Yes, there is a stigma associated with buying refurbished laptops. I understand it to a degree—I mean, there is nothing like liberating a fresh, shiny gadget from its plastic packaging prison. What I don't understand is how this stigma exists in a society where buying a used car is so widely accepted. As many others have pointed out, the process of buying a refurb and a used car are actually very similar—except the financial risk we take on with the latter is generally much, much higher. So why are we so hung up on this? We shouldn't be—and here is why.
Fact #1: The economy is busted right now. One of the sticking points people have with refurbished laptops is that they may not be getting top-of-the-line performance and features. While this is usually true, it is important to seriously analyze your computing needs and determine what you really need vs. what you really want. For example, in a recent Question of the Day, I asked Giz readers whether they really need a $US1000 laptop. Out of nearly 9000 votes, 42 per cent responded "No", 21 per cent responded "Yes, but only because I like to have the best of everything", and 19 per cent responded "Yes, but only because I am unwilling to sacrifice on the OS." Basically, this implies that many of us are buying more laptop than we really need.
Fact #2: The term "used" takes on a slightly different meaning when you are talking about refurbished laptops. Analysis of outlet stores and other refurb dealers reveals that "refurbished" laptops that have been used are most likely returns that have been in circulation 30 days or less. When the laptops are returned, they undergo a thorough inspection and should be good as new. They could also be demos or products with slight defects that are repaired during the inspection. Refurb outlets also sometimes offer discounts on overstocked items. In this case, the laptops have never been used at all.
Fact #3: Most reputable retailers will offer a return policy and some sort of 1-year warranty for their refurbished laptop—which should help bring you peace of mind. For the extremely cautious, there is usually a warranty extension option that, if purchased, will still put your total price tag well under what it would cost to buy new. (And let's not forget that people buying new laptops are also encouraged to opt for the pricey extended warranty, so the refurb, with protection, remains a much better deal.)
Where to Look:
First and foremost, you need to know where to look. Deals on eBay, Craigslist or some obscure retailer may seem hot, but you and I both know that laptops purchased from these outlets are most likely "used" in the strictest sense of the word. Stick with the laptop manufacturer themselves or authorized refurbishers. Big-box stores offer the advantage of a hands-on inspection—but make sure to search around first to ensure that you are getting a good price. And, as always, make sure it is backed by a decent warranty and return policy.
A Few of Your Best Options:
Apple: In the QOTD mentioned earlier 19 per cent were unwilling to buy a sub-$1000 laptop because of the OS. Let's face it—we are talking about OS X here. Okay, scoring a relatively new MacBook for under $US1000 is a tall order, but right now there are refurbished last-gen 2.0GHz, 2.1GHz, 2.2 GHz and 2.4GHz MacBooks selling for $US799, $US849, $US999, and $US1049 respectively. Performance-wise, these laptops are comparable to their new counterparts, so why pay $1299 when you can pay $799 or $849? Is it really worth all that extra cash for the bump up in RAM and graphics? For most non-gaming non-video-editing users, the need for unibody construction and a glass multi-touch trackpad are luxuries, no matter how nice. Keep in mind that all Apple reburbs include a one-year warranty that protects against defects in materials and workmanship under normal use.
Dell: One of the good things about Dell is that they allow the customer to select between different kinds of refurbished inventory:
• Certified Refurbished: Laptops that have been returned to Dell, put through the production process, and then again retested to ensure they meet all original factory specifications (may have cosmetic damages).
• Previously Ordered New: Laptops that were shipped out to a customer who opened the box, but decided to return the system without ever turning it on. All of these computers have undergone testing and repackaging by the Dell Outlet. Previously Ordered New systems do not have any cosmetic damages.
• Scratch and Dent: Laptops with considerable cosmetic blemishes that do not affect performance. Scratch and Dent computers will not have scratches or pits on the screen, missing or illegible letters on the keyboard, or damage to the touchpad or palmrest. These PCs have also undergone a rebuilding and testing process.
Obviously, this system allows you to choose the level of prior usage that you are willing to live with, which also gives you greater budgetary flexibility. For example: A base model Dell XPS M150 will run you about $US949. You can get a "Certified Refurb" with a faster processor and more RAM for as little as $US809. I also saw a "Scratch and Dent" version with a faster processor and more RAM for $US759. All Dell refurbs come with a 1-3 year limited hardware warranty. Just make sure you check through all of the inventory for your selection to find the best deal.
Lenovo: Like Dell, Lenovo offers three choices with regard to outlet laptops:
• New: A cancelled order that never shipped.
• Redistributed: The laptop was shipped and returned unopened. It was never used by the customer. All products are tested and inspected.
• Refurbished: The laptop was returned with the factory seal broken. It may or may not have been used by the customer. All products are tested and inspected.
The Lenovo Outlet offers plenty of big sales and deep discounts on their ThinkPad laptops, so at any one time you should be able to find something that suits your needs at an affordable price. For example: a base model untouched X61s ultraportable will run you about $US1029 (on sale from $US1540). I found a "New" X61s with twice the battery capacity, more processing speed and memory for about $US936. I also found a "Refurbished" version with similar specs for only $US832. All outlet models come with a limited warranty.
So, if you are working on a budget I hope this has convinced you that A) you should focus on a laptop that is suited to your needs and B) if you know where to look and what to look for, buying a refurbished laptop is a smart option.
Finally, don't let horror stories deter you from investigating refurbs. Problems happen, and people can be vocal about those problems, but if you are dealing with reputable retailers, the risk is slim. If you are still worried consider this: In another recent Question of the Day, I asked readers point-blank whether or not they would purchase (or have purchased) a refurbished laptop. The results revealed that 32 per cent of the respondents actually bought a refurb, and less than 7 per cent had had a bad experience. Those are some good, if non-scientific, odds.