It’s the Christmas season – and I bet a lot of people will be getting laptop computers for Christmas. And maybe not all of them new. There’s nothing wrong with buying a used laptop computer but you need to make sure you check it out before you plunk down your dollars. Just like a used car, don’t buy someone else’s problem!
Check the physical condition of the used laptop
- Does the case have any cracks? If so it could have been banged or dropped – not good at all.
- Are all the external connectors solid? If they wiggle around, it could be an issue that will require opening the case to tighten stuff up – or they may actually be broken internally.
- Connectors again – do they look right? USB connectors can be broken – and if they are, they won’t work right. Look for the little black piece (or blue with USB) in the socket.
- Things like DVD drives – do they seem to fit properly or do they have gaps?
- Do you see any damage to the LCD screen?
- Does the hinge feel solid? No slop?
Turn on the used laptop
- Listen to it carefully, do you hear any bad disk sounds? Multiple clicks or lots of disk noise usually is a sign of a hard drive problem on the horizon.
- Watch the screen if you are looking at a used laptop – check for dead pixels. Usually a dead pixel or two is not an issue, but lots of dead pixels can be a sign of an LCD on the fritz. Also notice if there are any particularly bright or dark areas.
- Watch the startup process run through. It should go smoothly to the operating system. If you get questions from the BIOS or OS (other than a logon screen), it may be an internal battery going bad, a cobbled together machine with a hacked operating system, problem hardware or some similar issue. IF IT DOESN’T GO SMOOTHLY INTO THE OPERATING SYSTEM, LEAVE IT ALONE.
- Test all the connectors. Have a USB thumb drive handy to plug into the connectors to make sure they work. Take some headphones with you to plug into the speaker outputs. Plug in a mouse. Use your judgment.
- Does the wireless work?
- Pop the CD/DVD – put in a data cd. Is it recognized without any hiccups?
- Use the computer for a few minutes.
- Make sure the mousepad and tap/click functions work well – and make sure that the mouse doesn’t jump around.
- Open up the notepad application and make sure the keyboard works – tap out a quick note to yourself.
- Launch a few applications, notice how quickly they launch – or slowly
- Right click on “My Computer” and go to properties. Check out how much RAM is installed, what kind of processor is there, and the System Rating.
- A System Rating of 3 is reasonable for basic use, but 4 or higher will give you good results. If you’re buying this laptop for gaming, look for a 6 or higher. Sometimes you can upgrade things to get this kind of performance, but many times laptops have very limited upgrade capabilities.
- From the operating system in the last step, does it match the license on the bottom of the case? If it doesn’t, you may have issues reinstalling the operating system down the road.
If you’ve gotten this far without finding anything really troubling, then you’re probably good to go. The last thing is pricing…
Pricing a used laptop
How much should you pay for a used laptop? DO lookup current pricing on laptops and have an idea what they’re worth. Do your homework before you look at a laptop. Some high end used laptops may sell for 600 or more. If they were new, some of those machines could be going for up into the $1000+ range so KNOW what you’re looking at. Compare apples to apples. If you’re only buying an average laptop, you can get a new laptop pretty inexpensively these days. So if you’re looking at a 3 year old laptop and they want $300 bucks, you might be better off getting a new basic laptop (with 3 year newer components and speed) for about $350-$450 from the local computer store.
A quick survey of some of the local stores shows that we can get a new laptop for as low as $329 and we DID see a nice refurbished laptop at CompUSA the other day for just $249. Now for these kind of prices, you need to understand that you’re NOT getting a quad core i7 processor with 8 GB of RAM – you are getting a machine suitable for general web browsing, checking your email, and light usage. If that describes what you are planning on doing, then you might really consider picking one of those up!