updated 7/25/2011 7:57:40 AM ET 2011-07-25T11:57:40

The hours spent on the phone with tech support reps, digging through brand websites for troubleshooting help, and sending support questions via email and social networks have paid off. The results of our annual Tech Support Showdown are in.

A good laptop is nothing without solid tech support to back it up when you run into problems, which is why we put the most popular brands' support to the test every year. Whether you're thinking of buying a new laptop or have one that's still under warranty, our in-depth evaluation of the top 11 notebook brands will let know what to expect from Acer, Apple, ASUS, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Lenovo, MSI, Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba.

How we tested
How exactly did we test the brands' tech support, you ask? Our rigorous process involved calling each brand's phone support three times, each time asking a different question. The first two questions were the same across all brands: We asked how to enable pinch-to-zoom on our notebook's touchpad and how to set up a child-friendly user account on our laptop. Our third question was tailored to the specific brand; for example, we asked a Lenovo rep how to enroll fingerprints on our Lenovo X220's fingerprint scanner. In addition to grading a brand's phone support based on how helpful the representatives were, we timed each call and how long we were put on hold.

Phone support is just one part of the equation. In addition to calling each brand, we took to the web in search of answers to our three tech support questions for each brand. We evaluated each brand's support website based on how easy it was to navigate and find answers. We also emailed one of our questions to each brand and tested out the live chat support feature on sites where this was an option.

New to this year's testing procedure was reaching out to each brand via Facebook and Twitter. As social networking is becoming more and more important to companies looking to maintain a relationship with fans and customers, we wanted to see how responsive the brands were when we tweeted them a question or posted it on their wall.

Finally, we turned to our test notebooks to see if any preloaded software could assist us with finding answers to our three questions. We then gave each brand a separate grade for phone support and online support and then averaged the two to arrive at the overall grade.

What we found
While some things haven't changed much since last year (such as Apple's reign as the best tech support provider), we saw some brands add more helpful features and improve their customer support. Both Dell and Samsung managed to bump their grades to A-, up from B- and C last year, respectively. And while we added social-networking testing this year, only a few brands actually responded when we tweeted and posted our questions on Facebook.

For the full lowdown on each brand's performance, check out our Tech Support Showdown 2011 or each brand's report card, linked to below:

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