Many people associate refurbished equipment with older hardware, possibly of a lower quality. As newer, presumably better devices get released, it can be hard to distinguish what a company means by refurbished. It could be the lightly used trial device of a consumer, or it could mean a computer that was on its last leg before a business's technology lease ended.
Without proper knowledge on exactly where refurbished devices come from, how they are refurbished and what to keep in mind when buying, it can be easy to take a chance on a model and end up disappointed. But that doesn't mean it's automatically not a good choice. If you're considering refurbished laptops, desktops or other forms of technology for your business, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Refurbished tech origins
Most refurbished models are revamped tech that has been returned by consumers or has been acquired by the manufacturer at the end of a business technology lease. The process for repairing and refurbishing technology can vary.
If it was returned to the manufacturer by the consumer, such companies as Apple and Dell have in-house refurbishment protocols to ensure that the renewed model will function well.
In terms of business leases, most manufacturers have agreements with corporations ranging from two to four years. When the lease ends (and isn't renewed with the same technology), the laptops and computers are given back to the company. Based on general business wear and tear, the manufacturer can refurbish the laptops and resell them.
Regardless of where it comes from, it's essential to purchase hardware directly through the manufacturer to ensure reliability.
How manufacturers refurbish technology
For computers, manufacturers usually begin revamping old technology after assessing any damage and determining what needs to be added and replaced. This process can include repairing the keyboard, replacing the screen, adjusting the hard drive and RAM, and cleaning the product.
Manufacturers will also disassemble different components of the laptop and run tests to ensure that things like battery function, the optical drive and screen quality are all in working order. As a buyer, it is crucial that once you receive your laptop, desktop, monitor or other piece of equipment, you inspect everything with a critical eye.
The product should look like it's in like-new condition with no clear, visible signs of damage or heavy wear and tear. Your device should also come with the most up-to-date software and should run smoothly. The appearance and functionality of the refurbished device is all part of the manufacturer's pledge that it's not reselling bad equipment.
[Related: How to Choose the Right Work Laptops]
The biggest advantage to buying refurbished technology is price. Bob Herman, co-founder and president of IT Tropolis, said that he helps his customers save by pairing them with refurbished technology.
"I often give my customers the option of refurbished equipment versus new," he said, "and approximately 75 percent of the time, customers will choose refurbished for the cost savings as long as they feel comfortable they'll receive the same level of warranty support."
Dell offers its Latitude E6420 with a 2.5-GHz Core i5 processor for only $269. While this is an older model, the reduced price and guarantee from the Dell team could be ideal for businesses needing to purchase multiple computers. When it originally went up for sale six years ago, it would have cost you $1,788 apiece.
Many assume that refurbished laptops and desktops won't last as long as new ones. This isn't necessarily the case. While many variables contribute to a refurbished model's lifecycle, some business owners have found that revamping a computer can double its overall lifespan.
Brandon Livengood, the IT director for Avestra LLC, buys used desktops and repairs them himself. He said in an email that he expects refurbished PCs to last up to five years.
"I expect three to five years of use once the PCs have been refurbished," he said. "We install a decently fast SSD drive … We install/upgrade the video card if the user specifically needs it."
One more perk of purchasing refurbished technology is helping the environment. By using a refurbished laptop or desktop, you're keeping technology out of landfills or other recycling centers. Herman said that he and his customers enjoy the small impact they can have on the environment by using refurbished technology.
"I love providing refurbished equipment as I think it's the environmentally conscious choice, in addition to the savings that I can bring to my customers," Herman said.
The major con that business owners face when buying technology is the question of reliability. It's crucial to get a warranty when purchasing refurbished technology in case the manufacturer's guarantee doesn't hold up. Reliability problems are something that business owners could have to deal with if they buy preowned technology.
Jennifer Poole, director of marketing for Nadrich & Cohen, LLP, said her company stopped purchasing refurbished computers because of reliability issues.
"When we have purchased refurbished equipment, we have found that the life of the device is much less than that of its new equivalent," Poole said. "The time spent repairing, troubleshooting and upgrading refurbished PCs erodes any initial savings. There have been multiple times when we have actually lost money via our purchase of refurbished devices."
While Poole faced some issues, she also said that she purchased the computers through a third-party seller on eBay and not directly from the manufacturer.
Purchase from a manufacturer
The single best thing you can do when buying refurbished technology is going through the manufacturer of the product. The laptops or smartphones may be a bit more expensive, but you're usually paying for a reliable warranty and a product that you can depend on. No one knows the desktops or laptops you're interested in purchasing better than the company that produced them, so buying a refurbished model directly from the manufacturer means you're getting a product that has been analyzed and repaired by experts.
If you don't want to purchase refurbished technology directly from a manufacturer, do your research on the outlet you are going to buy from. Microsoft Authorized Refurbishers (MARS), for example, is a group of IT professionals who have taken an extensive course and are certified in restoring and repairing PCs.
If you're purchasing other types of technology, like network equipment, there are several third-party companies that buy, restore and then resell technology. Cisco even provides some guidelines on researching and understanding which companies can be trusted.
Buying technology from an online service like eBay or Amazon can be risky. If you go this route, it's very important to research the seller to ensure that you're not just receiving a used product.
Regardless of where you buy refurbished technology from, it's important that a warranty is included. Most of the major computer manufacturers provide a warranty either for 90 days or one year. Apple, for example, offers a one-year limited warranty and a 14-day return policy while Dell offers a standard, 100-day warranty and the option to extend the warranty to one year for an additional $50.
Choose a good model
Doing some prior research on the refurbished model you wish to buy can go a long way in terms of reliability. As with any purchase, it's important to understand what desktops or laptops are the most reliable and best performing.
For Livengood, it's about choosing a PC that will last.
"If a PC is known for its problems, I steer clear of it," Livengood said. "An example would be the Dell OptiPlex 620 series. After a few years, the capacitors on the motherboard would swell, causing system failures. An HP Pro 6300, on the other hand, seems to hold up well with age; [they are] sturdy, basic machines. There are lemons and workhorses in every brand."
Refurbish technology yourself
Buying used technology and refurbishing it yourself will likely save your company the most money. But if you don't have someone on your team with extensive tech knowledge, it could pose a challenge. Livengood, for example, has intricate knowledge of IT hardware and software, and the company he works for has benefited as a result.
"I have found it [buying refurbished technology] to be both a cost savings and a support savings," he said. "Upfront costs are reduced to as little as 30 percent, as compared to buying new for much of the mainstream networking hardware."
Refurbished technology is a good way to save money if you choose a reliable product from a proven manufacturer or authorized seller. Reduce risk by adding a warranty. This way, even if your desktop or laptop does have problems, you can take it in for repairs.