5 Things to Consider Before Buying a Refurbished Laptop

You can save money with refurbs, but the source is important

Refurbished laptops are more affordable than brand new laptops, and a high-quality refurb doesn’t look or perform that differently from a brand new machine. There are significant differences between used, factory refurbished, third-party refurbished, and renewed laptops, though, so it can be tough to know what you’re getting. This buying guide will explain what a refurbished laptop is and what to look for to help you find a refurb that looks and runs like new. 

What Are Refurbished Laptops?

Refurbished laptops are used or open-box laptops that have been inspected, cleaned, repaired and made ready for sale to a new owner. The original manufacturer of the laptop refurbishes factory refurbished laptops, but third parties also sell refurbished laptops. Refurbished laptops typically sell at a significant discount compared to new laptops with similar specifications. The main question people ask is "Are refurbished laptops good?" The answer? It's complicated. Here's how to find a good refurbished laptop.

Top 5 Things to Consider When Buying a Refurbished Laptop

The source is the most important thing to consider when buying a refurbished laptop because not all restoration processes are equal. You can buy refurbished laptops from many different sources, so it’s crucial to find out who refurbished the laptop and what they did.

Here are the five most important things to consider when buying a refurbished laptop.

  • Are refurbished laptops just used laptops?
  • How do you source a refurbished laptop?
  • What warranty should a refurbished laptop have?
  • What condition should a refurbished laptop have?
  • How old should a refurbished laptop be?

Are Refurbished Laptops Just Used Laptops?

Refurbished and used laptops aren’t the same, but some refurbished laptops have been used before. In other cases, someone might have removed a computer from its box for some reason, at which point a seller can sell it as refurbished but not as new. Laptops purchased, opened, and returned to the store are prime candidates for refurbishment.

A laptop undergoing the refurbishing process.

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Before a laptop is sold as refurbished, it is typically inspected for cosmetic wear and tear, tested to make sure it’s fully operational, repaired if necessary, and cleaned. In some cases, internal components will be replaced or upgraded even if they are still in working order. The laptop is usually factory reset, with a fresh operating system installation. That part is vital if someone previously used the laptop because you don’t want to buy a refurbished laptop that still has a bunch of data from the previous owner. 

How Do You Source a Refurbished Laptop?

When choosing a refurbished laptop, it’s essential to consider the source. If a laptop is factory refurbished, it was refurbished by the same manufacturer that initially made the laptop. It may be an open-box laptop that’s essentially new and has just been tested to make sure it works, or it may have been sent back as defective, repaired, tested, cleaned up, and made available for sale at a discount. Manufacturers usually provide detailed information about their refurbishing processes and offer the best warranties.

Some retailers also have refurbishing or renewal programs, where the retailer refurbishes laptops or contracts with third parties to do so. For example, third-party restorers can join the Amazon Renewed program to sell refurbished laptops and other electronics through the Amazon marketplace. Programs like these usually have strict requirements, so you get to know what happens during the refurbishment process.

What Warranty Should a Refurbished Laptop Have?

Warranty periods vary from one refurbisher to the next, and some laptops don’t come with any warranty at all. New laptops usually come with a one-year warranty, and that’s what you should look for in a refurbished model. Even though refurbished laptops aren’t technically new, they’re sold as "like new," so the refurbisher should be willing to stand behind the product as if it were.

At a bare minimum, don’t settle for anything less than a three to six-month warranty. Never buy a refurbished laptop that doesn’t have a warranty or guarantee.

If you buy a refurbished laptop with a shorter warranty period, make sure to inspect and test it thoroughly as soon as you get it.

What Condition Should a Refurbished Laptop Have?

The condition of a refurbished laptop will depend on whether someone previously owned it and, if so, how much the old owner used it. The best refurbishing processes will return a used laptop to a like-new condition, but there may be some cosmetic issues like unrepairable scratches or dents. The refurbished laptop should be clean and as free from physical blemishes as possible.

Gloved hands cleaning a laptop.

Dar'â Sapovalova / EyeEm / Getty Images

Refurbished laptops should also be cleaned internally, tested, and repaired. Any components that aren’t in good working order should be replaced, and parts in good working order should be cleaned. Ultimately, the refurbished laptop should look and operate like it did when it was new. It may have outdated components and performance compared to brand new models, but it should work about as well as when it was built.

Some refurbishers will give letter or number grades to their laptops or refer to the condition with words like excellent, great, or satisfactory. Pay attention to the specific terminology, and if you pay for an "excellent-quality" laptop that’s supposed to be free of cosmetic blemishes, make sure that’s what you receive.

How Old Should a Refurbished Laptop Be?

The ideal age of a refurbished laptop will depend on your budget and how you plan on using the machine.

In general, you should avoid refurbished laptops that are more than five years old; the components may be outdated, and you might not be able to run the programs you need.

If you only need to do basic tasks like word processing and surfing the internet, you can safely look at older refurbished laptops. However, to play the latest games, look for a refurbished laptop released within the last year or two.

Apple laptops tend to last a little longer, but you can still run into performance issues after more than five or six years. The main problem is that the latest version of macOS will typically only run on Macs built within the last eight years. Buying an older, refurbished MacBook will eventually lock you out of new operating system updates even if the laptop still works fine.

Who Should Buy a Refurbished Laptop?

Refurbished laptops can save you a lot of money and provide excellent performance compared to the sticker price, so they represent a good option for many people.

  • Students. Students working on a tight budget can make their money stretch a lot further with a refurbished laptop.
  • Parents. If you need a laptop for your kids to do schoolwork, there’s no reason to spend a lot of money on a brand new one.
  • Deal hunters. Those searching for fantastic deals will want to target recently released open-box refurbished laptops for steep discounts on modern hardware.
  • Budget gamers. Brand-new budget laptops aren’t good at gaming because they use integrated graphics. Instead, consider looking for a refurbished gaming laptop with an actual video card that’s a few years old but still capable of handling the latest games on lower settings.

What Should I Do After I Buy a Refurbished Laptop?

When you buy a refurbished laptop, you’ll have to do all the same data transfer and other tasks you'd have to do if you purchased a new device. In addition to those tasks, there are some unique concerns when going refurbished:

  • Inspect the laptop for apparent damage or wear.
  • Make sure there aren’t any files from the previous owner. If the laptop wasn’t reset, you should consider a clean install of Windows, macOS, or Linux and formatting the hard drive.
  • Scan for viruses and malware, even if it looks like someone reset the laptop. You don’t want to get stuck with issues that the previous owner left behind.
  • Check for upgrades, as you may be able to improve performance by adding more RAM or an SSD.
  • Check the operation of the laptop. Make sure it boots up and runs all your apps or games, listen to see if the fan comes on, and verify devices like the optical drive and webcam work.

More Tips for Buying a Refurbished Laptop

Buying a refurbished laptop can save you a lot of money, but you have to vet the seller carefully. Anyone can say they refurbished a computer, but that doesn’t mean it was. It’s good to stick with factory-refurbished laptops, programs from established retailers, and refurbishing companies willing to provide references and detailed information on what they do.

When in doubt, check the reviews. Whether you’re dealing with a major manufacturer or a small, third-party refurbisher, customer reviews are one of the best tools you have at your disposal. Read reviews for their refurbished laptops, and pay attention to both the good and the bad ones. People will sometimes give a one-star review for entirely unrelated reasons, like slow shipping, so make sure to read what people are saying. If you see a lot of complaints about hardware failure, for example, that’s a red flag to avoid.

If you decide to buy a new laptop, after all, we have the reviews:

FAQ
  • Are refurbished laptops slower?

    In general, a refurbished laptop will be slower than a new one because the new laptop will have more advanced components. That isn’t always the case, though, especially if you’re comparing a high-end refurbished laptop with a brand-new budget unit. To check and see if a refurbished laptop will be slower, you can use a hardware comparison website and enter the specifications of both the refurbished version and the new laptop you’re interested in.

  • How do I know if my laptop is refurbished?

    If you received a laptop as a gift, the packaging should have a sticker saying it's refurbished. You may even find one on the laptop itself. You can also check for signs of general wear, like worn areas on the keyboard or case.

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