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Tips for Buying Refurbished Computers

Chris Peters

While nonprofits may hold on to hardware equipment until the last bit of life has been squeezed out of it, many corporations abandon working computers in good condition after just three or four years of use. While this equipment may be outdated for the bleeding-edge needs of a large enterprise, that doesn't mean that it doesn't have years of life that it can offer your organization — especially when its components have been examined and updated by a professional refurbisher.

Two obvious reasons to consider refurbished machines are the environment and your budget. Not only does refurbishing keep working computers out of landfills, storage, or out of countries where equipment may be dismantled under unsafe conditions, refurbished desktop computers usually cost between $100 and $300, generally half the cost of a comparably configured new computer.

In the United States, you can find refurbished laptops, desktops, handheld devices, and nearly any other type of hardware in a wide variety of models and specifications. Does this mean that you should run out and pick up a refurbished computer the next time you need a new PC at your office? Perhaps — but not without doing some research and planning in advance. Below, we'll provide some tips for finding a quality, affordable refurbished machine that works for your organization's needs, and identify some good places to get started.

Before Purchasing a Refurbished Computer

  1. Carefully think through your current and future computing needs.

    A three-year-old refurbished PC may have enough juice to run Microsoft Office, but it might choke on the latest video-editing software. A quick Google search or a glance at the packaging will tell you the minimum and recommended system requirements for a particular piece of software. Make sure your computers meet at least the recommended requirements for the operating system you plan to install, and anything else you will need to use on a regular basis. Good tech planning and a thorough needs assessment are good ways to ensure that you know what your requirements will be today — and down the road.

  2. Always buy from a qualified refurbisher.

    If you buy used computers from a flea market or the classified section, you probably won’t be happy with the results. Authorized refurbishers, on the other hand, test each computer they receive thoroughly, repair them if necessary, and may do some simple upgrades. (At the end of the article, we'll show you places to find authorized refurbishers.)

  3. As with new computers, try to buy machines with identical parts.

    Refurbishers often receive hundreds or thousands of PCs from a particular company, allowing you to buy a batch of 50 computers that have the same hard drive, motherboard, sound card, and more.

  4. Pay attention to the warranty and the return policy.

    You probably won’t get a three-year warranty on a refurbished machine, but a three-month warranty to cover any out-of-the-box problems is fairly standard. Also, how quickly can the company or refurbisher respond when a machine needs repairs under the warranty?

  5. Check the refurbisher’s fail and return rates.

    According to Jim Lynch, Computer Recycling & Reuse Director for TechSoup’s GreenTech Program, the industry standard has a less than 12 percent failure rate, which means it’s worth finding out if the refurbisher you’re considering has a higher or lower rate of returns or failures for the equipment they sell.

  6. Find out what operating system (if any) comes with the computer.

    Some refurbished computers come with Windows Vista or Windows XP, while others will include an older operating system — or none at all. This may not make a difference if you plan to configure the computer with an image CD, however: Since many refurbished computers arrive with little or no software installed, disk cloning is often the best way to quickly and efficiently prepare the workstation for deployment. Keep in mind that you would still need individual licenses for any software whether it is preinstalled on a refurbished machine or installed using disk cloning or an image CD.

  7. Learn what peripherals are included.

    Refurbished computers rarely come with a monitor, so be sure to include that in your budget. If you need DVD drives, wireless network cards, or other optional components, examine the details of the specification sheet to make sure those are included as well.

Where to Find Quality Refurbished Computers

  • Large, commercial suppliers of refurbished computers may be an option for some nonprofits. Some of the better-known vendors include:
    • Redemtech is a Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher that sells Windows XP installed desktops and laptops with a 90-day warranty plus Microsoft service and support.
    • TechTurn Refurbished Computers is a Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher selling open-box, refurbished, and scratch and dent inventory with a 90-day warranty and genuine Windows software.
    • Intechra Outlet sells factory refurbished excess inventory, open-box returns, and off-lease computers and monitors with a 120-day parts/labor warranty.
    • Dell Outlet sells previously ordered new, certified refurbished, and scratch and dent inventory with the same Dell warranty given to customers buying built-to-order Dell systems and a 21-day return policy.
    • HP Outlet sells refurbished desktops and laptops with either 90-day or 1-year warranties depending upon the model purchased.

This article was adapted from a chapter in Recipes for a 5-Star Library, a compilation of technology tips and techniques created by TechSoup's MaintainIT Project, an effort funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to gather and distribute stories around maintaining and supporting public computers.

Image: Computer hardware, Shutterstock