5 things you should know when buying a refurbished or used Mac

Macbook computer
Buying a used Mac can be a smart move if you do the proper research.

  • Buying a used Mac can save you some money, but there are some important things to look out for. 
  • Be sure to test a used Mac — make sure the screen doesn’t have dead pixels and that the ports work, among other operational aspects.
  • You should also verify the Mac’s specs and ensure the battery is in good condition.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

You can save a lot of money by buying a previously owned Mac. As soon as a computer leaves the retailer it loses a lot of its value, but a Mac that is a few years old can still be a great value.

5 things you should know when buying a used Mac

There are always a few risks associated with getting a secondhand computer, though, so here are a few things you need to know about buying a used Mac. 

Refurbished is usually better than used

There’s an enormous market for previously owned Macs out there, and you can buy a used Mac directly from a private owner – or you can get a refurbished model which has the advantage of being inspected, have bad components replaced, certified in good condition and even features warranty coverage. In general, getting a refurbished Mac is a lot safer than buying an unwarranted used computer, and you can find refurbished models at reputable reseller sites and even directly from Apple

Beware of the Mac’s impending obsolescence 

Every Mac, regardless of model or age, will eventually become obsolete.  That means it will no longer be supported by Apple, and you won’t be able to install OS updates and security patches. For a used Mac to be a good value, you want one that puts that obsolescence date as far in the future as possible. It’s a good idea to not invest in a used Mac that is more than three years old, because Apple tends to support its computers for about six years. Also, keep in mind that Apple is moving away from Intel processors. As Macs with Intel chips are phased out in favor of Apple’s own silicon, your used Intel-based Mac may start to encounter obsolescence sooner than you expect. 

Get the details on the used Mac

If you’re buying a Mac from a private seller, you might need that person’s help to get a detailed look at the computer before you make the purchase. The easiest way to find out all the important specs at once – including the year the model was produced – is to ask for a screenshot of the “About This Mac” screen, found in the Apple menu. It will tell you details like the model, serial number, RAM, version of the OS, and more. 

Make sure there isn’t a firmware password

The previous owner might have set up a firmware password, which can prevent you from booting your Mac from a USB port, which might be important during troubleshooting or disaster recovery. To find out, start the Mac and hold down the Option key. If you’re asked for a password, ask the owner to turn it off before you buy the computer.  

Test the Mac to make sure it works properly

If you can spend some time with the Mac before you buy, there are some simple tests you can run to make sure the computer is in good working order. Minor cosmetic blemishes are no big deal, but if the battery doesn’t hold a charge, that might be a dealbreaker. 

Perform a factory reset

When you buy a used Mac, you don’t know the history of what’s been on the hard drive. The previous owner probably performed a factory reset, but there’s no reason to take chances – it might have malware installed even if it looks clean. For details on how to do that, read our article “How to wipe a Mac computer, and reset it to its factory settings.”

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5 things you should know when buying a used PC laptop or desktop

online shopping with laptop at home
Buying a computer, even a used one, is a big decision that requires keeping a few things in mind.

  • If you’re looking to buy a used or refurbished PC, there are some important things to look out for. 
  • Avoid buying a computer that’s more than three years old, and watch out for components that are out of date or obsolete.
  • If you’re getting a used laptop, make sure the battery holds a charge and works properly. 
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

A new computer can be expensive, and like a car, it loses a lot of its value the moment you take it home. 

There’s a huge marketplace of used computers out there, which means you can potentially save money, but you should be aware of some common pitfalls before you buy your next used PC.

5 things you should know before you buy a used PC

It pays to understand a few rules of the road before you bring a used PC into your home or office. 

Avoid computers that are more than about 3 years old

Moore’s Law is a rule of thumb in the computer industry that predicts computers double in performance about every two years. That’s still roughly true, but the overall pace of personal computer innovation has slowed in the last decade. A computer from 2017 looks and performs roughly the same as a computer from 2020. 

But as you head further back in time, PCs start to show their age – the CPU will be noticeably more sluggish, the computer will lack USB-C connections for modern mobile devices, and the stock hard drive size will shrink to claustrophobic levels. 

The bottom line is that computers more than about three years old will likely need to be replaced sooner – making them a bad investment.   

Keep an eye on the specs

If you’re getting a computer that’s a few years old, it may be hard to know if you’re getting a good value, especially if you don’t stay current on computer tech. 

  • First and foremost, avoid computers with hard disk drives (HDDs). Consider a solid state drive (SSD) absolutely mandatory, regardless of the computer’s age. It should also be at least 128 GB in size; some older PC laptops came with tiny 64 GB SSDs that are almost unusably small. 
  • As for the processor, look for a 7th generation or later Intel Core CPU. You can tell because it’ll have a number like -7000, -8000 or higher, like Intel Core i5-8400. Anything older than 7th generation, or a budget CPU like a Celeron, will feel too slow. 
  • You should also look for full HD IPS displays. TN-based screens will look dull and washed out, and resolutions less than 1920×1080 won’t give you much screen space to work with. 

Check the laptop’s battery

The single most critical component in a laptop is the battery, and an aging (and failing) battery is the most common reason why someone would sell their old laptop. 

If you buy a used machine, test the battery right away: Make sure you can charge it to full, and then run the laptop until the battery dies. If you have time, repeat the test a second time. If you find that the battery can’t hold a reasonable charge, you should probably return it for a refund, unless you can replace the battery inexpensively. Keep in mind that it might be hard to get a replacement battery for an older laptop. 

Wipe the hard drive before you start to use the PC

Can you trust a used computer’s hard drive? Probably not – it might have malware installed, even if it appears to be wiped and ready for use. That’s why it’s a good idea to wipe the hard drive yourself before you start using a used or even refurbished computer. 

Stick with refurbished computers

You can find computers billed as both “used” and “refurbished.” A refurbished laptop or desktop PC has been inspected to make sure it’s working, comes with a warranty, and often has worn components replaced to return it to like-new condition. This is especially important for a laptop, which should have a new battery installed. Various manufacturers sell factory-refurbished computers from their own website – check out Apple, Dell, HP and Best Buy’s Lenovo page, for example. 

A used computer is just that – used. It’s usually sold as-is and isn’t backed with a warranty. While you’re generally safer buying a refurb, a used PC might be okay as long as you can return it for a refund if anything is amiss – be sure to test it quickly and thoroughly after you buy it.

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