There are many very good reasons to buy a used laptop rather than a brand new model. Firstly, you certainly won't be stuck for choice! Estimates vary, but the total number of computers in the world is fast catching up the number of actual people living on Planet Earth.
The Complete Guide to Buying a Used Laptop
There are 7.3 billion people in the world... and the figures for the current number of computers worldwide is estimated at being somewhere between 2-3 billion... and rising.
For every year since 2009, annual worldwide sales of laptops have outstripped that of desktops and conventional PCs - and we're talking sales of hundreds of millions each year here. The portability and convenience of laptops has made the laptop a 'must have' for many people.
We live in a highly materialistic society - a world where almost everything is seen to be disposable. Clever marketing and powerful advertising has made us feel we need the latest, the newest, the upgraded model - as soon as it is released.
Supply & Demand
This is especially true when it comes to technology - such as laptops. There will always be people that believe they need the newest model. And as they upgrade, they look to sell on their existing machine to fund their new purchase - and this is largely what creates the supply of used laptops available for sale. In fact, it's become a massive marketplace.
Of course, not everybody is buying brand new laptops - not everyone can afford to - and this is where the demand for used laptops comes in. And although we might have our hearts set on the one from the glossy ads, it's important to remember that for typical, everyday computing needs, a laptop that's a year or two old (or even older) would absolutely meet the needs of most users.
Ignore The Stigma of Used Laptops
But for decades now, something of a stigma has grown about buying a used laptop. The perception that used laptops are unreliable and lack durability has perpetuated the myth that used laptops are best avoided.
While it's true that used laptops may not come complete with the added protection and security of a warranty, the stigma that exists about them overall is unwarranted too. This buyer's guide will give you all the information you need to know and what to look for when considering buying a used laptop.
We believe this is important because you'll find lots of articles online dishing out advice about choosing a laptop - but they tend to focus on the new. This guide will show you that buying a used laptop is not as difficult or complicated as you might have thought it is. As we said earlier, you won't be pushed for choice - and that's why you need to read this guide, so you know just what to look out for, so you make a truly informed choice.
Of course, there are pros and cons to weigh up and a few simple steps and precautions to take, but we will show you how to choose the best laptop for your individual needs and your budget.
And, that's what it's all about - buying a used laptop is good for the environment, it helps to prevent perfectly usable equipment filling up our landfill sites - AND it can save you a lot of money!
The Importance of Doing Your Research
Online research is the best way to start to learn about older laptop models. First, choose the brand you are interested in and take a look at the many review sites online. These will give you an idea about the reliability and capability of a particular model - and this makes a really useful starting point in your search to buy a used laptop.
Read Online Reviews
As we said above, one of the best ways of doing your research is to read online reviews. This is one of best ways to glean key information about the laptop model you're looking to buy. Make sure you look beyond descriptions of the physical model itself. Try and find out when the laptop model was first released - any articles/reviews that came out when the laptop was new will only describe, they won't give you any indication of how the model performs over time - i.e. the condition it will be in when you come to buy it.
Identifying what microprocessor chip the unit has is useful and then finding reviews about its performance. Consumer sites are a useful launch pad for your research, but make sure you find user reviews too - the more recent a review, the more accurate the comments will be in terms of telling you how the laptop model holds up with frequent and repeated use.
Buying any used product comes with a degree of associated risk - How do you know the seller is being totally honest? Of course, most are completely honest and are just trying to get a fair price.
Researching the laptops that you think might be right for your needs is important. Forewarned is forearmed - if you have identified the best laptop for you and done your homework about the model, you will know what to look for and what to expect when you come to buy. This will help you to avoid the hassles that can occur with buying any second-hand product.
What Processor Is Right For You?
Processors: Intel, Pentium, AMD, Athlon, Centrino. These are all brands that probably sound quite familiar - you'll have heard and seen them mentioned in adverts, but unless you're a computer expert, you probably won't know too much about what a processor is and actually does.
The type of processor you should be looking for will depend on what you are intending to use your laptop for. Again, the best way to find out the processor you need and one that will be suitable for your needs is through online research. So, after you've picked a laptop model that you think might be the one for you, look at reviews for the type of processor it features.
Basically, the processor is what gives a laptop its power and speed. Therefore, if your main use of a laptop will be for gaming, then you will need a faster, more powerful processor. This will obviously require a more expensive processor. However, for basic web surfing or tasks like word processing - activities which press less demands on a processor - a more basic processor will be absolutely fine.
What Storage Do You Require?
You'll find that most new laptops come with a hard drive of at least 60 GB or 80 GB. Certainly, anything less than 40 GB is rare these days. With older laptops, it's likely that you'll get a smaller hard drive. The good news is that this shouldn't be a major problem for you. Hard drives can be replaced with upgraded and larger size drives, or you can use an external hard drive to give you more storage.
Top tip: with any laptops, regardless of the size of the drive, it's a good idea to listen out for clicking or scraping noises when the drive is in use. This is often a sign of major problems with the drive itself.
Don't Forget The Memory
The memory that a laptop has is crucial and with RAM, the more the better. Most models will come with at least 1GB of RAM. You shouldn't immediately disregard a laptop if it does come with less - it's a relatively cheap and easy process to upgrade RAM. The more RAM you have, the faster the overall performance of your laptop will be. The website of the laptop's manufacturer should provide details of how you can upgrade RAM by yourself. Alternatively, computer shops will be able to install the RAM for you.
Check The Battery
One thing that is common with most used laptops is batteries that are not performing at full capacity - this comes with the territory and is to be expected. A complete replacement of a laptop's battery is a costly option. There are cheaper generic batteries on the market that can be used with many older laptops. This might be a more practical solution and is certainly less expensive. You may well find that new or reconditioned batteries are included in the overall price of the laptop, especially if you are purchasing from a professional seller. To protect against battery failure, it's important that you check that the power adapter and lead are both in good working order.
Whilst a weak battery is almost to be expected when purchasing an older laptop, knowing what the state of the battery is when you buy will help you decide when/if you would want to replace it. Remember, just as long as the power adapter and lead are in order, you shouldn't be too concerned if the laptop cannot hold a large charge.
Can You Upgrade?
It's possible that you might want to upgrade a laptop model, now or in the future, because you need a greater overall capacity and higher performance. So, you need to consider how upgradeable the model actually is. You need to think about what OS (Operating System) the laptop has. Bear in mind that Microsoft has discontinued its support for older systems such as Windows 98. Similarly, the older a unit is, the more difficult it will be to obtain security patches. Also, if you wanted to upgrade to a more recent OS, you need to appreciate that there will be a minimum hardware specification for Windows XP or Vista. This can be checked online, but as a quick illustration: XP will require a processor of at least 300 mhz, 1.5 GB hard drive and 128 MB of RAM, as well as a CD or DVD ROM. For Vista, you need a 1 GB processor, a hard drive of at least 40 GB (15 of which needs to be free) and a DVD ROM.
Whilst it simple to upgrade RAM, you need to find out what the maximum RAM is that the model can take. There needs to be free RAM slots. For example, if the model has a maximum RAM capacity of 1 GB and it currently has a slot with 512 MB and one free slot, it is easy to add 256 MB or 512 MB to the vacant slot. However, it would be a bit more complicated if both slots were filled with 256 MB. This would mean that both slots would need upgrading to 512 MB RAM modules to give the 1 GB max you require. So, still a process that is simple enough to complete - but these are the types of things that need to be considered and weighed up as you think about purchasing a particular model.
You need to establish what maximum hard drive capacity is supported by the motherboard of the laptop model you are looking at buying. So, if its motherboard can support 80 GB and the laptop currently has a 40 GB hard drive, upgrading to 80 GB will be possible should you want to do this at any time in the future.
Top Tip: Check the RPM speed. If the motherboard only supports speeds of up to 5400 RPM, then it would be pointless in purchasing a 7200 RPM upgrade. So, it's best to check the technical data online.
What Software Does The Laptop Come With?
It's easy to buy new software and programs - and many are free - but it still wise to check with the seller as to what software the laptop actually comes with and that it is fully functional and installed properly. Ask for any software manuals that the seller has and consider transferring software registration from the seller to you as the buyer so that you continue to receive updates and manufacturer notifications.
Scan For Anti-spyware & Viruses
Check that the laptop comes with virus protection and anti-spyware software installed. Ask the seller to run a scan before you buy to ensure that the machine is free of Trojans and viruses and other harmful malware.
Size & Weight
One characteristic of older laptop models is their comparatively large size and weight. New laptops just seem to get smaller and lighter all the time and you'll often notice a considerable difference even with models that are only a year or two old. Therefore, make sure that you know the weight, size and shape so that you know that you are buying something that are going to be comfortable with. The feel of a laptop is important. After all, a laptop is a personal item that you are going to be using regularly, so how it feels when you are using it needs to be thought about. With so much choice out there, it really does pay to take your time - don't just be swayed by convenience or functionality - think of the whole picture.
Refurbished or Used?
A used laptop is one that has never been touched up. A refurbished laptop is one that has been repaired and maintained. Although it doesn't provide you with any cast-iron guarantees, a laptop that has been refurbished - because it has been maintained – will often be more reliable. You'll probably find that there are fewer refurbished models available than straightforward used laptops - and when you do find refurbished models they are likely to be more expensive too.
There are two types of refurbished laptops: user refurbished and manufacturer refurbished. A user refurbished laptop gives no real guarantee of quality as the machine has merely been maintained by the user. A manufacturer refurbished laptop has been passed through manufacturer quality standards. Therefore, it stands to reason that a manufacturer refurbished model is the better option, giving you greater piece of mind.
Top Tip: You might want to wipe a used laptop after purchase. This will clean all previous data. Not only will it eradicate any spyware or virus that might be lurking, it will also free up all available space. Enquire about recovery CDs from the seller, as this makes the process easier. Remember that any scanning will only check the current state of a machine, it cannot guarantee that you won't experience any issues in the future.
Other Things To Check For With A Used Laptop
Look at the laptop to inspect for signs of damage. Minor dints and scratches should be ignored. These often occur and don't indicate anything untoward in terms of the performance quality of a laptop. Major damage - which will probably be visible from seller's photographs anyway - might indicate that the machine has not been carefully looked after, which could signal that other more serious issues could lay ahead.
Look at the screen when the laptop is on. You want colours that appear to be bright and stable. If certain parts of the screen look a little washed out, this could be a sign of LCD problems. It is expensive to repair or replace LCD screens.
All input ports: power cord inputs, headphone and microphone jacks and USB ports should be checked. You should also test the response of the keyboard and/or touchpad. A laptop that is unresponsive or that has ports that aren't working correctly can be very frustrating to use.
Obviously, when you are buying online it can be difficult, if not impossible, to check for issues such as these. You can examine any photos the seller has posted or you could ask the seller specific questions about the condition the laptop is in. Ask for verification that the input ports and keyboard, etc. are all in order.
It's always good to carry out quick functionality testing on a used laptop. You can check the power transformer that comes with the power cable by plugging in to see the AC or charging lights appear. To test that the battery can store charge, use battery mode and see how much charge is carried by visiting power management. Check that the CD/DVD drives are working. By inserting a disc, this will also serve as a good test of the speakers. Check the USB ports by plugging in a flash drive to every port and doing a read and write test.
Most people just assume that when they buy a used product - and especially laptops and other electronics - that they should not expect it to come with any sort of warranty. Actually, this isn't always the case. Many used laptops will come with a warranty - it just won't be as complete and comprehensive as it would for a brand new laptop. Many will come with a 30-day warranty at the very least.
So, there you have it - everything you need to know to make an informed and sensible decision when buying a used laptop.