Everything you need to know about buying a used laptop
Buying a used laptop can help you save hundreds of dollars and cut down on e-waste.
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Whether you’re shopping for your first laptop or your current laptop is on its last legs, buying a used laptop instead of a new one has numerous benefits. It saves you money, it saves the laptop itself from becoming e-waste, and you get more features per dollar. Buying a used laptop isn't as streamlined as waltzing into a Best Buy and grabbing one off the shelf—but it’s not as hard as you might think.
What are my options for buying used?
If you’re looking for a used laptop, you can choose pre-owned, open-box, or refurbished items. While pre-owned items may not come unscathed, they provide the steepest discounts since they’re sold as-is. Open-box items are new items that were purchased and then returned unused or slightly used before the return period was over. They’re not steeply discounted like pre-owned items, but they should still be in like-new condition unless specified otherwise.
Refurbished items are a great way to get items at a steep discount without having to do the repair work yourself. Seller refurbished items are inspected, repaired, and verified by the product seller, but they usually don’t come with extra warranty periods. Because they come working out of the box (and usually in like-new condition to boot), refurbished items are the best option for those that want a simple shopping experience.
Whether a seller-refurbished item is reliable or working like new depends on the seller’s reputation. Meanwhile, manufacturer refurbished items are repaired directly by the manufacturer and usually carry an added warranty on the workmanship. They’re pricier than seller-refurbished items, but they’re a safer option.
Where can I buy a used laptop?
You can buy used, open-box, and refurbished laptops directly from the manufacturer, at physical and online retailers, and on marketplaces. Buying directly from the manufacturer cuts out the middleman, will offer the clearest terms as to whether the used product carries any additional warranties, and it will nearly guarantee a product works like new or as close to new as possible.
However, buying from the manufacturer is not always an option, and a manufacturer-refurbished item may not offer as many savings as a seller-refurbished item or pre-owned item.
Both physical and online retailers carry a variety of used and refurbished items, usually discounting them based on their condition. They do not usually come with an extended warranty (unless you buy one separately), but a 30 to 90-day trial and return period is standard. eBay, Newegg, and Amazon offer used laptop marketplaces with excellent buyer protection via PayPal or their own terms and conditions—if you end up with a laptop that doesn’t work as promised in the item description, these retailers usually offer a full refund.
Brick-and-mortar retailers, like Best Buy, B&H Photo Video, and Adorama also have many used laptops for sale including laptops refurbished by the retailer’s partners. You can see an item’s condition in the description, and if the item does not meet your expectations, you can easily return it during the return period.
Online marketplaces, such as Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Swappa, and Gumtree allow sellers and buyers to directly contact each other to set up a deal. You can find the best deals here since sellers usually want to get rid of their stock quickly, but there are more risks involved. If you’re picking up a laptop in person, always meet in a public, well-lit, populated area to mitigate any potential scams or danger. Paying via PayPal makes your transaction much safer since PayPal makes it easy to return or chargeback the purchase if the laptop does not work as advertised—Venmo, wire transfers, and checks do not offer those same protections.
Always verify the laptop is in good working condition before exchanging money; Check for cracks in the body, dead screen pixels, broken ports or features, bad keyboards and trackpads, old batteries, and malware. Generally, it’s best to stick to reputable sellers and retailers if you’re not confident in your ability to assess a laptop’s condition yourself.
What are the downsides of used laptops?
Compared to a new laptop, a used laptop may have older processors or hardware that will need to be replaced soon. Laptop batteries quickly lose their charging capacity over time, so check the battery status in the operating system’s tools. Storage drives, trackpads, and keyboards also wear down over time. Memory and processors last longer than most components, but they become obsolete as modern computing tasks require more bandwidth and processing power.
Also consider that used laptops are no longer wanted by the original owner, and it’s your job to determine why. In many cases, the previous owner simply outgrew the laptop’s capabilities or wanted a laptop with different features, and that’s fine.
However, sometimes laptops are quick to flood the used market because they have reliability issues or poor performance; MacBooks made between 2016 and 2019, for instance, are notorious for having unreliable keyboards. To make sure you’re not buying a dud model, check reviews for that laptop model from dedicated review sites (like us!) and from other customers.
What should I look for when buying a used laptop?
Just because a laptop is old doesn’t mean it’s obsolete. Many laptops are far more powerful than most users will need them to be, and you can use that to your advantage. Business notebooks and workstations are notable for their better repairability and modification options compared to more mainline models, meaning you could swap out the memory, hard drive, battery, or other components as you see fit.
Lenovo ThinkPad, HP ZBook and Elitebook, and Dell Latitude are some of the most well-loved business laptop lineups on the market thanks to their superior repairability, excellent construction quality, and abundant features.
Buying used is also a great opportunity to get more performance than you normally would be able to at a given price point. Generally, you should try to stick to laptops with at least 8GB of DDR4 memory, 256GB or more of SSD storage, and an 8th generation Intel Core i5 processor or better. Laptops with these specs start at about $400 new, but they are much cheaper used.
Avoid HDD storage, since hard drives are much slower than their SSD counterparts. For laptop displays, stick to 1080p resolution or better to reduce eye strain, and opt for an IPS panel over a TN panel for better color accuracy and viewing angles.
If you plan on gaming with your laptop or you want something that’s more future-proofed, we recommend 16GB of memory, 512GB or more of SSD storage, a 10th generation Intel Core i5 / 3rd generation AMD Ryzen 5 processor or better, and discrete graphics equal to or better than an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 graphics card (A new laptop with these specs would be about $800 to $1,000). With these specs, you can edit photos and videos in software like Adobe Photoshop and Premiere quickly, and you can play most online games at good frame rates.
For workstation-grade laptops, stick to 16GB or more of memory (preferably 32GB of memory), 1TB or more of SSD storage, a 10th generation Intel Core i7 / 4th generation AMD Ryzen 7 processor or better, and Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 graphics or better. This will get you enough performance to run 3D modeling apps like 3DSMax or Maya without much trouble. Also, look for laptops with upgradeable memory and storage in case you’d like to take advantage of the option.
What about MacBooks and Chromebooks?
Buying a used MacBook is tricky because of the late 2010s models with unreliable Butterfly keyboards and overheating issues. If you can, stick to buying used MacBooks with an M1 processor and scissor-switch keyboard. They have excellent battery life and performance and have had good reliability among reviewers and consumers.
If you don’t mind opting for ChromeOS over Windows or macOS, then Chromebooks are cheap and offer a lot of value. The lightweight operating system only needs 64GB of storage to run optimally, but try to stick to SSD storage over the more common and slower eMMC storage among Chromebooks. 4GB of DDR4 memory and an 8th generation Intel Core i3 processor are enough to run ChromeOS reasonably well, but again, try to swing for 8GB of memory and an 8th generation Intel Core i5 processor if you can.
Who should stick to buying new laptops?
If we all bought used laptops, there would be much less e-waste in landfills, but it’s not practical for everyone. Sometimes, you can get a new laptop for less money than a used laptop if it’s on clearance or during a major sale like Black Friday or Prime Day. With new laptops, you know it will work as intended for at least a couple of years—and if it does happen to break through no fault of your own, you will be covered under the manufacturer warranty for a year or two after purchase. It’s also easier to find replacement parts for newer laptops than older laptops if you do happen to need a repair outside of the warranty.
However, if your main concern is performance, then you shouldn’t discriminate between new and used. Newer hardware is usually more powerful than older hardware, especially when it comes to graphics cards, but buying used can be a great way to save money on current-gen hardware, too. Opting for a used Asus ROG Zephyrus G14, for instance, will knock $300 to $500 off the price tag for the same latest-gen hardware.
Similarly, buying used is just as simple and reliable as buying new if you stick to reputable retailers and manufacturers who offer generous return windows and extended warranties. Buying directly from a previous owner is a little riskier, but as long as you verify the laptop’s condition before purchasing and use a transaction service like PayPal for customer protection, you will save even more money. Regardless of what you choose, stay safe, and good luck hunting!
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.