So you want to buy a used laptop...
Buyer beware! Laptops undergo a lot of wear and tear during their lifetime and may have hidden defects. If you’re in the used laptop buying market, we’ve got a few tips to help ensure your next purchase isn’t a lemon.
Find the serial number and check the specs
Always ask the seller for the serial number of the product before making a purchase as it can tell you a lot about the laptop and its condition.
For Apple products, you can simply enter the serial number on their website for a detailed summary of the computer’s hardware and software. For other makes of machines check their website similar forms.
Ask about the warranty
Ask the seller how old the laptop is and if it’s under warranty -- if you’ve got the serial number you can also look up this information on the manufacturer's website.
Most new laptops come with a one year warranty that covers everything from the screen to the logic board. If you’re new laptop is in this window, you might also want to purchase a warranty extension just in case.
Be sure to transfer the name on it once you’ve bought the item or the warranty won’t matter -- a quick call to the manufacturer's customer support hotline should take care of it.
If there isn’t a warranty, you might want to mitigate your risk by negotiating down the price.
The first cut is the deepest
Look around the frame of the laptop for dents, cracks or other signs of trauma. Anything worse than a few scrapes should raise your eyebrows, as drops and bumps can cause internal damage that is difficult to detect.
Check the power supply and battery health
Laptops contain Lithium-Ion batteries, which slowly lose charge over time. Fortunately, you can acess control panels that display the health of the battery. Apple has detailed instructions on how to check the battery cycle count. In newer Macbook Pros, a cycle count over 1000 means it’s time for a replacement.
The cost of a new battery generally ranges from $60 - $100, so if it’s almost dead be sure the cost is incorporated into the price.
Make sure you also test the power cord and any adapters it has. If it you can see the copper wiring inside, or there are holes in the cord, you may have to buy a new one.
Never buy knock-off power cords online as they can do serious damage to your battery. Always power cords from the laptop's manufacturer. For most laptops new cords range from $50 - $100 (ouch!).
Ask for the operating system install CDs
This one is key -- In the event that your new computer does have issues, reinstalling your operating system can solve a lot of problems. You’ll probably want to do a clean install once you purchase the computer anyways, so having the CDs handy is important. Many computers come with a pair of CDs, so make sure to ask the seller for them!
Are the hinges in good shape?
Open and close the laptop a few times to see how the hinges work. Many units’ screws become loose over time, requiring a tune up. This shouldn’t be a deal breaker, but it may take some time to tighten. On some computers you can even tighten the hinges yourself.
Look for dead pixels
Stare at the screen with a few different desktop backgrounds -- you’re looking for red and white flickering pixels, or a pink or purple hue. These are telltale signs of screen damage which is generally expensive to fix.
Take it for a test ride
Always test out the hardware before making a purchase -- hook it up to wifi, plug in an ethernet cable and burn a dvd. Sticky keys or a bum mousepad are also things to watch out for.
If you’re not convinced the machine is working properly, you can also conduct a hardware test during startup which may detect additional errors with the computer.
Ask a Genius
There are things your first inspection may not reveal about the computer like water damage or failing components. If you want to be sure it’s in good condition, your safest bet is to ask the seller to meet you at a hardware store and have an expert take a look at it.
Assess the laptops used value on Priceonomics
Knowing the average used price of an item can help you detect underpriced (and possibly defunct!) items. It’ll also give you more ammo when negotiating a final price with a seller. Knowledge is power!
Caution + Research = Savings
Don’t be intimidated by this guide -- used laptops can be great products and come at a big discount. If you do your homework and follow these steps you’ll be the proud owner of a used laptop in no time.
Still not convinced? Many manufacturers offer refurbished laptops at a slightly smaller discount. If you’re in the market for buying Apple laptops, you might want to check out our study of refurbished apple products.
Oh yeah, Priceonomics is hiring engineers!