What Should I Consider When Buying a Used Laptop?

Buying a used laptop can sound like a pretty good way to save money, but savings will be offset by a lack of warranty, and in most cases, a more limited feature set. However, there’s always a chance you’ll come across a good deal from a seller who is passing along a machine that was rarely used, isn’t too old, and is in excellent condition.
The most important thing to do before shopping for a used laptop is to establish a set of minimum requirements. The machine has to be capable of serving your needs, or no matter how great the deal, your money will be wasted.

The first priority is making a list of any special software you’ll want to run. Many newer applications have higher minimum hardware requirements than older applications. For example, a laptop with a 1-Gigahertz (Ghz) computer processing unit (CPU) and integrated graphics won’t run a CAD program that requires a minimum CPU speed of 1.8 Ghz, and a dedicated graphics card. Photoshop-style programs and video editing programs are also greedy when it comes to hardware overhead, as are 3D games. Bear in mind too that software never runs its best on a machine that only meets minimum requirements. If you don’t want to do a lot of waiting for page loads and rendering, make sure any used laptop you consider generously exceeds minimum requirements.

Once you establish how much RAM you require or want, be sure the used laptop can support it. If the laptop is being sold with less, hunt down a manual by using any search engine and make a note of the type of RAM that model takes, and how many memory banks or slots the motherboard has. The RAM already present could be unusable, as it might need to be removed to fill those banks with higher-capacity sticks. You can also estimate the cost of adding RAM by visiting an online dealer or two.

CPU, RAM and graphics card aside, let’s consider other hardware. If the laptop in question has a small hard drive, check with the manufacturer before assuming you can simply upgrade to a larger drive once you own the machine. The BIOS might not support a larger drive, or it might not support the size you want.

A used laptop will include a DVD player, but older players might not support dual-layer (DL) DVD disks. This may or may not be important to you, but if you watch movies on DL DVDs or burn data or movies to DL disks, you’ll need a player that includes that specification. Blu-ray capability will be harder to find, though it is becoming standard in laptops as of winter 2009, and will be easier to find in used laptops as times goes on.

Built-in WiFi is not strictly necessary since you can buy a WiFi adapter for the PC Card slot, or if it’s a more recent model, the Express Card slot. Bluetooth can also be added to any used laptop by purchasing a Bluetooth USB dongle.

After shopping around to get an idea of how much a good used laptop will cost, check out some sales of new laptops. With lower-end models starting at under $400 US Dollars (USD), you might just opt for a warranty and a little more peace of mind. A new laptop will also be more future proof than most used laptops, notwithstanding a high-end model that isn’t too old.