Not Buying Refurbished Laptops? You May be Wasting Money

Refurbished products are the best-kept secret of the tech world. Here’s how to find these deals and save big.

The manufacturers of laptops and other gadgets make a big deal out of the thrill of buying something new. And they have a point; there are few thrills as good as getting a new laptop and figuring out how much better it is than the old one. But there is an industry secret here: many people don’t feel the thrill, and end up returning them. Many companies buy more than they need, then return the ones they don’t need to the manufacturer. What happens to these? They get refurbished, and this can mean a good deal for you.

Flickr user Joel Bez

The conventional image of a refurbished gadget is something second-hand, covered with scratches and greasy fingerprints. But that’s not the way it works, and many companies offer refurbished products that are indistinguishable from their brand new ones. In particular, I have found that if you buy the refurbished laptops from the original manufacturer, they do an excellent job of making them as good as new.

I’ve bought nothing but refurbished laptops from companies like Apple and Dell for the past ten years or so, and have saved thousands doing so. And I’ve seldom been able to tell the difference between the refurbished and new models; they come with the same packaging, freshly formatted hard drive and updated OS as the new models. These companies also seem to take pride in their refurbishment process. Honestly, if they didn’t say recycled on the receipt, I wouldn’t have realized that they were.

Refurbished Mac Deals

Let’s take an example. If you are looking to buy a MacBook Air, you could buy a 13-inch model from Apple for $1099. That comes with 4GB of RAM, a 1.3GHz i5 processor and a 128GB SSD drive. That’s a good deal, but if you look in the refurbished section of their site, you could pick up an identical model for $929, a saving of $170.

If you step back a generation or two, you can also get more for your money. Apple has a 2012 MacBook Air with a faster processor and double the SSD capacity (256GB) in its refurbished store for $1019, which still saves you $80 and gets you much more for your money.

Refurbished PCs

If a Windows laptop is more your style, you could pick up a new Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook for $1049. This offers a lot of bang for the buck: you get 4GB of RAM, a 1.7GHz i3 processor and a 128GB SSD drive. You can get more if you dig into Dell’s own outlet store, though. Dell updates their stock as products come and go, but at the time of writing, they have a nearly identical refurbished XPS 13 on sale for $819. The only difference between the two is that the refurbished one comes with Windows 7, which many would count as an upgrade. If you want more power rather than lower price, you could spend a little more than the new model on a $1019 refurbished XPS 13 Ultrabook that has more memory (8GB), faster processor (1.7GHz i7) and more storage space (a 256GB SSD). More for the same price? Make sense to me.

What Don’t You Get With Refurbished? Not a Lot

So, what’s the catch? There isn’t one. Well, usually. Many companies (such as Apple and Dell) offer the same warranty on their refurbished products as their new ones, and you can usually buy longer coverage. Apple offers a 1-year warrnty, and allows you to buy their AppleCare coverage for a refurbished Mac in the same way as a new one, at the same cost. Similarly, Dell offers a 1-year warranty, with the same options for extending this at an additional cost that their new models get. But that’s not true of all refurbished laptops, and is definitely not true of third-party companies that sell refurbished laptops.

The only caveat I have found is to read the descriptions carefully. For the really cheap models, some are what they call Scratch & Dent, where it has some small problem like a scratch on a surface or the like. But I think that, like people, scars add character, as long as they don’t affect the function of the device. But it always makes sense to look carefully, and return the product immediately if there is a problem that wasn’t described. This is why I recommend buying refurbished from the original manufacturer as a great way to save some cash or get more computing bang for your buck.

Cat Laptop by Flickr user Melinda Seckington