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How to buy a second-hand or refurbished laptop

By Michael Passingham

Do you want to save real money on your next laptop? Looking for second-hand or refurbished laptops could get you some heavy discounts on some great technology.

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In this guide:

The same Macbook Pro could cost you £1,249 new, £1,049 refurbished or £850 second-hand.

Deals on laptops are common all year round, but these savings pale in comparison to the used and refurbished market.

We take a look at your options, and the potential pitfalls, to help you decide if it’s really worth the extra to buy a new device.

Still not sure what you're looking for? Browse our pick of the best laptops.

What are refurbished laptops? 

A refurbished laptop has usually been professionally restored as close to ‘as new’ condition as possible by a manufacturer or retailer, and often comes with a warranty. A second-hand laptop is typically a used laptop sold ‘as-is’, and condition is far more variable.

Refurbished

  • These laptops will always be sold directly from a manufacturer, retailer or reseller such as Laptops Direct
  • They will either look 'as-new' or graded by quality (see below), so you know for sure what in what condition a laptop  will be before you buy it.
  • Prices will often be higher than on the second-hand market, as the laptops have been checked by professionals to ensure they're in working order and good physical condition.
  • You're guaranteed a warranty of some sort, as it's being sold on to you by a professional retailer.

Used or second-hand

  • You'll often be buying directly from its existing owner, meaning that transactions can be riskier.
  • The warranty is likely to have expired unless the device is less than two years old.
  • You can get a great price, as sellers may not know how much a used laptop is truly worth. Online auctions often result in low final prices, too. That said, there are professional bargain hunters looking at auction sites all the time, which keeps prices higher.
  • The laptop may well look visibly worn, and it may not come in its original box and may be missing some accessories. Double check with the seller what you’ll be receiving before paying.

What do refurbished laptop grades mean? 

Grades shown on refurbished laptops determine what condition the laptop is in, and what types of damage or wear and tear (if any) you can expect.

Refurbished computers typically fall into one of three categories. Most companies list them as A, B and C although the popular retailer Laptops Direct has called them a friendlier-sounding A1, A2 and A3.

Grade A laptops
Grade A is normally reserved for ‘open-box’ devices that have been barely used because they were unwanted and returned to a retailer. The laptop is in visibly flawless condition, with no scuffs, scratches or marks to the outer case. It will come in its original box and (most likely) with all of its original accessories. This is as close as you can get to buying brand new, and the cost will reflect that – sometimes discounts from new prices can be less than £50.

Grade B laptops
Grade B laptops are visibly used, but any damage is purely aesthetic. This might equate to minor scratches but nothing that’s noticeable during normal everyday use. It might not come with its original box or charger, but it should still come with a compatible charger. These can be 20% cheaper than a new model.

Grade C laptops
With Grade C, wear will be heavier than a Grade B unit and there may even be visible dents and scratches, but it will still be in full working order. You probably won’t get it in the original box, and it possibly won't have its accompanying accessories, but it should still come with a compatible charger, depending on the retailer. These can be more than a third cheaper than the equivalent new model.

Apple refurbs
If you’re buying a refurbished laptop directly from Apple, you’re likely to get one that’s in grade-A condition. Apple doesn't specify the level of damage, but the company says all of its refurbished models go through a rigorous testing process that is of the same standard as brand-new models. In other words, you should be safe.

How to spot good laptop deals 

Shopping in the second hand and refurbished market can be a bit of a minefield. We've found some examples of good and bad deals to give you some pointers on what to look for. 

Find out how old it is

This looks tempting, doesn’t it? A Core i5 laptop for as little as £80 is indeed an attractive deal. However, though it isn't initially clear, looking at the dropdown list of processors shows they’re first-generation models. In other words, these laptops are 9 or 10 years old.

Scroll further down the listing and the seller notes reveal that they’re ex-business laptops with small-capacity hard drives, which means they’re likely to feel very sluggish in everyday use and may have significant cosmetic damage. The fact you can’t choose a specific model also makes us wary, as do phrases like ‘Due To The Age Of The Laptop We Will Not Guarantee How Long The Battery Will Hold’.

The price is low, but if you want an effective laptop this probably isn’t the way to go.

Look for good quality listings and sellers

This looks like quite the bargain and the signs are all very positive. There are loads of pictures supplied in this listing, and the seller has even taken a picture of the screen to prove that it is indeed the 2017 MacBook Pro. With a 99% positive review score (and a history of positive feedback when selling other tech products when you click through to their seller’s profile page), all the signs are good. The seller also lists some minor damage on the lid and includes pictures of it. This is about as textbook a listing as you’ll find and an easy way of saving £400 on a recent MacBook Pro.

Still, you should exercise caution because you’ll get no warranty beyond whatever is left of Apple’s own cover, and be aware that there may be unseen damage the seller hasn’t disclosed.

Check the specs

Business laptops can be a great way of saving money, especially if they’ve been refurbished by the manufacturer. This Dell is an excellent example. With any purchase like this, searching the web for the model name is a great way of finding its age. In this case, it originally cost in excess of £1,000, so this is a huge saving.

With models like these, check how old the the hardware inside is. While this laptop does have an Intel Core i5 processor, the performance is probably closer to a modern Core i3. And it’ll be a lot less power-efficient so the battery may not last as long as a modern business laptop. It’s good to see that in this example there’s an SSD, so it will feel nippier than other old models that come with a slow hard disk.

You should also make sure the display meets your needs – this model has a lower resolution than Full HD. However, because it was a business laptop, we’d expect the quality to be better than average. In this case, a solid business laptop for under £300 is a great deal.

Don't be seduced by the discount

This is an example of a discount looking bigger than it actually is. We last recorded this laptop being on sale for £250 brand-new, so the £102 discount stated here is slightly off the mark.

This is also a lesson in doing a quick web search for laptops with similar specifications; Google for ‘Intel Celeron N3060 laptop’ and you’ll find various brand-new laptops available for around the same price. Also keep in mind that doing a web search for the processor by itself will reveal how old it is; the official Intel and AMD websites both have full records of all processors past and present. In this case, this processor is three years old and has been superceded several times by faster Celeron processors such as the N4000.

Always shop around

Finally, always shop around before you buy. In this example, an Asus C101 laptop is on sale in Grade B used condition on eBay for around £220. 

This might seem reasonable for a laptop that originally cost £299 new, but at the time of writing Currys PC World had it on sale, brand new, for £199.

Is it risky to buy a second-hand laptop? 

While your rights on buying a refurbished laptop (see below) are clear, there are still downsides you should be on the lookout for.

New Windows, old machine: The great thing about Windows 10 is that it works on a wide variety of laptops. However, when installed on very old laptops it feels incredibly slow and really isn’t suited to very old hardware, even if it is technically compatible. Old business laptops (such as from our eBay example above) will not be fun to use.

Battery problems: If you’re buying a used laptop, it’s likely the battery has been around the block a few times. There’s not a huge amount you can do about this, aside from be prepared. If battery life is something you care about, check to see whether official spares are available or, at worst, check for compatible replacements.

Charging: Probably the most abused part of any laptop is the charger and the laptop’s charging ports. Plugged in and unplugged every day and stuffed into bags in a hurry, these are a common point of failure. If the seller of a second-hand laptop doesn’t show the state of the charging port or the charger, request images to see if it looks wonky or damaged. Spares are nearly always available, but are rarely cheap.

What are my rights with used or refurbished laptops? 

If you buy a refurbished machine from an online retailer, you’re covered by the Consumer Contracts Regulations. These regulations give you the right to change your mind for any reason and cancel the order - starting from the moment you order and ending 14 days from the day you receive the laptop.  

If you bought from an online or a physical shop, then you’re protected by the Consumer Rights Act if the laptop is faulty. Under that Act, you have a legal right to reject goods that are of unsatisfactory quality, unfit for purpose or not as described, and get a full refund - as long as you do it within 30 days from the date you take ownership of the laptop. After 30 days, you won’t be entitled to a full refund, although some sellers might offer you an extended refund period. You can however,ask for a repair or replacement. Keep in mind, though, that while individual online product listings may not state the exact level of wear-and-tear, the website will likely have a detailed page of the type of wear and tear you can expect from the grade of product you bought.

If you’re buying from a private seller, such as on eBay, the goods must be as described. There’s no obligation for the seller to inform you of faults, although on eBay, for example, buyers are encouraged to ask questions to get more information from sellers who have not provided a detailed listing. If you find a fault that wasn’t disclosed but you also didn’t check for before buying, you may be able to negotiate a solution with the seller, but they may not be under any obligation to help you or refund you, especially if they aren’t a business.

Can I get a warranty on second-hand laptops? 

The warranty on a refurbished laptop varies and can be as little as 30-days, but are more typically a year, or may even be up to three years.

Warranties depend entirely on the retailer you buy from. CeX/WeBuy offers a full two-year warranty on all products, while Laptops Direct only offers three months as standard. Many refurbished tech retailers will offer warranty extensions if you want extra peace of mind. Also remember that your rights under the Consumer Rights Act still apply: You still have a 30-day right to reject if the laptop isn't as described, fit for purpose or of satisfactory quality.

Meanwhile, Apple supplies a one-year warranty with its officially-refurbished products.

On a used laptop bought directly from the current owner, it’s unlikely you’ll get any warranty at all. The only exception to this will be if the laptop is still within its original manufacturer’s warranty.

However, the previous owner may have voided the warranty by either damaging the laptop or making modifications (such as changing the hard disk) not covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. It’s best to assume your laptop won’t be covered when you buy used. Always check with the seller before buying if you’re concerned and want more information about damage and modifications.

There’s always a small risk in buying refurbished and used. But a little research about what you’re buying and a good long look at detailed listings will help you understand what you’re likely to receive. We’d always recommend knowing exactly what device you’re buying (rather than buying from a job lot), but it’s up to you to decide how much risk you’re willing to take.

Now you're ready to start shopping, browse our laptop reviews to build a shortlist of suitable models.

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