In the second quarter of 2020, PC shipments totaled a whopping 72.9 million units. These include only brand new, fresh-from-the-factory computers. Those figures also account for desktops, laptops, notebooks, and workstations.
Now that you need a new laptop yourself, you might be wondering if it’s a good idea to get a refurbished unit. What does “refurbished” mean anyway, and how does it differ from a used item or a brand-new device?
To that end, we came up with this guide comparing a used vs. refurbished vs. new laptop. Read on to find out how they compare so that you can make the smartest buying decision yourself.
The Appeal of Buying Used
In the world of retail, sellers usually follow the 50-30-10 pricing rule. They sell new and unused (but old stock) items at half of the product’s original retail cost. They then price slightly-used items at only 30% and used items at 10%.
In the world of electronics, you can expect used items to cost no more than 50% of their original price. You won’t find one that costs 10% of its original cost, but in general, these used devices are your cheapest option.
With that said, a used laptop can be anywhere from a few months old to several years old. The older it is, the cheaper it costs. However, one that’s only seen a few months of use is sure to have a price closer to its original cost.
The Potential Issues With a Used Laptop
If you’re going to buy a used laptop from an electronics store, you may be able to get a 7-day warranty at most. After this, you’re on your own, meaning that you’d have to pay for repairs if it breaks down on its 8th day.
Used laptops from a third-party (such as an individual seller) often don’t come with a warranty. So, the very moment you buy it, you’ll also be on your own.
Used laptops also carry the risk of having seen a lot of abuse under their previous owners. Individual sellers are unlikely to disclose this, so you can’t be certain how they used the device.
In short, it can be a little too risky to get a used laptop, especially if you need a device that will last you for a few years. As is, new laptops only have an average lifespan of three to five years. So, you can just imagine how much shorter a used (perhaps even abused) item could last.
What’s the Deal With a Refurbished Laptop Then?
A refurbished laptop isn’t a “used” device, but neither is it “fresh from the factory.” They aren’t “new” because they’ve already had a previous owner, even if it was only for a few days. Their owners then returned them to either the retailer or the manufacturer.
Return reasons vary, but in most cases, it’s because the device had minor defects. They’re usually minor cosmetic flaws, such as scratches from shipping. The original buyers may have also returned them for not “meeting” their expectations.
Store models can also get sold as refurbished laptops. Store models are those used for “testing” in brick-and-mortar shops.
Overstock and open-box models can also get slapped with a refurbished label.
The Refurbishing Process
Refurbished laptops may not be brand-new, but they do go through comprehensive checks. If returned to the retailer, the retailer sends it back to the manufacturer. The manufacturer then conducts major software and hardware tests on the returned item.
This means that the manufacturer disassembles each returned laptop. They check for any damaged components, such as the screen, power supply, ports, and battery. They also test the device’s processors, hard drive, and optical drive.
Refurbishers then swap out faulty physical components, like hard disks and capacitors. If there’s an issue with the battery or a drive, they will replace it. The laptop may also get a new screen or panel in case it has cosmetic flaws.
The refurbishing team then checks and tests all of the device’s software. For major problems, apps and services get deleted and reinstalled.
The refurbishers then equip the device with a new operating system. If the laptop has the capacity, then the new OS it gets is the latest version. The team then runs a final test on the computer to ensure that everything works perfectly.
The refurbished laptop then gets wrapped in new packaging. The manufacturer can either sell the device themselves or send it back to the retailer.
Refurbished vs. New Laptop
Refurbished vs. brand new laptops compete mostly in terms of price. Refurbished items are always cheaper than their brand-new counterpart.
Sounds like a steal, right? Not all the time, and here’s why.
Opened Several Times
Refurbished laptops go through lengthy processes to ensure that they are “resellable.” As explained above, each part goes through a test to see if the laptop is eligible for refurbishing. This alone means that refurbishers could have opened the device several times.
Brand-new laptops, on the other hand, are 100% unopened and fresh from the factory. All parts they contain are the original, never a replacement.
Age is another determining factor in the case of refurbished laptops vs. new laptops. Many refurbished computers have been around for months or even longer than a year. This is especially true for store models that have undergone the reconditioning process.
Remember, there’s a lot that goes into refurbished laptops to make them “good-as-new.” Reconditioning alone is a lengthy procedure, further adding to the age of a laptop.
Lower Capacities and Fewer Features
Many refurbished laptops you’ll find today offer the most basic functionalities. For example, it’s typical for them to come only with 2 to 4 GB of RAM. Depending on your needs, you may need at least 8 GB of RAM.
A good reason why you need more than 2 to 4 GB of RAM is if you use a lot of browser tabs in one session. For example, 10 active Chrome tabs can already consume about 725 MB of RAM. With Firefox, this can go up to about 2.6 GB, and for Edge, up to 3.1 GB.
Now, that’s only for Internet browsers. Every other app you need to launch will consume even more RAM. If your laptop has too little of it, then you can expect it to run slow and maybe even crash.
That’s why 8 GB of RAM is best for laptop users who run simultaneous apps and services. If you’re one such person, then it may be best for you to get a new laptop rather than a refurbished one.
No Massive Difference in Pricing
As for pricing, refurbished laptops are often 25% cheaper compared to brand new ones. That may seem a lot at first glance, but you also have to consider their lower capacity. In the case of a refurbished device, you may end up having to upgrade your physical or virtual memory.
So, even if you do get to save 25%, it won’t matter that much if you need to upgrade its components. This also means that you’d spend even more time researching the upgrade itself.
When Is It a Good Idea to Go With Refurbished Then?
If you’ll only use the laptop for basic tasks like browsing or writing, buying refurbished may be fine. Just make sure that you check the device’s capacity and stick to one that offers at least 4 GB of RAM.
A refurbished laptop is also a good option if you have a really tight budget to work on. You can then upgrade its components once you have the dough.
If you’ll opt for a refurbished laptop, be sure that you buy from an authorized reseller. Even better if you can buy straight from the manufacturer itself. This way, you can make certain that the device will come with a warranty.
When Does It Make Sense to Buy a Brand New Laptop?
If you want a laptop with the latest features and enhanced specs, then go with a brand-new one. This is especially helpful if you want something you don’t have to upgrade in just a few months.
You can also expect a much longer warranty (usually one full year) on a brand new laptop. Refurbished models often have shorter warranties, ranging from a month to half a year.
Buy a Laptop Based On All Your Needs and Not Only the Price
There you have it, everything you need to know when it comes to a used vs. refurbished vs. new laptop. A used device is the cheapest, but it’s also the riskiest. On the other hand, a refurbished item costs about 25% less than a new one, but it may not be enough for your needs.
That’s why you should also factor in your long-term needs before buying a cheaper laptop. If you’d have to upgrade it in just a few months, then it makes more sense to go with a new one.
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