Depending on our needs, a brand new laptop can be expensive, costing several hundreds of dollars. On the other hand, used or refurbished laptops can potentially offer good enough performance at a fraction of the cost. In this guide, we will see the essential differences between used and refurbished laptops. We will also cover what we need to look out for before we buy a laptop in either category and avoid cheap laptop scams.
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Used and refurbished laptops are different
When most of us think of used or refurbished laptops, we essentially put them all in the same category of pre-owned/second-hand systems.
Yet, there are fundamental differences between a used laptop and refurbished laptops in general, which might affect our buying decision.
Contrary to popular belief, a refurbished laptop is not always a second-hand laptop. It might not be a used laptop at all.
Computer service companies that specialize in refurbished laptops initially get the systems from a variety of sources, including:
- The models which customers return either because they no longer want them or because of faulty components.
- Used laptops the service company bought.
- Models which were on display in stores.
- Previously leased systems.
- Laptops which come from a device exchange program.
- Models which companies withdraw when they upgrade to newer systems.
- Laptops with damaged packaging.
From that point on, the authorized service disassembles each laptop. They check the condition of the battery, the quality of the screen, the power supply, any loose connections, the HDD, and the optical drive, and look for potential faulty components.
After examining, cleaning, repairing, and restoring a laptop to its factory settings, the device is certified to be in a similar condition to a brand new device. Then, the company releases it to the market with a discount.
If a company does not follow the above procedure before the sale, then that device is not refurbished, and we can consider it a used laptop.
The most significant advantage of refurbished laptops is that we can get much a better price than its brand new counterpart.
Additionally, a refurbished laptop comes with a warranty, although it will typically be shorter than the warranty from the manufacturer. Most sellers offer a one-year warranty, but we will also find refurbished laptops with six months warranty or less.
Furthermore, we can find refurbished devices which are almost unused or even brand new in some cases; especially if we refer to sales-floor models or units which just had damaged packaging.
So, if our budget is low, refurbished laptops can save us a decent amount of money with little compromise.
What to be careful about
When we look for refurbished laptops, the reliability of the store plays a vital role. Especially if we see deals that are too good to be true on shoddily made websites, such as 90% discounts on high-end Alienware laptops.
Each laptop manufacturer has authorized service affiliates, some of which specialize in laptop refurbishing and rebuilding and feature their own service centers.
It is in our best interest to make sure we buy refurbished laptops from companies that abide by the manufacturer's official service procedures. In this way, we get the higher possible quality on any model we choose.
We should also make sure the refurbished model has at least one year warranty. Even if we are getting it at a steep discount, a warranty will protect us in case of an unexpected malfunction or hardware failure.
If we decide to buy a laptop from a private citizen, through Craigslist or any other manner of classified ads, then we are getting a used laptop.
The best-case scenario is that the seller offers a laptop in perfect condition, just because they need the money or got themselves an upgrade.
However, since no authorized service company has checked the system, as they do with refurbished laptops, it is our responsibility to check it thoroughly, and not be satisfied with any of the seller's claims of "hardly used".
When looking for a pre-owned laptop, we can potentially discover huge deals, depending on the age of the laptop and the reason its owner is selling it.
We might buy a last-year high-end model with less money than we would give for a brand-new budget laptop, and get significantly better performance.
What to be careful about
To make a used laptop purchase worth it, the price would definitely have to be quite tempting. But if it is too low, it should make us suspicious.
If we are interested in a second-hand laptop, we first have to see the product up close. This is a no-brainer. Never, buy a used laptop you never saw up close and personal. If this disqualifies any sellers from across the country or international sellers, so be it.
Upon meeting, we ought to examine the laptop as thoroughly as we can for as long as we need:
- Look for visible dents, scratches, cracks, and breakages on the laptop body.
- Check the charger for frayed cables
- Check the screen for burned pixels or discolorations
- Listen for any rattling or unusual sounds when moving the laptop, that could suggest that it might have been dropped. Avoid to shake it vigorously, though. The seller probably won't like it.
- Make sure all the keyboard buttons and the touchpad function properly
- Test all ports on the laptop: USB, HDMI, Thunderbolt, headphone, etc. Make sure both that they work and that they are a good tight fit for our peripheral devices.
- Test the network capabilities: WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, if available
- Run a hard disk drive check
- Check the optical drive, if available.
- Run a variety of programs, depending on the use we want it for.
- Play music to check the soundcard and loudspeakers, and also test the microphone with Skype or a Skype alternative.
- Run a stress test application for the CPU and GPU, such as Prime95 and FurMark
- Check the computer temperature with an app such as HWinfo, especially during stress testing. Also, do a by-ear sound test for the laptop fan.
- Run the laptop both on battery and with the charger connected. Make sure the battery charges to 100%.
This might sound like a drag that would take forever. However, since we are willing to pay for the laptop, we should be absolutely sure that it is in perfect working condition.
If the seller objects to our checks, or try to persuade us to "get over it, already" - with these, or other words - we should see this as a huge red flag.
Why it is not worth buying a used laptop
Even if we perform all the above tests, the fact of the matter is that when we buy a used laptop, we get no warranty.
We also won't get a chance of a refund, unless we buy through a platform such as eBay, which allows us to open a dispute for a limited time. But a dispute might take a while to get resolved, and the platform might not rule in our favor.
Also, more often than not the seller will be a complete stranger. There is no way to know how honest they are being, and if they are disclosing everything and anything about the used laptop. Human lie detectors are mostly the stuff of movies and novels.
Lastly, there is no way to find out exactly how the previous owner used it. So, it is not an overstatement to say that we should be ready for the worst. It is our money, after all.
What do you think about refurbished and used laptops?
If we have the cash, getting a brand new laptop is definitely the best choice, both for performance and reliability. However, our budget is tight, used and refurbished laptops can offer us equally good functionality at a fraction of the price.
If you have any questions or you want to share your opinion on used and refurbished laptops, let us know in the comments below.
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