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The Definitive Guide To Buying A Used Laptop

Thursday 10 September 2009, by

laptop_guideBuying a used laptop saves money and helps the environment by keeping usable equipment out of landfills. But like any used item, you need to take a few extra precautions to make sure you’re getting a good value. The following guidelines can help you select the best used laptop for your needs, and your budget.

What type of laptop do you want?

Laptop manufacturers pay big money for marketing experts who can make you feel you absolutely must have the latest laptop on the market. But for many of us with average computing needs, a model that’s two or three years old, or even older, is able to satisfy most users. You may have your heart set on that fancy model you saw advertised in a glossy newspaper insert or television ad; but when you’re in the market for a used laptop, you need to be a little more realistic about your true needs. The best way to learn about older laptop models is to do a little online research. Once you’ve identified the brand of laptop you’re looking for, look for review sites online that can give you an idea of the computing power and reliability of the model.

Private sellers

considering the number of new laptops that are introduced each year, there’s no shortage of laptop owners looking to sell their current laptop in order to buy the latest model. The classified ads of most newspapers will have a wide selection of ads posted by men and women looking to rid themselves of their older laptops. Online classified sites like can be another great spot to look for laptops, and some electronic and computer shops offer used models that other customers have traded in. Computer repair shops can also have used models for sale that have been reconditioned, and in some cases, these units will come with a warranty. And don’t forget universities and colleges: students are especially prone to “must-haves” when it comes to electronics, and surprisingly good deals can often be found when these young men and women “must have” the latest model laptop. By far, the most popular sales venue for used laptops worldwide is Although laptops on eBay may be pricier than classified and other alternative avenues, the site has a marked advantage: every buyer on ebay has an opportunity to post a review of a seller, making it easy to see which sellers are reliable and which ones are not worth taking a risk on.

Professional resellers

Ebay is also a great place to find professional resellers who specialise in used computing equipment. For instance, Dell uses ebay to sell older models of its laptops that have been used by Dell employees, and then reconditioned before selling. When buying sight unseen, be SURE to read the description carefully. Any false claims can be grounds for getting a refund if you’re unhappy with your purchase when you receive it. If you use ebay or another online auction site, be sure to ask the seller any questions about condition prior to bidding. You can also contact computer manufacturers directly. Many manufacturers sell models that have been reconditioned, and often include warranties and, in some cases, new or refurbished batteries.

Check the chassis

If you’re going the classified route, you’ll undoubtedly have a chance to inspect the computer before buying it. When inspecting the laptop, remember: appearances do count. Although a few surface scratches and dings don’t necessarily mean the inner workings of the computer are damaged – in fact, minor scratches can occur fairly easily on some outer shell materials – deeper scratches, dings or dents can be an indication that this laptop was handled roughly, and may have a limited lifespan.

Check the lid

Look closely at the hinges to make sure they’re not loose and operate smoothly. Be sure to check to see that the top LCD portion aligns with the bottom keyboard portion when closed. Make sure the lid closes securely and that there is no warping or unevenness when closed. Also check to see that the bumper pads – those little rubber or plastic bumps on the edges of the lid – are still in place. Although not essential to the operation of the computer itself, they can help ensure that there is no undue or excessive stress on the laptop hinges, which can eventually cause the LCD to malfunction or even disengage from the laptop chassis.

Check the LCD

LCDs are often the first components to go on a laptop, and can be very costly to replace. Be sure to check the LCD screen for any pinkish or purplish haze, as well as any dead pixels. A dead pixel here or there isn’t a major concern, but a rash of blank dots on the screen can be annoying. Look for any waviness in the screen, especially on powering up and when the laptop is moved.

Check the input devices

The keyboard, touchpad and trackpoint (if the laptop has one) bear the brunt of use on any computer. Be sure to turn the laptop on and check to see that the keys all function without sticking, and that the touchpad controls the cursor properly. Check the plug adapter, as well as the USB ports – it’s a good idea to carry a USB cable to check these inputs for broken pins or blocked sockets. Also make sure the adapter that comes with the unit is still in good working order. Take along a flash drive if you have one to make sure the USB port can transfer your data.

CD/DVD drives

Make sure the drive opens smoothly, and take along a CD or DVD (if the model has a DVD driver) to check functionality for both playing and burning. Be sure to check all functionality included in the specific model you’re considering. These can include CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R, DVD+R DL, and others.


The type of processor you need depends on what you’ll be using the computer for. Pentium, Athlon, Centrino, AMD – how can you tell which one is right for you? The best way to determine which will be good for your needs is to do some research online. Once you identify a laptop that seems like a good deal, check processor reviews to make sure you’ll have enough power and speed. Simple web surfing and word processing tasks have far fewer demands on a processor than gaming, which requires a much faster – and more expensive – processor.


Most new laptops come with at least a 40 GB hard drive, with 60 GB and 80 GB becoming more common. An older laptop may have a smaller hard drive; however, you can replace a hard drive with an upgraded, larger drive, and even attach an additional external drive for more storage. Regardless of the drive’s size, be sure to listen for scraping, clicking or screeching noises when the drive is in use, as this can indicate serious problems with the drive itself.


Most used laptops have batteries that have seen better days. Replacing a laptop’s battery can be costly, although less expensive generic batteries are available for most older laptops. In case of battery failure, make sure the power adapter and cord are in good working order. Laptops form professional resellers may have new or reconditioned batteries included in the cost of the unit.

Internet connectivity

Be sure to ask the seller to go online while you’re checking out the computer. If the computer has WiFi capability, it’s a good idea to meet somewhere with a WiFi connection so you can also check to make sure the computer is able to connect via WiFi sources.


When it comes to RAM, more is definitely better. Most computers benefit from at least 1 GIG of RAM, but if the model you’re considering has less, it doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker: RAM is relatively cheap, and upgrades are usually fairly simple. More RAM means better, faster overall performance, so do consider an upgrade after your purchase if your laptop has less than you feel you require. The computer manufacturer website should have details on how to upgrade RAM yourself, or you can take it to a computer shop and have it installed.

OS and drivers

Make sure the laptop has the operating system and necessary drivers installed. Many cheap laptops on ebay do not have these installed which will add extra expense. Many business models sold by computer manufacturers do not have DVD drivers, so be sure to check if you’re interested in using your laptop to watch movies. Drivers can be purchased and downloaded.


Does the computer come with any software? Sure, you can buy new software and programs – and even find some for free – but if the seller is basing his or her price on the fact that the laptop comes with software, be sure to check that the software is fully installed and functional. Also ask for any manuals the seller may have. In some cases, you may want to ask the seller to transfer his or her registration to you so that you can receive any software updates or other notifications from the manufacturer.

Scan it if you can

If the laptop has anti-spyware or virus protection installed – and it should – ask the seller to run a scan to check for the presence of harmful malware, such as viruses and Trojans. Some scans can take awhile, so see if the seller can run it the night before and print out or save a dated copy of the scan for your review.

Weight and size

Laptops from even a year or two ago may be considerably heavier than today’s models, so be sure to pick it up to make sure the weight, as well as the overall size and shape, are comfortable for you.


The most subjective characteristic, the overall feel you get from your potential laptop is important. After all, you’ll be using it regularly. Does the laptop look and feel as though it’s been well cared for, and as though it will last you for at least another year or two? Will it perform all the functions you need? A laptop is a personal item, with choice based on personal needs, so be sure to be honest with yourself and not simply buy it because it happens to be convenient. There are a lot of used models out there to choose from, so take your time.

Have a checkup

If the seller allows it, see if you can take the laptop to a reputable computer shop for a checkup, which can reveal functionality problems with hardware, as well as detect spyware or viruses. In some cases, operating systems and software components can also be scanned.

Read reviews

As noted in the first tip, reading reviews online is a great way to make sure you’re informed about the laptop model you’re considering. Don’t restrict yourself to descriptions of the physical unit itself; many reviews have been written at the time of the laptop’s release and these details are not germane to the laptop’s appropriateness for your needs. Identify the microprocessor chip used in the unit and look for reviews on it, as well. Reviews from sites like or consumer sites are good starting points, but also look for user reviews that have been written more recently to see how the laptop has performed in repeated use by real owners of the model.

Like any other item, buying a used laptop requires time to research the models that are right for your needs, as well as a dose of caution to make sure the seller is honest. These guidelines can help you identify the best used laptop for your needs, and help you avoid the hassles that can come with buying any used product.


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