any better than the others either.
Personally, I buy business-grade off-lease computers for myself and my family. I don’t worry about brand; I buy whatever I can find at the price point I need. They aren’t completely problem-free, but we have far fewer problems with them than we have with consumer-grade machines.
Hewlett-Packard vs Packard Bell today
HP made a series of questionable acquisitions starting in 2001 that eventually led to the company breaking itself up. One of the results of that is the existence of two HPs today. HP Inc sells printers and desktop and laptop computers. Hewlett Packard Enterprise sells enterprise servers and storage.
Acer ended up owning the Packard Bell name, and it still uses the name to a degree in Europe, but not in the United States. In Europe, if you’re buying a Packard Bell, it’s just a relabeled Acer. If you’re in Europe and you’re comparing two PCs of comparable features and price and one has an HP label on it and one has a Packard Bell label on it, I wouldn’t expect much difference in terms of quality.
If you’re in the United States and the brand HP makes you nervous because it reminds you of Packard Bell, don’t be. The questionable company from the 1980s and 1990s doesn’t exist here anymore, and the brand doesn’t either.