Everyone wants the best laptop that money can buy – but is that really the smartest move for you?
Buying a refurbished laptop means you can get a laptop or desktop PC for $200 that cost over $1,200 just 2 – 3 years ago. That means you get a relatively recent process, adequate RAM and hard drive space at a fraction of the cost.
You see, a brand new laptop can cost anywhere from $400 to $4000.
That’s fine if you can afford it.
But what do you do if you only have $200 or less in your budget?
The good news is that you can still afford a refurbished laptop.
Especially if you only need it for work or school.
So, what’s involved in buying a refurbished laptop?
Let’s take a look.
What is a refurbished laptop?
So, let’s get some terminology out of the way here first.
The terms Used and Refurbished mean very different things when you’re talking about laptops.
Used typically means a private sale of a laptop via eBay or Craigslist, and the laptop will look and feel used in most cases.
Basically, its condition depends on how well the current owner cared for it
Refurbished means it’s been wiped clean, checked for faults, put back together by qualified professional, and made ready for sale.
Refurbished laptops can be repaired store returns, ex-demo stock, and ex-government stock.
Ex-government stock is the sweet spot – they’ve been expertly cared for by IT teams, and are barely used.
So, I typically go for ex-government laptops because I know exactly what I’m getting.
And then finally “Certified refurbished” means it’s been checked over and signed off by an approved Microsoft/Dell/Lenovo/whoever laptop refurbishment engineer.
In terms of pricing used laptops tend to be cheaper than refurbished, with certified being the most expensive of the lot.
In fact, I’ve seen certified refurbished laptops selling for at least 100% more than a basic refurbished laptop.
So you wind up paying $450 for the exact same $200 laptop, except yours will have a “Certified” sticker on it.
It’s really up to you whether you save money or not there.
Refurbished Doesn’t Mean “New”
Expect your laptop to have some blemishes or signs of wear – but it won’t be falling apart at the seams.
There might even be a tiny crack in the case or a dead pixel on the screen.
But professional refurbishers will always tell you about any flaws in advance.
In my experience, refurbished laptops have maybe a scratch or two on the case, but that’s it.
I see other sites saying “…make sure your refurbished laptop looks brand new” – bullshit.
Refurbished laptops are in better condition than 90% of used laptops but they’re definitely not new.
Nor should you expect them to be.
How much do refurbished laptops cost?
How much you pay for a refurbished laptop depends entirely on the spec and age of that laptop.
For example, you can get an old dual-core Dell or IBM laptop with a 14-inch screen and Windows for around $80.
If you take that a step up and start looking at Intel i3-based laptops with Windows 7, you’ll wind up paying around $120 – $150.
But – and this is the cool bit – you can easily get yourself an Intel i5-based laptop for around $250.
And that’s more than enough processing power for the average home office worker or student.
Check the battery
The battery can be the Achilles Heel of the average reconditioned laptop.
But not always.
If the laptop has been used mostly when powered by the internal battery, then this will eventually reduce the amount of charge the battery can hold.
So, your laptop battery might only power things for an hour instead of three hours.
But if the laptop was typically connected to the mains or a docking station, then the battery will be almost completely unused.
So it would hold a charge just fine.
Basically, don’t be afraid to ask if the refurbished laptop you’re considering still has its original battery or has it been replaced.
And also ask how long the battery stays charged.
This is typically reflected in the price of the laptop though, but make sure to ask anyway.
Refurbished laptops vs. Chromebooks
Wouldn’t it simply make more sense for you to get a new Chromebook instead of a refurbished laptop?
After all, it would be new, and new is better…right?
Ummm, that’d be a “No” from me, Bob.
And I say that simply because a Chromebook is really nothing more than a tablet with a keyboard attached to it.
You’re also limited to running apps from the Chrome store, as well as storing the bulk of your data in the cloud.
A refurbished laptop has none of those restrictions.
Plus, Chromebooks can cost upwards of $800, so they’re not exactly cheap, and the cheaper models tend to have tiny 11-inch screens.
Even the cheapest refurbished laptops tend to have 14 or 15-inch screens instead.
So, I know what I’d spend my money on.
Do you get a warranty?
If you’re buying a used laptop you can expect to get exactly zero days of warranty with it.
That’s just the nature of the used computer market – you don’t get a return policy to work with.
Basically, if you take it home, open it up and it’s broken then you’re SOL.
But with refurbished laptops you’re entitled to anywhere up to a 90-day warranty, depending on what country you live in.
In Europe, for example, refurbished products have to come with a 90-day warranty, but I know other countries only enforce a 30-day warranty instead.
Some certified laptop refurbishers can offer a 1-year warranty on their laptops.
So that’s obviously an incentive to buy from them.
But what does the warranty cover?
Typically any inherent hardware fault, except the battery – in the vast majority of cases.
So, if your hard drive dies, or your screen stops functioning, then you can ask for a replacement.
But if your battery dies, most companies will simply shrug and say, “Not covered under warranty. Sorry.”
An operating system or not?
The vast, vast majority of laptops come with some version of Microsoft Windows installed.
Do your best to aim for Windows 10 or Windows 7, but give Windows 8 a hard pass.
It’s the modern equivalent of Windows ME – only older nerds will get that reference.
But most importantly, make sure you’re getting a legit Windows license.
There are lots of small operations that will forget that they’re giving you what is basically an illegal copy of Windows.
It’s happening less and less often, but it’s still something you need to watch out for.
Basically, ask them if you’re getting at least an OEM Windows license.
And yes, you can always install whatever operating system you want on your refurbished laptop when you get it.
Good refurbished laptop brands
This is one of those questions that really comes down to a mixture of personal preference and experience.
If, for example, you’ve only ever owned Acer laptops, then you’ll obviously lean towards that brand when buying a refurbished laptop.
Same with Dell, HP, or whatever other brand has marketed itself most effectively to you.
But if you want my take on the best refurbished laptop brands to buy they are:
And in that order, too.
The Lenovo/IBM T4x series of laptops tend to be just short of bulletproof.
That’s why you see so many journalists using them, as well as anyone who has to travel a lot with their job – they can’t afford for their laptop to go to transistor heaven without any notice.
Dell is next in line and based simply on the fact that I’ve seen so many refurbished Dells serving their new owners really well.
And HP gets a vote because even though they’re a bit on the chunky side of things, they’re still solid performers.
Experiences vary, but these are the brands I’ve had the most luck with.
Where to buy a refurbished laptop?
Refurbishing laptops is now big business.
There are lots of these “Green” and “Recycling” companies popping up all over the place, online and offline.
So the first place to check is local computer stores, but not the big chain stores – they’re just going to try to sell you ex-demo stock for 3x what it’s actually worth.
Instead, look for the mom-and-pop store close to you.
Failing that, eBay is where I buy all of my refurbished laptops.
This is something I did once years ago out of necessity, but kept up after seeing just how much money I could save.
Sure, I wasn’t getting the latest or greatest computer gear, but my work didn’t notice.
Nor did any of my clients.
Amazon does have its “Renewed” program, selling mostly Dell refurbished gear.
And while Amazon might seem like a better choice, their prices are 50% – 200% higher than what you’ll pay on eBay.
For the same exact same model and spec of laptop.
So I’d rather pay the $15 in shipping costs with eBay and save myself the $250 extra I’d have paid Amazon.
Always, always, always shop around when looking for a refurbished laptop.
They’re good for the environment
What most people don’t realize is that big companies and government departments will simply replace a perfectly good laptop instead of upgrading it.
This cycle can take anywhere from 2 – 5 years, or when there’s a new operational security or operating system requirement that forces an upgrade.
Under normal circumstances, those same perfectly good laptops would go to landfills.
I’ve personally witnessed dumpsters filled with laptops that were in use the previous week.
That’s the policy in companies all over the world, by the way.
Some of the IT team guys would “rescue” a few for their friends, but the rest would wind up in the trash.
So, not only can you save yourself a small fortune on buying an original laptop, but you’re also doing your bit to help the environment.
Wrapping it up
So to answer your question of, “Should I buy a refurbished laptop?” I think I’ve given you enough information to make your own mind up.
But I now only buy refurbished computers for my office and gaming needs.
I haven’t bought a brand new laptop in the last decade.
Buying a refurbished laptop might not be your first choice.
But when you do…you’ll never look back.
Are refurbished laptops as good as new ones?
Although they are usually 3 to 5 years older than current models, refurbished laptops can provide excellent performance for very little investment. The difference in performance between a brand new laptop and a refurbished model is usually around 10%.
Can refurbished laptops be trusted?
Refurbished laptops are far more trustworthy and reliable than a used laptop you might find on Craigslist, for example. Used laptops bought privately will not come with any kind of warranty, for example.
How long do refurbished laptops last?
A refurbished laptop can last several years or more if cared for properly. Frequency of use and the potential for getting damaged will all reduce the life expectancy of any laptop though.
Where do refurbished laptops come from?
Refurbished laptops are usually bought from large corporations or government institutions that are upgrading their existing IT infrastructure. Some large computer chains also refurbish their ex-demo stock for resale.
Why do companies sell refurbished laptops?
Corporations typically sell their existing “fleet” of laptops to refurbishment companies as a job lot, and for cents on the dollar. A typical example would be that each laptop is purchased for $50, refurbished at a cost of an additional $50 in man-hours, and then resold for $200, providing a net profit of $100 for almost no work.