Used Laptop Pricing Guide

Copyright 2015 by Morris Rosenthal -All Rights Reserved

If I could only give one word of advice about buying a used laptop, it would
be “Don’t.” Fortunately, talk is cheap so I’ll go on at length about when
it does or doesn’t make sense to buy second hand and how much to pay for
different capacity models, but the keep this in mind. With a little patience,
you can always find a cheap laptop deal with manufacturer and store rebates,
and usually priced around $300 to $400. For that, you’ll get a brand new
laptop with Windows 8 installed, a big hard drive, a combination DVD player
– DVD Recorder, built in USB 3.0, wireless N, the works. The screen will
be bigger and the unit will be lighter than any notebook you’re likely to
find used, plus the battery will be new, so you’ll actually be able to work
untethered for more than 20 minutes (for the first few months).

I’ll start with a basic pricing table, nothing like the Blue Book values
for laptops you may have seen. The explanations come below the table:

$299 – $399 Buy a brand new laptop with factory and store rebates. Make sure you fill
out the rebate paperwork correctly. You’ll get a recent CPU, 2.0 to 4.0 GB
memory and 250 GB to 500 GB hard drive, a DVD/CD player/burner, USB 3.0,
1000BaseT, built in wireless 802.11G or N, a new warranty and Windows 8.1
installed. The $299 models from Toshiba, Lenovo and Acer are more than good
enough for most users. For $399, you get a bigger hard drive, a slightly
faster CPU. If you spend more than that, you’re looking at a business or
a gaming laptop.

$199 – $299
You can find all sorts of brand name netbooks, the original Chromebook, a
variety of Acers, the new Microsoft Signature series (with HP) in this range.
Netbooks are fine for most people, but remember that you get limited hard
drive space for installing software, and no DVD drive to put software on
in the first place! Many netbooks have great battery life, up to ten hours,
but they aren data crunchers, and they are designed to run cloud software.

$199 – $299 I wouldn’t consider buying a second hand laptop in this range unless it was
less than a year old and featured specs much better than the model above,
like a light weight business model (not a NetBook), plus a legal, licensed
version of Microsoft Office. The only exception would be for a top line gaming
laptop. I wouldn’t call this a bargain price range, but it’s not a bad deal.
Stay the heck away from the $250 laptops sold as factory reconditioned online
with tiny hard drives, 2GB of memory and slow wireless. They are five years
old and they’re a rip-off.

Same as above, though I’d suggest shopping for NetBooks rather than buying
the cheapest new Compaq. I still wouldn’t touch a slow CPU in this price
range, or less than 2GB RAM with Windows 7 professional and a at least a
250 GB+ hard drive. Whatever the model, and I’d still be looking for Microsoft
Office to be installed, and no more than two years old (manufacturing date)
so the battery might have a little life left. I would only buy a second hand
laptop in this price range period if it was as good as the laptops listed
above, but a little older. It’s just a really bad price point where you get
conned into thinking you’re saving money, but you end up having thrown away
half the price of a new laptop on something you’ll never be happy with. It’s
going to be slow, noisy, and run hot – that’s why they’re selling it. The
exception is an overbuilt laptop from your office, but only if it includes
all the software.

$0-$99 A laptop running XP or Vista between 512 MB RAM and 2.0 GB of RAM, decent
wireless 802.11G (avoid the slower “b”) a CD Recorder and DVD reader, and
a battery that holds a charge for at least a half hour. The important thing
is that you sit down with it and use it for the purpose you are buying it
for a half hour before buying. If the seller won’t let you do that, save
your money another week and buy a new one. You wouldn’t throw away a hundred
bucks on a TV that couldn’t receive cable, so why do it with a used laptop?

Free If I really needed a free laptop just to type on or get e-mail, I’d settle
for anything with Windows XP a WiFi that works. You can buy a cheap USB dongle
for WiFi for $20, but that’s the only upgrade I’d consider. If it’s free,
you can take it home and try it. If you’re paying, make the seller demonstrate
connecting to the Internet. Test the CD drive as to make sure you can install
new software new software, and rbing a memory stick to test the USB ports,
at least one has to work. Don’t consider any operating system older than
Windows XP. And remember, when you find out it’s junk and want to throw it
away, your town may charge you $10 or $20 for disposal.

Not everybody has a rich uncle or a sibling to give them a second hand laptop
for free, so there’s a market for used notebooks, everywhere from ebay to
newspaper adds, company-to-employee sales to PC shops, and of course, Internet
sites. The major used laptop sellers on the Internet are usually selling
reconditioned or remanufactured units, where reconditioned basically means
they turned it on and it worked and remanufactured means something was broken
so they replaced it. Factory second means it failed the final test at the
factory, so instead of shipping it, the reworked it on the spot and didn’t
sell it as new. All that makes it sound like there will be bargains galore
available, but here’s the bad news.

There are actually more brand name laptops than desktops these days, with
the most popular models being the Dell Latitude, Toshiba Satellite, Sony
Vaio, HP Pavilion, IBM Thinkpad and Apple iBook. Most of these models have
been around forever, which means you can’t just buy a Thinkpad and assume
that you’re getting a recent IBM laptop. The Thinkpad, Sony Vaio and the
Apple Powerbooks probably hold their value a little better than the other
brands, because they are rarely sold at deep discounts, even on closeout.
However, I don’t see any reason to pay for name recognition in a cheap used
laptop, and notebooks that are still operating after a couple years are well
beyond any initial quality concerns. Don’t be surprised if every Satellite
you see has a dead battery.

Second hand laptop prices are always discounted from their list price. Their
original list price! You couldn’t find a laptop priced for less than a grand
a few years ago. A company that bought a bunch of cheap laptops a five years
back for a $1000 each and is now upgrading them to new laptops will offer
them to employees at 50% off. The employees think it’s a great bargain and
pay $500 for obsolete junk (often with the software removed if the company
is conscientious) when they could be buying a brand new laptop for the same
price that’s several generations better. I’m not exaggerating here, it happens
all the time.

The same thing happens with the reconditioned notebooks sold over the Internet
or on ebay. The seller says, “List price $1,299″ or “I paid $1,349″ but they’re
talking about a retail laptop prices without rebates that are three or five
years old. Look carefully at the capabilities of these notebooks. If they
were really high-end at the time, the CPU speed might be a little higher
than the $299 new laptop with rebates, but it probably won’t have as much
memory, may not have a DVD player, if it has wireless, it will be an external
adapter, the battery will be on its last legs, and the screen will have dead
pixels. The model that “listed” at $1,299 will be promoted as a steal at
$395, and the $1,349 laptop (with “$1,000 of software I added”) will have
a minimum bid of $600. They may get it to, but not from you (I hope). You
should be buying a tremendous new laptop for that kind of money, with a new
warrantee, and all the latest bells and whistles for loading your digital
camera film, etc.

Then you finally find some cheap used laptop prices, between $99 and $299,
or an ad for laptops in the UK less than 100 pounds. Sounds a lot better
on the face of it, but when I did some Internet shopping and lets see what
I came up with. The “Special” on one of the Internet’s top sites was a 650
MHz HP notebook Pentium III with Windows 98. They were selling it for $229
before shipping and handling. That’s ten year old technology! No wireless,
an 18 GB hard drive (cheap new notebooks ship with 60 GB hard drives, three
times the capacity), and while I like Windows 98, Windows XP is required
for all manner of new software. The same store offers a whole range of used
laptop models for $199, all with tiny hard drive (6 GB), or 1/10 of what
you’d get in a $299 new model), Windows 98, 128 MB of RAM and CPU speeds
under 400 MHz!! These are typical prices for used notebooks, and you’re paying
60% of the price of a new laptop that will actually do everything you want
for one that won’t run software you need and can’t be upgraded. All over
the Internet I see second hand laptops with ancient CPU’s an 1 GB RAM selling
for between $299 and $499, advertised as bargains, it’s just insane. Just
by a new one.

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