So you’re in the market for a laptop. Maybe you’re a developer. Maybe you’re a student. Maybe you’re a grandma who wants to play Solitaire. The issue you’re having is that there are so many choices presented to you it’s overwhelming. Salesmen at stores will try to sell you something more expensive than you need, you’re sure of it. Big online retailers have tons of recommendations with specs that not only do not make sense to an uninformed consumer, but even to an informed consumer they are ambiguous and inconsistent. What is the one thing that the big companies and retailers won’t tell you about consumer laptops? It’s that they’re built for consumers. They’re built to fail, they’re mass produced to drive the maximum sales from uninformed consumers for the lowest price possible. So, what’s the most important thing to know about choosing and purchasing a laptop?
Here’s the most important statistic to keep in your mind when shopping for a laptop: Laptops have an extraordinarily high fail rate. Each year, 15% of Windows laptops fail and 8% of Apple laptops fail. This takes into consideration operator error, defects, and any other reasons that a laptop may fail. And let’s be clear; by ‘fail’, I mean enter an inoperable state. Effectively, this percentage of laptops will break and be in need of repair. This makes sense; laptops are more mobile and more prone to accidents, and they also have smaller and more vulnerable, less protected, hardware.
So, what does this mean for you?
Laptops are a lot like cars. High value depreciation, especially when they are bought new. This is why so many financial experts will tell you to always buy a used car. So, why not do the same for laptops? Aren’t there certified pre-owned laptops like there are cars? Well, there actually are, and there is actually a huge market for them! Not only are returned consumer machines refurbished and sold by retailers, but leased corporate machines are sold as well. This means that you can buy an off-lease corporate machine that is “refurbished” that most likely had nothing wrong with it; its lease just ran out. See here for my review of an off-lease corporate machine. Take a look at the standard “certified refurbished” definition:
Standard Certified Refurbished definition: A product that is tested and certified to look and work like new. The refurbishing process includes functionality testing, basic cleaning, inspection, and repackaging. The product ships with all relevant accessories, a minimum 90-day warranty, and may arrive in a generic box.
You should be able to find this definition of “certified refurbished” on most refurb laptop listings. So, where should you look to find these listings? It turns out Amazon and Ebay have quite a selection. Simply search for refurbished laptops and see if any fit the specs you’re looking for on Amazon or on Ebay. (Please note that as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.) Here are some fantastic refurbs that I found in my research; some are corporate refurbs, and some are consumer refurbs:
Some great buys right now:
Take this model:
An SSD and 8GB of ram? Intel i-5? This is a great base-line computer. Or take this model:
1080p display, 256gb SSD, 1tb HDD, Discrete GPU, 7th generation Intel processor, all the modern bells and whistles, for around 2/3 of the comparable cost new!
In Comparison to new:
Compare that to the quintessential Acer Aspire, one of the best sellers on Amazon:
6GB RAM, and most importantly, a HDD instead of an SSD. Not great. Here’s a comparable model to some of the refurbs:
Comparable specs to some of these refurbished laptops, this Aspire has an SSD and 8GB of RAM, with an i-5. However, the refurbished offers are just so much more affordable and powerful:
A refurb everyone knows: ThinkPad, a Classic.
The Lenovo ThinkPad. It is ubiquitous; it’s used everywhere: schools, libraries, companies alike. Similar specs to above, with WAY better performance than many “bargain” new laptops. To browse a great variety, TONS of ebay sellers offer them. Theyre quintessential. Check out the selection and see for yourself.
And certainly not to exclude Apple. While this still has Apple pricey-ness, it is actually a beast of a computer under the hood, and would be exorbitantly more expensive new from Apple.
How to find your perfect refurbished laptop:
So, what should you look for in a refurbished laptop? This question certainly depends on what you’ll be using it for, but not by much. You’re going to want to stick to Dell Latitude, Lenovo Thinkpad, and HP Elitebooks, in general. Certainly, you could branch out a bit, but these are your most durable, safest bet with the cheapest cost for extra parts down the road. Look for these aspects, in relation to the task that you’ll be doing:
For a Media Viewer or Streaming PC
- a 1080p display, like this one, if you’re going to do any media viewing or gaming. For work, it’s not as necessary, but for your viewing pleasure, definitely get a laptop with a 1080p display
- RAM: at least 4GB.
- CPU: Intel or AMD, it doesn’t matter too much.
- Storage: SSD for sure. The size doesn’t matter much.
Top Pick: Refurbished or New Chromebook, such as:
My top pick for a solid, durable, and reliable laptop:
For a general-use machine on a budget, go for:
- A 1080p display isn’t as vital here, unless you’ll be using it for recreation as well. Still, I’d recommend splurging on a 1080p display, especially if you’re a student using the laptop as a lifeline
- At least 8GB of RAM
- An Intel CPU. More robust for running more taxing software
- An SSD, at least 256GB.
And, a similar machine:
Finally, a higher-end machine:
On a side-note, I actually purchased one of these Latitudes for myself while researching for this section! You can find my thoughts and review on it here! This certainly played a role in my decision to recommend it so highly as the best pick on this list. It’s been awesome, I feel very satisfied with it.
For a Gaming Laptop:
Give a shot at browsing the refurbished laptops that offer gpus. They’ll be less plentiful, but they’ll be there. Look for:
- DEFINITELY a 1080p display
- At least 8GB of RAM
- Intel or AMD CPU, but if it’s an AMD CPU, make sure it scores well on gaming benchmarks.
- An SSD + HDD combo, using the SSD for the boot drive. If not, a single HDD works in a pinch. Ideally, instead, try to get a larger size SSD in an SSD-only machine instead of a HDD-only machine. It will carry less games, but you’ll thank yourself later.
So, what’s the catch? Well, there isn’t really one. Many of these machines are corporate computers, refurbished. Others are repaired consumer computers that were returned for one reason or another. All are guaranteed by a certain quality standard, at least from Amazon and reputable retailers like it. Some of them might have minor blemishes, but they’re certified by their manufacturer and refurbisher. They all come with at least a 90 day warranty (most are 1 year), which will easily cover any risks of buying refurbished. So, please, before you drop $1500 on a new laptop to program, consider buying smart and buying refurbished.
Some cons of buying refurbished: Not many refurbished laptops come with a discrete graphics card. However, unless you’re a hardcore gamer with a particular GPU in mind, the CPUs in these computers are more than powerful enough to serve your graphics.
Also, check out this guide on how to get the most out of your new (or refurbished) computer, which includes verifying it is what you paid for, benchmarking, ensuring your privacy, and installing important software.
Check out my review on the refurbished laptop that I bought while researching for this article!
Hopefully you’ve gathered some important advice in making your next big laptop purchase, and hopefully it won’t break the bank nearly as much as it would have before!
If you’d like, check out some of these featured items! Please note that as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.