Laptop Buying Guide: Brand New Versus Second-Hand

Everyone wants a new laptop, but it can be hard to find the right upgrade at the right price. Another option is to pick something up second-hand – you just might be surprised by the savings.

New Versus Second-Hand

New laptops are pretty self-explanatory. They have that fresh electronics smell, everything works and if not, you can get it fixed under warranty. On the flip side, buying a second-hand laptop can save you a bundle of cash, or let you upgrade to a newer model. Check out some of our existing buyers guides, as well as our school and uni buyers guide.

It’s a tough call, so we've put together a comparison of solid new and second-hand laptops priced from $300 all the way up to $1500. (Thanks spartan-jack-17 for the suggestion to compare the two in the first place!)

Second-Hand Computing

Laptops are sold as second-hand for many reasons. It might be because someone upgraded or simply didn't need the laptop any more and decided to sell it, instead of letting it age under a desk somewhere.

But many second-hand laptops are refurbished models. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing –- faults often include things like broken screens, although the rest of the laptop might still be in great condition. They also often have limited warranties that will protect you from ongoing faults. Other problems can include non-functional USB ports or just a bit of scratched plastic. Avoid laptops with missing keys, as they can be hard to track down.

One downside to second-hand laptops is the battery. If it's not too old and has been well looked after, battery life will still be great. If unsure, it’s worth asking the seller how long it lasts. Otherwise it is often possible to pick up cheap replacement batteries for common laptops as long as they're easily removable.

How We Compared: We went looking for sold prices through eBay. For each unit featured, we tried to find and average as many prices as possible. Shipping is not included in the price, so could be a factor if you can’t pick up your purchase. Many of the second-hand models are still available new, but if not, we used the launch price.


$300 Cheapies

If you have less than $300 to spend on a new laptop, there's not a huge amount of choice. On the plus side, the models that are available are actually pretty good. Two of the top contenders are the HP Stream 11 and the ASUS Eeebook X205T.

Both use low-end Intel Atom and Celeron CPUs, with 2GB of RAM and small 32GB eMMC SSDs. Despite being low-end, both run Windows 8.1 and can handle normal day-to-day tasks. Programs such as Word and Google Docs run smoothly but you will notice some slowdown if you have a lot of tabs open in Chrome.

You can also get a range of Chromebooks for the same sort of price.


HP Stream 11

CPU: Intel Celeron N2840 2.58GHz Screen: 11.6” 1366 x 768 RAM: 2GB DDR3 HDD: 32GB eMMC SSD Weight: 1.25 KG Wi-Fi: 802.11n USB: 2x 2.0 ports Price: $299

ASUS EeeBook X205TA

CPU: Intel Atom Z3735 Screen: 11.6” 1366 x 768 RAM: 2GB DDR3 HDD: 32GB eMMC SSD Weight: 0.95 KG Wi-Fi: 802.11n USB: 2x 2.0 ports Price: $299

Second-Hand

Lenovo G50-70

CPU: Intel Core i5-4210U Screen: 15.6” 1366 x 768 RAM: 4GB DDR3 HDD: 500GB Weight: 2.5KG Wi-Fi: 802.11n USB: 2x 2.0, 1x 3.0 Original Price: $799

Second-Hand: $300

The Lenovo G50-70 is a 15” laptop sporting an Intel Core i3-4005U CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB HDD. It also has the typical 1366 x 768 15.6” LCD driven by Intel HD 4400 graphics. The extra RAM over most new $300 laptops is very welcome, but the rest of the spec is remarkable similar.

The Core i3-4005U CPU might seem much better than a Celeron or Atom processor, but in reality it’s still low end. It is noticeably faster and includes more powerful inbuilt graphics. One advantage is the Lenovo name – you know it’s well built and has plenty of life left in it.

MSI CR61

CPU: Intel Core i5-4210M Screen: 15.6” 1366 x 768 RAM: 4GB DDR3 HDD: 500GB Weight: 2.5KG Wi-Fi: 802.11n USB: 2x 2.0, 1x 3.0 Original Price: $799

Second-Hand: $300

A 15” laptop sporting an Intel Core i5 4210M CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB HDD. It also has the typical 1366 x 768 15.6” LCD driven by Intel HD 4400 graphics.

Once again the extra RAM is appreciated by the real drawcard for the MSI is the more powerful Core i5 CPU. It’s got some real grunt behind it, boosting the dual cores up to 3.2GHz.

You also get Intel HD 4600 graphics. Battery life will suffer though and you can expect a few hours at most.

While the MSI offers plenty of bang for buck, it is thicker, heavier and has a shorter battery life than its new competitors.


$500 Laptops

Acer E5-511-280C

CPU: Intel Celeron N2930 2.16GHz Screen: 15.6” 1366 x 768 RAM: 4GB DDR3 HDD: 500GB HDD Weight: 2.5 KG Wi-Fi: 802.11n USB: 3x 2.0, 1x 3.0 Price: $448

Demanding only $448 of your hard earned cash, the Acer is a full size 15.6” laptop.

Rather than a Core i3 CPU, the E5 has an Intel Celeron N2930 processor. This efficient little quad core chip can boost up to 2.16 GHz and offers very similar performance to the cheaper Core i3 CPUs.

The Acer has 4GB and RAM, which combined with the Quad Core CPU means it handles multitasking quite well. It’s also got a 500 GB HDD (not an SSD) and a DVD optical drive.

The screen has a 1366 x 768 resolution and can manage over 7 hours of typical use on a full battery. It is a little chunkier at 2.5 KG, but the larger keyboard and screen make it a solid workhorse.

Second-Hand

HP M6-1117TX

CPU: Intel Core i7-3632QM Screen: 15.6” 1366 x 768 RAM: 8GB DDR3 HDD: 750GB HDD Weight: 2.4 KG Wi-Fi: 802.11n Original Price: $939

Second-Hand: $455

The 15” M6 packs a powerful Core i7-3632QM processor, 8GB of RAM and a 750GB 5400 RPM HDD. You also get a DVD burner and a 15.6" 1366 x 768 screen.

Unlike its inbuilt graphics toting competition, the M6 has a discrete videocard. The AMD Radeon HD 7670M is not the most powerful, but will handle some casual gaming.


Under $1000

Dell Inspiron 17 5000 Series

CPU: Intel Core i7-3632QM Screen: 15.6” 1366 x 768 RAM: 8GB DDR3 HDD: 750GB HDD Weight: 2.4 KG Wi-Fi: 802.11n Price: From $899

The 17” Inspiron 17 5000 comes with an Intel Core i5-5200U CPU that can boost up to 2.7GHz. It comes with 8GB of RAM, a 1TB HDD and DVD drive.

It’s also got a 17.3” 1600 x 900 LCD driven by an NVIDIA GeForce 840M with 2GB of RAM. A powerful workhorse, the Dell is a great all round laptop in the larger 17” size.

Second-Hand

ASUS G74SX Gaming Laptop

CPU: Intel Core i7-2670QM Screen: 17.3" 1920 x 1080 RAM: 16GB DDR3 HDD: 2x 750GB HDD Weight: 2.5 KG Wi-Fi: 802.11n Original Price: $1999

Second-Hand: $910

Dating from 2012, the ASUS is still a large, powerful laptop. It has a Core i7-2670QM CPU, 16GB of RAM, dual 750GB HDDs and a Blue-ray writer. The G74S has a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560M GPU, with 3GB of GDDR5 RAM.

The 17.3” display has a full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution. Despite being a bit older, it still has 802.11n Wi-Fi and supports NVIDIA 3D Vision.

The ASUS won’t run the latest games at high frame rates, but it will play your older titles with no trouble. If you are after a larger laptop with Core-i7 grunt, you can’t go wrong but don’t expect much battery life.


Higher End: $1500

Apple Macbook Pro 13” MD101X/A

CPU: Intel Core i5 2.5GHz Screen: 13.3" 1280 x 720 RAM: 4GB DDR3 HDD: 500GB HDD Weight: 2.06 KG Wi-Fi: 802.11n Price: $1549

The Macbook Pro packs a dual core Intel Core i5 which can boost up to 3.1GHz. It come standard with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB 5400 RPM HDD.

The 13.3” LCD has a 1280 x 800 resolution and is driven by Intel HD Graphics 4000. It boasts Thunderbolt and an array of USB 3.0 ports.

While not the most powerful, it’s pretty much your cheapest Macbook Pro.

Second-Hand

Apple Macbook Pro 15” Retina ME293X/A

CPU: Intel Core i7 Screen: 15.4" 2880 x 1800 RAM: 8GB DDR3 HDD: 256GB SSD Weight: 2.56 KG Wi-Fi: 802.11n Original Price: $2199

Second-Hand Price: $1525

The Macbook in question is an older model, launched in 2013. But it still has excellent specs, with a quad core Intel Core i7, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.

It’s also got the 15.4” Retina display, with a 2880 x 1800 resolution. Going second-hand to buy your Macbook nets you a serious upgrade over buying new.

Despite the fact Apple laptops hold their value pretty well, a used but well looked after model can be a bargain.


Comments

    How is a MacBook Pro with a 1280x720 screen "Higher End"? It's just "more expensive" without being any better than any of the second-hand examples in the Under $1000 category. Higher End should be things with quad-core i7s, like Dell's M3800.

    I bought a refurbished Toshiba laptop on eBay two years ago.

    CPU: Intel Core i5-3210M
    Screen: 15.6” 1366 x 768
    NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M discrete graphics (including TV tuner)
    RAM: 8GB DDR3
    HDD: 750GB HDD

    I only paid $330 and think it's still worth more than that now.

    Last year I bought a refurbished gaming PC for $730 that would have cost me twice as much to put together new.

    I bought this last week (http://www.graysonline.com/retail/r552jv-cm272h-r/computers-and-it-equipment/asus-r552jv-cm272h-15-6-inch-multimedia-entertainment-notebook-silver?spr=true) for $1100 - it then went down by $100 a couple days later, but such is life.

    It's an awesome machine though I had two problems with it out of the box - battery won't charge and the spacebar is a bit messed up. It's with Asus for repair or replacement now and once it's back I expect it to be great for what I need (video editing/film school stuff).

    It's a shame it came with two problems out of the box, but Asus support has been really good so far, so fingers crossed.

    I think I will wait for the new Google pixel.Does any one have a clue about the price yet?

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