Are Used Laptops Worth Buying?

man typing on laptop

Laptop computers are costly, and with the ongoing pandemic and millions of people working and attending school online, they are becoming increasingly so.

Should you consider buying a used laptop for your next purchase if your options for laptop selection or budget (or both) are limited? ..

We’re big fans of buying used

However, buying a used computer comes with its own set of complications and risks, which are amplified when it comes to a machine designed to travel. : It’s cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and usually performs just as well as a new purchase.

Even so, with some forethought and careful selection, you can get a great deal on a laptop that you’ll use for years. Let’s take a look at it in more detail.

Used vs. “Refurbished”

The term “used” refers to a laptop that has been handled by another end-user, such as you, who purchased the laptop and then returned or sold it. A previously used laptop that has been repaired or otherwise rejuvenated and is being resold by a retailer is referred to as “refurbished.” Let’s talk about used and refurbished laptops before we go any further.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Previously, the term “refurbished” meant that a computer had been returned to its original manufacturer, who had made any necessary repairs and certified it as functional or as new. This usually meant that a refurbished laptop was virtually indistinguishable from a new laptop, with the exception of possibly less basic packaging and a 90-day warranty rather than a year. Isn’t it simple?

ebay item information
An eBay seller advertises a “seller refurbished” laptop, which means “used, but tested and working.”

“Seller refurbished” refers to a used item that has been tested and verified to work by the party selling it—this could mean that it has been repaired or simply booted up and verified to work. That isn’t always the case, though. The term “seller refurbished” has become popular due to the prevalence of resellers.

The level of trust you have in the refurbished unit is determined by who is selling it. Big-box stores are generally safe, but resellers on secondary markets such as eBay and Amazon are a little riskier. Refurbished laptops from sellers typically come with a short warranty (90 days) and a description of any cosmetic flaws, such as worn keys or a scratched top.

If a used laptop breaks down a week after you buy it, you’re out of luck. A refurbished laptop’s warranty tends to make it more valuable than a used laptop, if only for the peace of mind. caveat emptorYou can trust your purchase with a refurbished laptop, at least as much as you trust the seller. , as well as everything else.

What to Look for

There are a plethora of laptops available, catering to a wide range of market segments. So, what you’re looking for is determined by your needs—someone who only needs something for word processing and email has fewer requirements than a gamer who has fewer requirements than a 3D-modeling artist.

Acer Chromebook 714
Cameron Summerson

A modern operating system requires at least 128GB of storage, though Chromebooks can get by with much less. You make the decision. If you want a Windows or Mac laptop, you should have at least 8GB of RAM. How about a long battery life? 4GB is sufficient for Chromebooks. Two-in-one design that folds back? Is it possible to get a discrete graphics card? What is a touchscreen?

One thing we would Look for one with a solid reputation for long-term use. Examples include Lenovo’s ThinkPad series, Dell’s Latitude series, and HP’s Pro/Elite series. If you’re looking for a used unit, we recommend: This can be difficult to predict from one model to the next, but in general, laptops designed for business can withstand more abuse than less expensive models, and thus can be trusted to last longer from one owner to the next.

That means you may be able to upgrade the memory or storage to meet your specific requirements. These designs have the added benefit of being more user-serviceable than some thinner, lighter designs.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme
Michael Crider

Laptops with replaceable batteries are also a good find, as the battery is typically the first component to fail. Perform a Google search on the model you’re considering to see if the RAM SO-DIMMs or the hard drive/SSD can be swapped out for a cheap performance boost.

Red Flags

There are a few red flags to look for in the opposite direction: signs that a laptop model in general, or a single laptop being sold in particular, isn’t likely to be a good used buy.

Macbook 2015 keyboard
The thin keyboards on MacBooks from 2015 to 2019 are notorious for failing. iFixIt

Starting with traditional media reviews is a good place to start. Isn’t it going to get any worse as it gets older? From 2015 to 2019, Apple’s ultra-thin keyboards on MacBook and MacBook Pro models are a good example. When you buy a new laptop, you want it to be good, or at the very least decent. A single horrible element Before you pick one up, you should think twice. These laptops are frequently seen on the secondary market due to their otherwise excellent design.

Other red flags on a used laptop listing include:

  • A laptop with a history of product recalls—you might be buying an un-repaired unit.
  • A new seller with no feedback.
  • There are no images on the listing, or generic images that do not show the laptop for sale.
  • A ridiculously low price—a used laptop being sold for 10% of its retail value is almost certainly a rip-off.
  • It’s possible that you’ll replace the parts only to discover that something else is broken. A laptop that is missing components such as a storage drive or RAM.

It’s probably best to move on to another used laptop if any of these issues are present.

Where to Shop?

Used laptops can be found in a variety of locations. Let’s take a look at your options, starting with the most dependable and working our way down.

Traditional Retailers

They don’t have the best deals—you’ll be lucky to find anything for 15% off. Refurbished units are more common than used units in traditional brick-and-mortar stores like Walmart and Best Buy. This is due to the fact that they are almost always laptops that have only been used for a week or two before being returned to the store.

Best Buy store front
Best Buy

However, if you want to buy from a reputable source and inspect the laptop before you buy, traditional retailers are a good option. Simply put, don’t expect to save a lot of cash.

Online Retailers

Amazon, Newegg, B&H PhotoThese are usually from third-party sellers who use these big-box stores as a kind of bazaar. Both refurbished and used laptops are frequently available from and similar large online retailers.

Amazon selling used laptop.

Those businesses usually want you to have a pleasant shopping experience, so they will facilitate returns or replacements as part of their service. On new items, look for the “More Buying Options” link to see if used or refurbished models are available. However, buying from a large seller has the advantage of having a lot of support: if something goes wrong with the product or it isn’t as described, you can contact a large company.

Manufacturers will occasionally sell refurbished units directly from their online store—even Apple sells refurbished laptops on occasionBecause these laptops have been inspected by the original manufacturers, they may come with a full one-year warranty, though this is rarely a significant savings over purchasing a new laptop. ..

Secondary Online Markets

Secondary online marketplaces, such as eBay, allow individual sellers to list items directly. This is where we’re starting to get into the weeds. eBay, Swappa, and BonanzaHowever, the state in which you receive the item, as well as the state in which it is received in comparison to what it is presented as, are open to interpretation. These sites are generally safe to buy from in the sense that you will almost certainly receive something… .. (This is for the United States; your options may vary depending on where you live.)

eBay page searching for used laptop

Buying on eBay and other similar sites necessitates caution. When buying used laptops (or anything else), you should buy from someone in your own country, from someone who has a lot of positive feedback (any new seller accounts are a red flag), and inspect the photos and descriptions carefully. Paying with a trusted system, such as PayPal, is essential.

They don’t usually sell online, but any electronics they sell come with the same “no guarantees” policy. By the way, these guidelines can be applied to pawn shops as well.

In-Person Sales

The riskiest way to buy a used laptop is through a service like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, LetGo, or Nextdoor, which connects people for in-person meetings. These are risky in both a business and personal sense: someone could be attempting to sell you a faulty laptop or simply stealing from you by listing a valuable item for cash.

Craigslit page with laptops for sale.

Because they’re used by people who need to get rid of something quickly, these markets are usually where you’ll find the best deals. This is especially true around major holidays, when people sell off unwanted new gift items. You can sometimes find some incredible bargains (as well as some obstinate people who will barely shave anything off the sticker price).

Related: The Best Apps for Purchasing and Selling Pre-Owned Items

If you’re meeting someone in person, keep these tips in mind:

  • This can be done at Starbucks or similar establishments. Never meet in their home or yours, but rather in a public, well-traveled location.
  • Meet during the daytime during business hours.
  • Bring a friend for safety if you can.
  • Check to see if the seller has a real social media profile with friends and posts if that is an option.
  • Bring small bills with you to haggle if the laptop isn’t exactly as described.
  • Examine the laptop thoroughly to ensure that it starts up and can be charged using the power adapter. Check the “About” page to ensure that the specifications are accurate, and that the keyboard functions properly.
  • Bring your money out only after you’ve completed your laptop inspection.

Friends and Family

Last but not least, ask your friends and family if they have any used laptops. You never know, maybe one of them has an old one laying around that they can sell for a song (or just give it to you if it’s a REALLY good friend).

Be Flexible

When you buy used, your budget isn’t the only thing you have to work with. Because you’ll be choosing from laptops that someone no longer wants, your selection will be as well. It’s possible that you won’t be able to find the exact model you want, or that you won’t be able to find it within your budget.

Is it possible to find a laptop with some or all of the same features from a different manufacturer? If you’re having trouble finding what you’re looking for, broaden your search. Is it possible to locate the same brand’s previous year’s (or older) model? Is it possible to find a model with less RAM or storage space and upgrade it yourself?

In general, proceed with caution, patience, and common sense. You’ll be able to find a reliable, low-cost laptop that meets your needs.