12 tips for buying a refurbished PC

If the phrase "refurbished PC" makes you think of dodgy parts of town, and of hardware with a shady past sold by a guy with a funny nickname and shifty eyes, you can dispense with that notion. Today, refurbished systems can be almost as good as new, and they can easily save a small business quite a substantial amount of cash.

That said, you should shop for refurbished equipment carefully. It’s definitely worth picking your machine with care, and researching how much of a bargain it really is – as well as sticking to the major manufacturers who refurbish their own goods. We’ll discuss these points, and many others, in the following tips – so read on for our advice.

Go with what you know

If you have a favourite brand, check that manufacturer's website for refurbished machines first. It can be far more convenient buying from the maker directly, especially if you have to return the product.

How much speed do you need?

A good deal on a refurbished system might mean getting a processor with a slightly lower clock speed than the latest version – but will a 400MHz disparity really matter in the end? Probably not all that much, particularly if you’re only going to be running standard business applications, surfing the web, and emailing.

Look for systems with the least amount of RAM

If you spot a bargain refurb PC with a minimal amount of RAM, you can easily boost its performance by filling up with brand-name memory from your favourite supplier. This assumes that the machine you’re buying is upgradeable, of course, and not some all-in-one PC which doesn’t allow the user into its innards to upgrade anything.

What’s the software situation?

Make sure an older machine will fit into your OS and application upgrade plans. Also, it’s worth checking exactly what software comes with the PC – and whether or not you get all the original manuals and documentation.

Remember the monitor

Many refurbs don’t include a monitor, so factor in that additional cost, assuming you don’t have your own monitor at home or work already. Work out the cost, and see if the vendor is bundling a monitor with a new model; you could end up with a better deal there.

Find out which accessories are included

Refurbished desktops might come without a keyboard or mouse, and some refurbished laptops are sold without a power cord or backup battery – little things that add up to offset savings.

Always check the price of the comparable brand new model

You might find that there’s hardly any discount being given with the refurb, and of course if that’s the case, you’d be pretty silly not to buy the brand new machine instead. Indeed, you might even find the refurb costs more than the new one (if there’s an offer running for the new model, for example). Also take into account the above two points on the monitor and accessories, which may up the price of the refurb in comparison to the new PC.

Try to buy manufacturer refurbished models

The best bet is to purchase a refurb from the manufacturer of the machine itself, as they will be rebuilt with approved components. Third-party refurbishers might use alternative parts, which could be less reliable.

“Open box” clarification

Sometimes you might see an "open box" system for sale. So, the customer opened the box – and then what happened? Verify that such systems have been retested and, if needed, refurbished.

Check the warranty

The system should be guaranteed to have been restored to proper working order, with genuine parts. Also, check how long the warranty is, and how long the period of tech support is. Many established computer makers, such as Dell and Apple, will give you the same warranty protection you get with a new PC – and that’s what you should be looking for.

Check and double-check the return policy

Some sellers give you 7 days, some give you 21 days. If you don't find the return policy clearly stated, shop elsewhere.

Browse customer forums

Take some time to check out customer forums on the company’s website. Note, though, that many comments will tend to be negative – the crankiest customers are the most vocal. So take complaints with a grain of salt, but from the comments – and most tellingly the company’s responses – you’ll be able to learn a great deal about the firm, and the support you can expect.

Finally, for a more in-depth look at the positives and negatives of refurbished machines, and more discussion on which vendors you should consider, check out our closer look at refurbished PCs.