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Refurbished laptops: What to look for when buying a second-hand laptop

The term ‘refurbished laptop’ is a stumbling block for many when searching for a cheap laptop deal. You could get a massive discount on a good-as-new device, or potentially end up with a shoddy second-hand system.

It can be a minefield when looking to buy a refurbished laptop then, but if you’re aware of the potential risks and what wording to look out for on online retailers, then you should be reasonably confident of getting a great deal. 

We’ve assembled this guide to help you get the best refurbished laptop deal possible, so you’ll be able to sniff out cons from a genuinely good-value buy. 

Related: Best laptop deals

What does refurbished mean?

Firstly, what does ‘refurbished laptop’ actually mean? It’s essentially an unused laptop that’s been taken out of its packaging, or one that’s been sent to the manufacturer for a repair and then sold on for a discount. 

This means a refurbished laptop should theoretically be in an “almost-new” condition, but that’s not always the case in practice. 

Refurbished Laptop

Should you buy a refurbished laptop?

A “refurbished laptop” is a loose term, and so deciding whether you should buy one comes down to how much you trust whoever’s selling it. 

Going straight to the laptop manufacturer itself is always the best option. Apple and Dell are two of many manufacturers to set up dedicated web pages to sell refurbished laptops. 

Apple promises full functional testing, thorough cleaning, original Operating System and a new box with all accessories and cables. You also get a one-year warranty, which is one of the most important things to look out for. 

Buying a MacBook indirectly through a third-party retailer will unlikely give you those same benefits, especially if you’re buying from an individual on the likes of Amazon, eBay and Gumtree. 

Related: Best Dell laptop 2020

What to look out for when buying a refurbished laptop

Always stick to trusted retailers, and try to avoid individual sellers that can’t offer a warranty, a returns policy or a guarantee for the laptop’s condition. Plus, it’s hard to be sure whether a laptop has been stolen when buying from third-party individuals. 

If a laptop has been used extensively before, it’s likely that the battery life has depleted over time. Laptops generally only have a lifespan of 3-5 years, so you’ll want to be sure how fresh from the factory the laptop is before committing to a purchase. 

When looking at a refurbished laptop through any retailer, always try and find the initial release date. There’s a good chance the laptop will be a few years old, and so might not represent good value even with a massive discount. 

There’s also the chance you’ll be misled over the configuration if you’re not buying through a respected retailer, which is a serious issue since laptop prices can fluctuate drastically depending on specs. Take note of all the components (processor, graphics card, memory, storage, etc.) in the online advert and make sure it syncs up with the laptop you end up with.

Also check for any scuffs and scratches on the laptop, particularly on the screen. A “slight scratch on the monitor” may not sound bad on paper, but could well become very infuriating with daily use. 

Related: Best Mac 2020

Refurbished Laptop

Is it safe to buy a refurbished laptop from Amazon?

Amazon has a respectable system in place for selling refurbished laptops. The Amazon Renewed Guarantee programme offers a one-year warranty and claims the device has been ‘inspected and tested by Amazon-qualified suppliers’. 

These refurbished laptops are not certified by the laptop’s manufacturer though, so have no guarantee they will be to the same high standard that the likes of Apple and Dell demand. 

Amazon also states there will be ‘no visible cosmetic imperfections when held 12 inches away’, which means you can be confident there isn’t a massive dent in the laptop, but not so sure about more subtle scratches and scrapes. 

Amazon also warns laptops may arrive in a brown or white box with generic accessories rather than official counterparts. This could be an issue for laptops that feature fast charging via dedicated cables and doesn’t ensure you’ll get the bundled adaptors and accessories advertised by manufacturers. 

There’s a lot of caveats when buying laptops through the Amazon Renewed Guarantee programme then, but it could be worth it if there’s a particularly good deal. 

However, when searching on Amazon for a refurbished laptop, make sure it has that Amazon Renewed Guarantee tag. Third-party sellers on Amazon that don’t meet the ‘Amazon-qualified’ standard are unlikely to offer warranty and could be flogging a laptop that is a long way from achieving a ‘nearly new’ condition. 

Refurbished Laptop

Where to buy a refurbished laptop

The best place to buy a refurbished laptop is directly from the manufacturer. The likes of Apple and Dell have excellent refurbished stores that offer laptops at discounts. 

It’s likely you’ll find better deals with third-party retailers though. There’s no issue with buying through such retailers, but you need to make sure you read through their “refurbished laptop” guidelines to see what guarantees and benefits they’re offering. 

Laptops Direct is one of the best options, saving you up to 20% on the price. The retailer uses an expert team to classify each laptop’s condition into a grading system. Laptops with the A1 grade are said to be “as good as new”, while the A2 and A3 represent good and average conditions respectively. If the laptop fails to meet the required standard, it will instead be classified as “Pre-owned”. 

Such a grading system is beneficial for potential buyers to get a better understanding of the condition of the laptop, so they can see how much value they’re getting for their money. 

However, Laptops Direct only offers a 3-month warranty with each laptop. You can extend that to a year, but that will cost you a “small fee”. 

Buying second-hand via individual sellers is a lot riskier. You’re unlikely to get any warranty or return policy, and even if the laptop doesn’t seem to have any external scuffs, it’s difficult to know whether the battery or processor has been compromised by overheating or water damage. 

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