Buying refurbished systems

Buing refurbished systems

What to look for and where to look for it.

If you’ve never bought a refurbished device before, you might wonder what you should expect. Clearly the process of buying a pre-owned device isn’t identical to buying a fresh one, even if it’s been professionally restored, but how different is it? To try to help you understand just how simple refurbished hardware can be, we’ve taken a look at the different types of systems you might choose to buy refurbished and what things you should look for when you’re trying to pick one. Follow our advice and you can be certain that whatever you decide to buy, you’ll end up with exactly what you wanted.

Refurbished desktops can vary hugely in quality and construction. Desktop systems are the easiest to build and modify, so if you buy a refurbished system, you have no clear way of knowing how extensive – or not – the modifications are. If you buy from a manufacturer or retailer, you should have a fairly good idea of its provenance, but second-hand or third-party sales are much more of a grey area.

The good news is that refurbished desktop systems are normally incredibly cheap, and their flexibility makes them the easiest to improve and modify yourself. It’s unlikely that you’ll find a desktop system refurbished to the specifications you were looking for, but at the same time it’s very easy to take a refurbished system that’s close and make the improvements you’d like to have seen – something that’s virtually impossible to do with laptops, tablets and games consoles.

As with all refurbished hardware, desktop systems are tested before they go on sale, but with so much about a system that might go wrong, it’s hard to be clear what the original problem was and whether it was actually fixed – if, indeed, there was a problem at all. There’s only so much that can be done, and if the problem was a very rare one, it may not have been replicable (and therefore fixed) by the person selling it at all.

If you buy an open-box system, it’s possible that the only reason it’s being sold as refurbished is that the buyer customised it then didn’t want it. Rather than dismantle the hardware completely, retailers and manufacturers would rather discount the system, remove anything with enough second-hand resale value, and recover the cost by selling it as refurbished.

Whether you buy from a manufacturer or a retailer, refurbished desktops are far more trustworthy than a normal second-hand desktop that you might find on eBay or some other third-party sales venue. The main thing you can expect is some level of aftersales support, which you won’t be entitled to if you buy person-to-person.

The down side of this is that when you buy a refurbished desktop, they’re going to lose most of their already-discounted value. Don’t buy a desktop system if your plan is to make an investment or flip it for profit. Only buy a desktop system over any other if you’re planning to make use of its extra power and customisability (e.g. it’s a gaming system) or if you’re planning to use up as much of its lifespan as possible.

When you’ve bought a desktop system from a refurbished source, all you really need to check is that it isn’t going to fall over any time soon. We’d recommend checking the hard drive and RAM for integrity, and maybe doing a stress test on the CPU and graphics chipset. As long as those are fine, you can at least be sure that your system will remain in working order as you use it.

If you’ve ever owned a laptop, you’ll know that they aren’t very customisable. There are some parts you can replace, like batteries, keyboards and even screens, but the most important components are integrated into the motherboard.

It is possible to replace some laptop parts at home, but the core components – the motherboard and CPU – if you tried to replace those, you’d essentially have a whole new laptop.

For this reason, refurbished laptops have a slight edge over refurbished desktops. Even those that have been taken apart and repaired have been handled by either the manufacturers or someone who has a very good idea of what they’re doing. That creates a level of trust in the performance and quality of repairs that might not be there with more the complicated desktop refurbs.

Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to buy a refurbished laptop in any case where you don’t require the most high-end unit available on the market. You get the choice of spending less of your budget on the system you want or getting better specifications for the money you spend. Either way, it’s better value. Looking for a well-known brand is still important, since that determines the baseline level of quality, and in some cases you’ll still even have the manufacturer warranty.

As usual, though, the ambiguity of the term ‘refurbished’ can be an issue. A refurbished laptop could be one that has had faulty parts replaced with fresh examples. It might be one that has had a cracked screen replaced with a completely new one. Or it might be a second-hand one that has been reformatted, put in a new box and sold as a reconditioned unit. There’s no way to be certain what route it took back to the shelves unless the retailer tells you.

At the minimum, a refurbished laptop should at least have had its hard drives wiped and its exterior given a good clean, if not replaced entirely. Make sure your expectations are tempered, though. Laptops that have been used are never going to look the way they did out of the factory, whether it’s dust in the hinges or scratches on the case.

As with desktops, you may find that if you buy a refurbished laptop, you’re unable to chance its specifications as you would with a completely new model. This might not be a problem if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t worry too much about the specific components in their computer, but if you’re after a particular combination of brands and hardware, you might be waiting a long time until the right refurbished laptop comes around. As we’ve established, it’s difficult to upgrade a laptop yourself, so don’t buy one unless it’s exactly what you want or you don’t care what’s inside it.

The good thing about laptops is that even refurbished ones hold their resale value pretty convincingly. Admittedly, they did so much more reliably before tablets started knocking around the market, but if you want to resell a laptop system – even a refurbished one – there probably won’t be a lot of difficulty in doing so.

Unlike desktops and laptops, refurbished tablets are usually good value and tend to be in good condition, because virtually the only way to get them into that state is by returning them to the manufacturer. It’s possible for third-party organisations to perform a repair job, but even then it’s only on minor aspects like the screen and battery.

If you open up a tablet’s shell, all you find inside are non-modifiable electronics. That means in a refurb, the most important components should still be in good condition. As long as you can get past the idea that you’re not the first person to be swiping your fingers across a screen (unless, of course, the screen was replaced!), then the discounts you can pick up are significant and have no practical downside. Manufacturer refurbishments even come with the original warranty intact.

The limited number of system configurations compared to desktops and laptops makes it much easier to check what sort of deal you’re getting. Before you buy a refurbished tablet, check the price of a new model to make sure the discount is good enough. You’re looking for 15-20% for a good price, and maybe as much as 40% once you reach the high end of the market. On older devices, the discount can be even bigger. If you want a tablet for under £75, refurbs of items just a couple of years old will sell below that price.

One thing you should be aware of is that refurbished tablets might be older models than the latest ones on sale. This can potentially lead to problems with both software and hardware compatibility. You might be prevented from using certain features of software that you were expecting to be available and, if nothing else, the operating lifespan of the device will be significantly shorter than a new one. The average tablet is probably good for about three to four years or so, but unlike desktops and laptop systems, there aren’t any ways to improve tablets when they start to fall below the market baseline.

If you do buy a refurbished tablet, there are a few things you need to check before you can consider your transaction complete. In particular, you should check the battery holds its charge well. It’s also worth checking that the screen responds properly to your touch and that it has no major problems with dead or stuck pixels. Remember to check the microphone, the speakers and any cameras too, as these components could be faulty for weeks before you actually notice.

Perhaps the best thing about tablets is that they’re currently very desirable items, even second hand, so should you come to resell them, you’re likely to get close to your original outlay – certainly much closer than you would with some other devices. This desirability also means that refurbished tablets don’t hang around long. If you think a refurb tablet is for you, don’t waste time deliberating. As soon as you spot one on sale, you should buy it before someone else does!Refurbished games consoles mostly come on sale through specialist gaming and entertainment retailers, of which the UK has vanishingly few left. That said, walk into your local Game or СEX, and there’s a chance you’ll spot one for sale, and if you want to save money, it’s definitely one way of getting an instant discount on an item that’s often hard to find much of a discount on.

Most of the time, a refurbished games console from these outlets hasn’t undergone any specific hardware adjustment or repairs. They tend to be second-hand consoles, which have been traded in by regular customers with their original packaging and given a factory reset by the retailer. At best, you might get the peripherals and cables replaced. In other cases, they may be returned items, which the customer deemed to be faulty but which the retailer can’t determine any fault with.

To give a real-world example, Game’s policy on refurbished consoles indicates that all units are tested and reset/reformatted before going back on sale, but warns that consoles may not arrive in their original box and may not have all of their original accessories. If you buy a PS4, for example, you may not get a headset, but you are guaranteed the basics: a console, a controller, a controller charger, a power lead and an HDMI cable.

On the other hand, some specialist online refurbishers sell the console only, as a replacement for those that have failed, so owners don’t have to pay for doubles of working peripherals they already own. Check before you buy whether you’re paying for the entire system rather than just the base unit.

In any case, buying refurbished games consoles isn’t a significantly different prospect to buying any other refurbished system. There may be cosmetic imperfections, but equally, there may not. Accessories may be missing, but equally, they may not.

One of the ways it is different is that gaming companies (Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo) may ban a console from online use if it has previously been associated with piracy, whether that’s through direct modification or some other channel. In these cases, the ban is applied to the console, so even if you buy one second hand that has been thoroughly reset and verified clean, there’s a possibility it won’t be able to use the online services associated with the brand.

For this reason, if you do buy a refurbished console, it’s worth asking specifically about this. If they can’t guarantee the console isn’t banned from online services, at least secure some assurance that you can return it if does turn out to be banned.

Hopefully, that’s given you a few guidelines to follow when it comes to buying refurbished systems. Remember, in the majority of cases, there’s no reason refurbished systems wouldn’t perform just as well as new ones, so don’t worry too much. Don’t forget to check them out, but only as a precaution. Most of the time, you can’t go wrong!.

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