Are Microsoft’s Surface devices reliable? The company certainly thinks so. In fact, according to a new Microsoft statistic, the company rather boldly says 99.999% reliable. Of, as Ryan Gavin, General Manager of Microsoft Surface put it in an interview with ZDNet:

“We’re talking about incidents per device of less than 0.001%.”

So, are we really talking about that kind of mega-reliability? Gavin says the company has improved its reliability on newer devices and “issues” are very rare indeed. According to his statistic, less than one in 100,000 Surface products will have a fault.

Ok, I know there are plenty of raised eyebrows out there, and probably with reason. As is usually the case, Gavin is offering some clouded corporate speak. Or at least, he is making sure there are subtle caveats in his statement.

First, he was talking specifically about newer devices and secondly was only talking about the Surface Laptop and Surface Studio. He does not talk about the Surface Pro, which is also new. The Pro range has often been the target of reliability criticisms targeted at Microsoft.

Some readers may remember statistics by Consumer Reports that show reliability problems with Surface. In an August report, the company suggested “two-year breakage rates” stood at 25% across old and new devices.

The non-profit publication conducted a survey across 90,000 tablet and laptop owners. The results show an estimated 25 per cent with Surface products say they have “problems by the end of the second year of ownership.”

“If you are very concerned about how long your products are going to last, it might be better for you to go with a brand that has a higher predicted reliability,” Jerry Beilinson, electronics editor at the consumer goods testing publication, said at the time.

Defending Reliability

So, Gavin is not really discussing what happens to the devices after two years, but hey, they work great when new. In a paper, Surface chief Panos Panay responded to Consumer Reports suggesting the numbers were inaccurate:

“These improvements were unfortunately not reflected in the results of this [Consumer Reports] survey.”

However, a leaked document showed that there were indeed reliability issues, showing Surface devices have high return rates.

An internal chart from Microsoft shows that return rates for the Surface Book were at 17 percent through its launch period. In the next six months, the return rate was at 10 percent. The situation was little better for the Surface Pro 4, which had a 16 percent return rate through its launch.