Monday, 7 November 2016

Refurbished Laptops Guide

Refurbished Laptops Guide

How can you get the best deal on used systems?

Buying a refurbished system or refurbishing your own, is fairly simple when you’re talking about desktop PCs or simple consumer electronics like tablets and phones. But what about if you’re after a cheap laptop? They’re harder to repair and clean, and virtually impossible to outfit with new hardware outside of a few small elements. So what can you do, and what should you look for?

Over the next few pages, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about getting your hands on a refurbished laptop – and what you should expect to find if you want one.

Do You Actually Want One?

Before you go looking for laptop refurbs, ask yourself this question: is a refurbished laptop what you actually want? You need to remember that refurbished hardware can encompass a range of quality. It might be one that was simply returned and reboxed or it might be one that’s been through a professional recycling job and restored to order. If you’re someone who lives for the moment the packaging comes off, a refurb won’t necessarily be up your street.

However, if you’re all about the bargains, refurbished laptops are by far the best way to get one. Laptops retain their value well on the secondary market, but like a new car they instantly lose a huge chunk of their value the moment they get touched by someone else.

As with all second-hand goods, part of that is because you take on more risk in buying one. When you buy a refurbished laptop, you should look out for the following assurances that it isn’t junk – or that if it is, you’ll be able to get your money back.

First, look for a warranty. Most refurbished laptops have one, which will probably be anything from 30 days to a year. If it’s being sold as-is, with no warranty, you have good reason to be suspicious. Note that the warranty probably won’t apply to the battery life, but luckily replacement batteries are quite easy to come by (see ‘Replacement Batteries’).

At the very least, check for a returns policy. If a retailer won’t let you bring it back, even though your statutory rights allow you to, then they may not have gone through the necessary procedures to ensure it works as it should and are hoping you assume the risk. If you buy off the Internet, you should be within your rights to return the laptop within 30 days, no questions asked. Expect to cover return postage yourself, but you should get a full refund for the item.

How Much Should You Spend?

The price of a refurbished laptop all depends on its age and condition. We’d recommend that models under a year old should be around 10% less than original price, though if you go for older models you should expect as much as 40% off its retail value. Beyond that, there’s probably no profit in selling a refurbished item so don’t expect miracle bargains.

The cheapest refurbished laptops start at about £100, but these tend to be small-screened Chromebooks and netbooks rather than full systems. If you want one capable of running Windows 10 at all, the price will be closer to £150 – though bear in mind that these will still be lowspec machines and might struggle to perform well.

Closer to £200, you’ll start to find more conventional-looking midrange laptops. Expect 4GB of RAM and 13” screens, neither of which you’re likely to see at cheaper prices. Admittedly, for £200 you can buy a new laptop, but the refurbished ones will have higher specs. Storage is still likely to be an issue: even for £200, you won’t see many that exceed 32GB of SSD storage.

If you see anything with more storage than that at this price, it’s because it contains a mechanical drive, and you probably don’t want one of those if you’re planning to use your laptop long-term – they’re by far the leading cause of slowness in old systems.

What Specs Do You Need?

When you’re trying to price out your purchase, it makes sense to think about the specs you’re looking for. We think the best option is to concentrate on the things that can’t be upgraded, so the CPU and the screen size. If the CPU is slow you can’t do much about it in a laptop, even if it’s new, and screens can’t be changed in any meaningful way. If you buy an 11” laptop, that’s all it’s ever going to be.

On the other hand, a laptop with 2GB of RAM can easily be upgraded to 4GB, and a 32GB SSD takes up the same amount of space, internally, as a 250GB one – so you can always take a gamble on these specs and tweak them later if they seem too low.

Likewise, features like built-in wi-fi, Bluetooth, webcams and microphones are nice, and come as standard on high-end models – but don’t be disheartened if the system you want lacks them because it’s relatively easy to add them afterwards.

Remember, though - when it comes to buying a refurbished or second-hand laptop, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to simply pick the specs you want. Instead, expect to find something close to what you’re after and accept a little compromise on either capability or pricing.

The acceptable capabilities of your laptop might also depend on what you’re actually using it for. If you’re trying to buy a gaming system on the cheap, a discrete graphics chipset is a must, but most users won’t really require one. 3G (or even 4G) capabilities are useful if you’re planning to be on the go a lot, but it’s also easy to add that after the fact. The more you know about what your laptop is going to do, the easier it is to select one.

If you want a general purpose multimedia all-rounder, we’d recommend going for a system with a Core i3 inside at the very least. If you’re just looking for a machine that can do web browsing and word processing (no video, particularly) then you can probably get away with an Atom or Celeron – and if you want a gaming system, aim for an i5, but an i3 with a discreet graphics chipset is probably fine too.

Where Should You Look?

The good news is that there are lots of potential vendors you can check to find refurbished laptops, whether that’s a specialist refurbishment retailer, a general computing retailer or a manufacturer’s outlet site. You can even check eBay if you want a rock-bottom bargain, but buying from individuals can be risky even with their buyer protections.

Popular manufacturers who have outlet stores include Lenovo (, Apple (, Asus (, Acer ( and Dell (, though virtually any manufacturer you choose will have one somewhere, even if it’s simply an eBay account selling through their stock. The problem with manufacturer outlets is that their stock is very scarce, but it’s also the source of the best-quality second hand goods you could hope for because it’s mostly just items that were returned soon after purchase.

Alternatively, you can look at standard retailers. Amazon has a huge amount of refurbished laptops on sale, all clearly marked, and the benefit of being a large marketplace with solid consumer protections. All you have to do is search. Currys and PC world also have their own clearance/outlet store which is full of laptops ( so that’s certainly worth a look. Ebuyer has a clearance section ( as do CCL ( while Scan’s is run through eBay ( Again, availability is often scarce, so if you’re trying to buy from one of these places you’ll have to check often for the product you want.

The best choice, though, will be found on the websites of specialist secondhand laptop stores. Check out Laptops Direct (, Tier 1 online (, The Laptop Centre ( and Laptop Outlet ( for often expansive amounts of hardware to choose from.

Once You’ve Decided

When you’ve picked a laptop, you might think you have nothing left to do but sit back and enjoy it, right? Well, not quite yet.

First, when you buy your laptop, make sure you buy it on a credit card. Unlike debit cards, you’ll get built-in fraud protection in case anything goes wrong, allowing you to recover your money – and when you’re spending that much on a single thing, you’ll want to make sure you don’t lose your cash!

When the laptop arrives, you should test it thoroughly at the first opportunity. See how long the battery lasts under normal use, when it’s not plugged in, especially if you’ve been told there’s a new one in there. Benchmark the processor to make sure it’s operating within expected tolerances. And run a check on the hard drive, so you can be sure there aren’t any bad or failing sectors you need to worry about.

You should also run through the basics – do all the keys and USB ports work, is the power button responsive, are there any dead pixels on the screen that shouldn’t be there – are the hinges working fine? Anything you can think of is worth testing, if only so you can discuss them with the seller if they weren’t mentioned in the original listing.

Remember, too, to check the software licences. Make sure you’re not using someone else’s Windows installation, and that it’s correctly activated and working. If you’ve been given a duff copy of an operating system it’ll cost you in the region of £80-£100 to correct, which is a significant amount of money. Don’t accept something that isn’t genuine and legitimate.

Once you’re happy with all this, the good news is that you can now start enjoying your laptop – and making plans for the money you saved by buying a refurb!

Replacement Batteries

Replacing a laptop’s battery can go a long way to making it seem like new – and luckily, it’s something you can do at home as long as you’re willing to spend a few quid.

Like all rechargeable batteries, Li-On-based cells lose their ability to hold charge as they age. If you’ve had your laptop for a year or two, you’ll no doubt have noticed the drastic decrease in its capabilities compared to when you bought it. That’s why replacing it is a good way to bring your hardware back up to speed.

When it comes to choosing a battery, one of the important values to look at is the milliampere-hour or mAh rating. This gives you the capacity of the cells inside the battery, which broadly indicates their quality and size. For reference, a AAA battery is a single 1000mAh cell. A good laptop battery should be at least 5200mAh, while lower-quality generic brands are often 4400mAh.

The difference is that higher-capacity laptop batteries use high-quality cells, as manufactured by big name companies such as Sony, Samsung and LG. Cheaper, lower-quality batteries use cheaper cells with poorer quality control, which makes them more likely to fail – sometimes catastrophically.

A good way to check whether you’re buying a good or bad battery is to check the pricing. Good batteries cost towards, if not more than £100. The least reliable cost as little as £10, but anything under £30 is cheap enough to be highly suspicious. Don’t let yourself get taken in by good reviews on sites like Amazon – cheap batteries might perform as normal for the first six months or so, but their performance drops off quickly.

The reason the prices of bad batteries can be set so low is because the manufacturers have very low standards with regards to service lifespan, power capacity and safety performance. Power cells can also degrade even when they aren’t being used, so if you see a name-brand battery being sold extra-cheap, it might be that you’re seeing old, depleted stock being sold at as low a price as possible to recoup some of their cost. Buy a cheap battery and it might be only weeks away from becoming impractically inefficient.

In essence, if you’re trying to replace your laptop battery, be prepared to pay for quality. If you don’t think your hardware will last more than a year you can chance a lower-quality battery, but even then try to stick to the higher end of the price range. If you stay away from low-quality hardware, a battery upgrade can make your laptop feel like new. But buy the cheap stuff, and that’s what your laptop will feel like.