Buying Refurbished Computers

While nonprofits may hold on to hardware equipment until the last bit of life has been squeezed out of it, many corporations abandon working computers in good condition after just three or four years of use. While this equipment may be outdated for the bleeding­-edge needs of a large enterprise, that doesn't mean it doesn't have years of life that it can offer your organization — especially when its components have been examined and updated by a professional refurbisher.

You can find laptops, desktops, servers, PDAs and most other types of hardware, all from a wide variety of manufacturers, with a wide variety of components and specifications. Bear in mind, though, there are many ways to buy refurbished computers, and as with anything else, it pays to do some research and planning.

Why Buy a Refurbished Computer?

  • Help save money. Refurbished desktop computers usually cost between $100 and $300, depending on the components. However, monitors are often sold separately. Overall, refurbished machines generally cost about half as much as a comparably configured new computer. Of course, these PCs are also closer to the end of their usable lives.
  • Help save the environment. Refurbishing keeps working computers out of landfills, storage or out of countries where equipment may be dismantled under unsafe conditions.

Key Actions

  • Carefully think through your current and future computing needs. A three­-year­-old refurbished PC may have enough juice to run Microsoft Office, but it might choke on the latest video­-editing software. A quick Google search or a glance at the packaging will tell you the minimum and recommended requirements for a particular piece of software. Make sure your computers meet at least the recommended requirements for the operating system you plan to install and anything else you will need to use on a regular basis. A technology plan and a needs assessment are good ways to ensure that you know what computer power your staff and patrons will require in the near future.
  • Always buy from a qualified refurbishing company. If you buy used computers from a flea market or the classified section, you probably won’t be happy with the results. Refurbishers, on the other hand, test each computer they receive thoroughly, repair them if necessary and may do some simple upgrades.

Other Key Questions to Consider...

  • As with new computers, try to buy machines with identical parts. Refurbishers often receive hundreds or thousands of PCs from a particular company, so you can buy a batch of 50 computers that have the “same” hard drive, motherboard, sound card, etc.
  • Pay attention to the warranty and the return policy. You probably won’t get a three-­year warranty on a refurbished machine, but a three-­month warranty to cover any out-­of­-the-­box problems is fairly standard. Also, how quick is their response time when a machine needs repairs?
  • Check the refurbisher’s “fail rate” or “return rate.” According to Jim Lynch, Computer Recycling & Reuse Director for TechSoup’s GreenTech Program, the industry standard has a les- than-12 percent failure rate, which means it’s worth finding out if the refurbisher you’re considering has a higher or lower rate of returns or failures for the equipment they sell.
  • Find out the operating system, if any, that you’ll get with the computer. Some refurbished computers come with Windows Vista or Windows XP, but others will have an older operating system or no operating system at all. This may not make a difference if you plan to image the computer. Since many refurbished computers arrive with little or no software installed, disk-cloning is often the best way to quickly and efficiently prepare the workstation for deployment.
  • What peripherals are included? Refurbished computers rarely come with a monitor, so be sure to include that in your budget. Also, if you need DVD drives, wireless network cards or other optional components, look at the details of the specification sheet to make sure those are included.

Stories from the Field

[Off-lease computers] are used computers. They’re leased to corporations instead of purchased. And when the lease runs out, they’re replaced with newer computers, and then the ones that they had previously are usually bought out by various companies that are in this business. And they refurbish them and make sure they’re all working, and they turn around and sell them as used computers that have come off of a lease. They’re usually business-class computers. They’re not the consumer kind that you find at Wal-Mart. And they’ve been working for three years, so you know they’re going to probably work for at least another three, if not longer. And you get pretty good deals with them.

Jeff Hawkins
Lassen Library, CA

Further Resources

To learn more about buying refurbished computers and/or for a list of suppliers of refurbished computers, check out our Further Resources section.