Guide to Buying Refurbished Computers

Refurbished is the name given to computers and parts that are no longer new but considered working and usable after testing and repair. Many computer manufacturers also provide their items for sale as refurbished. However, there is a significant difference between parts refurbished by the original manufacturer and computers refurbished by a third-party reseller.

For computer parts refurbished by a manufacturer, the refurbished parts are typically sold in excellent condition with a manufacturer warranty. We have seen very good quality refurbished parts, such as hard drives from Western Digital and routers from Netgear. For some items, the refurbished parts are improved over the original parts when there is a known defect that has been corrected. Sometimes the defect is only software related, such as when an unused part that was sent to a distributor for sale was returned to have a software update applied.

In the case of computer system units, refurbishment poses a greater problem. Computers that are sold as refurbished by the original manufacturer are typically new and unused items that required re-packaging. Examples include refurbished computers sold by HP and Dell. These can be an excellent value and typically contain all new or unused parts.

However, there are some sources for refurbished computer systems that have been returned after years of use and are re-sold. A common source for these used computers is from corporate upgrades or lease returns.

These items pose a much greater risk, since the usage on the computer is not documented. For example, we recently tested a refurbished computer purchased by a client and found that it had a bad stick of RAM memory, 5 hard drive errors, and a failing power supply with a worn fan and 3 bulging capacitors inside.

We recommend that when buying refurbished computers, not only the age of the computer but the power-on usage should be taken into account. In general, we recommend against buying refurbished computer systems from non-manufacturer (reseller/online) sources because they do not provide any power-on usage history for the machine.

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