For the eighth year running, Apple again beat rival computer makers that sell Windows PCs in an annual customer satisfaction survey, a researcher said today.

Apple scored a record 87 points in the newest poll conducted by American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), a consumer survey started by the University of Michigan. That number was up a point from 2010's satisfaction poll.

The company's score was nine points higher than its nearest competitor, HP, and 10 points higher than other Windows PC makers including Dell and Acer.

"It's pretty obvious that Apple is successful from a strictly satisfaction level, and that it's doing things very well, much better than the rest of the PC makers," said Forrest Morgeson, the director of research at ACSI.

Morgeson attributed some of Apple's continued dominance to the company's iPad, but stressed that the satisfaction score was based not only on Apple's product line, but on intangibles that others have not been able to duplicate.

"Apple's consumers see [it] as a company that cares, that has a face and a relationship with its customers," said Morgeson. "Others can't say that."

Because ACSI keeps its surveys simple and doesn't solicit comments, Morgeson was hesitant to name specific Apple practices or products that contributed its score.

Other personal computer makers, for example, lack Apple's chain of retail stores, which focus consumer attention on Apple-made products, Morgeson noted. "Those stores certainly don't hurt," was as far as Morgeson would go.

Ironically, the only other personal computer brands that showed a satisfaction score increase in 2011 over the prior year were HP and Compaq, both sold by HP. Last month, that company said it was considering spinning off or selling its PC business.

Morgeson cautioned against reading too much into the coincidence, noting that a one point increase, which both HP and Compaq posted over last year's results, was not statistically important. "These one point changes are pretty small" in the grand scheme of things, said Morgeson.

What is important, he continued, is Apple's long term supremacy and its ability to regularly post improved scores.

"That's really difficult to do," said Morgeson. "No one comes even close to Apple's ability to consistently score high in customer satisfaction, and not just among technology companies."

Apple has outscored rival PC makers in the ACSI survey each year since 2004, when it became the first manufacturer to rate an 81. Apple posted its lowest score of 69 in 1998, the year after co-founder Steve Jobs returned to the company.

Its widest margin of victory in the poll was a ten point edge over the closest competitor in 2008. The ACSI survey results and commentary can be found on the organisation's website.