Cheap Durable Refurbished Laptop of DOOM!
November 9, 2010 3:28 PM   Subscribe

Looking for a cheap, durable, cheap, reliable, CHEAP laptop (prefer NOT netbook). Thinking Refurbished or Re-certified??? details inside.

What I need it for:

-Must Surf net/read email
-Must be able to handle external USB Keyboard (I usually hate laptop keyboards)
-Ability to casually use Gimp/Synfig/similar programs a big plus
-DVD Movie playing a big plus
-Other random "techy"/utility things (playing around with C++,Python, Emacs, Dropbox etc) essential.
-Considering running Linux on it (not essential)
-Something Durable... when I buy this laptop this will be my only laptop until it turns to dust.

-NO music
-NO (graphic intensive) games

But the real bottom line is CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP and durable. Don't prefer netbooks but if it is cheap and durable I might bend. The ones I've seen though just seem too restrictive, not a real computer.

VERY INTERESTED - what are reputable Refurbished or Re-certified computers that you trust?

Assume I know nothing about laptops. Thanks Hive Mind!
posted by DetonatedManiac to Shopping (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Based on what I see around the office, every Dell machine is shiny and new and fast and every IBM Thankpad is old, creaky, and held together with duct tape.

That's because Dell's quality is crap, so you are constantly buying new ones and IBM Thinkpads were tanks that wouldn't die so you were stuck with a hideously underpowered machine forever.

I believe that the Thinkpad quality is not as good as it used to be, but a used Thinkpad might be a great deal.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 3:41 PM on November 9, 2010

I've had great luck with an off-lease ThinkPad and would trust any of their refurb/recertified ones.

They are generally a bit pricier than other brands, but try the Lenovo outlet if you're in the US. They have discontinued/refurb/etc dirt-cheap ones--maybe not $500-ish-cheap, but far far cheaper than a new one with similar specs (how cheap is cheap for you?)
posted by astrochimp at 3:49 PM on November 9, 2010

Thinkpads, either IBM(older) or Lenovo(newer) are built to last; I have a 10 year old IBM R40 that was in daily 9to5 use for its first 5 years that still works fine for occasional use, even though it's pretty obsolete, specifications-wise. (I have it dual-booting windows XP and Ubuntu Linux with no glitches, and I've heard good things about other Linux distros being mostly compatible-out-of-the-box with a lot of Thinkpads.) My mom needed a new computer after XP wasn't available, so I picked up a 5 year old R60 on eBay for $200 (not certified or anything, just random 'used) and she's been using it for a couple years now with no issues.

So if someone told me they were going to buy a used laptop and wanted to make sure they didn't get a 'lemon', I'd tell them to shop for used Thinkpads, probably in the Rxx or Txx series.

A bonus for you is that the Thinkpad keyboard is a VERY good keyboard - for a laptop (although people seem to either love or hate the 'nubbin' for moving the cursor, but it's easily ignored/removed).

If you end up setttling for a netbook, remember that most have external USB and VGA (monitor) connections; if you're not going to be moving it around, just plug in a full size keyboard and monitor and you'll never know it's a netbook (except that it'll be a little underpowered compared to a standard laptop or desktop, especially in graphics).
posted by bartleby at 3:51 PM on November 9, 2010

What's your price range? Cheap, durable, and reliable usually don't go together unless the laptop is also used, refurbished, or discontinued.

How long do you want it to last anyway, other than forever? Most PC's are designed with the idea of lasting 3-5 years optimally, before requiring replacement. Lifespans depend greatly on how nicely it's treated.
posted by ZeusHumms at 3:52 PM on November 9, 2010

Whenever I need a new laptop I go on eBay and figure out what is the best used Thinkpad I can buy for a few hundred bucks. Most of them are off-lease or similarly corporate-issue, so not used terribly hard. The quality is is great — maybe recent Mac laptops have better build quality, but you can't get them that cheap. I like the X-series; they're small and light, but bigger than a netbook; you can type properly on them. I got this X40 a few years ago for under $300, it runs current Linuxes fine, it runs Emacs, I can build things, I can run the Gimp though it could be faster. I'm sure you could get something better now.
posted by enn at 3:53 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Modern Thinkpads vary substantially in terms of durability. Their high and mid-end models are still really, really darn good -- I once spilled an entire liter of pulp orange juice into the innards of my mid-level machine, and it continued working for a full year after that. Like, I didn't even dry the think out before turning it on, and it was great.

On the other hand, my low-end Thinkpad started coming apart after a year of not-terribly-rugged use, and my sister's refurb low-end Thinkpad needed to have its fan replaced within 90 days of purchase.

On the other, other hand, Lenovo has better in-warranty tech support than any other computer vendor I've ever dealt with. Like, by a lot. So that's another way of looking at durability.
posted by joyceanmachine at 3:56 PM on November 9, 2010

Whenever I need a new laptop I go on eBay and figure out what is the best used Thinkpad I can buy for a few hundred bucks.

Agreed, or even Craigslist if you're in an area where people have a lot of these. I have an X31 I think? And it dual boots WinXP [when I need it] and Ubuntu [the rest of the time] is totally bulletproof and Just Works. Got it off of eBay for maybe $230 or something?
posted by jessamyn at 3:59 PM on November 9, 2010

Define "cheap."

Does 'cheap' in this context mean $300, or $30? Because you can probably get a laptop for the latter, if you want to. At least if you're in a major city and that city has Craigslist. Of course at that price you'll be in the "used, as-is" and not the "refurbished" end of the market.

I'd look for Acer or IBM-branded ThinkPads. Assume that the batteries in whatever you get are going to be completely shot; if you're lucky they'll take you from out AC outlet to the next. If you have the budget, I'd get a cheaper used laptop and a new battery rather than a newer machine (which unless it is brand new will probably still have a shot battery). Don't buy anything you aren't allowed to turn on, and bring a LiveCD with you when you go shopping or go to pick up and pay so you can make sure everything's kosher (i.e. that you're not being lied to about the RAM, HDD, proc, wireless, etc.).

If you're shopping on Craigslist, keep in mind that many asking prices may be ... optimistic, on the seller's part. Especially on old computer equipment being sold by the first owner, people don't price it realistically because they're too focused on how much it cost them, two or three or ten years ago. If you see something you like but think it's overpriced, make an offer -- the worst they can do is say no or decline to respond. (And maybe after getting a few 50% offers they'll realize that boat anchor isn't worth what they think it is.)

I'd also look into corporate surplus, especially auctions, if you have them in your area. (In the DC area, Rasmus is the big auctioneer. There are a lot of strange little industrial-park mom-n-pops selling used gear, too. You might have to search to find similar places in your area, but they probably exist.) Same rules apply about always booting with a LiveCD before purchase, but you can get better bargains in my experience than Craigslist.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:39 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thinkpad is the correct answer. The gentleman is correct in choosing Thinkpad.

In addition, if you're very clever, you'll get a T60p, the only notebook with a true IPS display (and a mind-blowing 1600x1200 resolution in a 15" form factor). Mine is a Core Duo T7600 (2.33 GHz) with 3 gigs of RAM, which runs everything I would ever want a laptop to run and then some.

Basically, it's faster, has a higher pixel density, is more rugged, and has a better screen than anything I could ever desire from a laptop. It runs Linux with ridiculous ease. Oh yeah, and you get a decent fucking keyboard. Thinkpad keyboards are legendary for a reason: they are awesome. They even preserve the position of the INS/DEL HOME/END PGUP/PGDN keys.

You can find them for around $600 refurbed on eBay. Worth every penny.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:18 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Option I'm going to throw out there: You can get a pretty cheap refurbished laptop if you buy it without an operating system. Yes, you'll have to install it yourself, but at least 8 of my friends have disks that I can bum off them, and to save money, you could probably find a way to bum it, too.

Or just use Linux. That's totally the way to go.
posted by shesaysgo at 5:26 PM on November 9, 2010

My mom needed a new computer tower, I really wanted to get her a Dell but the new ones were out of my price range. I went to the Dell OUTLET website and picked her out a tower (described as returned new by customer) with all the right specifications, ordered it and hoped for the best. That was 4 years ago and it is still working great.
posted by sandyp at 6:02 PM on November 9, 2010

Cheap and durable don't really go together. But if you're getting a bargain barrel laptop, consider Asus: Engadget laptop reliability survey.

That said, I'm also a Thinkpad cultist. They are tanks. I love my X61. But "CHEAP" is only going to get you a used one.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:09 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Great Answers guys, Thanks! Thinkpad wins in a landslide. Thanks for the various ideas on obtaining one cheaply (used is OK). I have some time before I need to acquire said computer so I'll try to hunt around for a real bargain using suggestions provided.

Any other ideas on where to find or what models please continue to post!
posted by DetonatedManiac at 8:43 PM on November 9, 2010

I was given an Acer Extensa last year as a gift... still going strong, haven't had even the slightest issue with it, and it was bought in a pre-Black Friday sale for $250.

I know you said Thinkpad wins. Just my two cents.
posted by Night_owl at 11:32 PM on November 9, 2010

thinkpad t60's are also really good hackintosh-able laptops.
posted by jannw at 5:07 AM on November 10, 2010

Not a thinkpad but not used, either. Here are links to a deal site that has two laptops featured right now here and here .

And BensBargains, another deal site, has their information to where you can search on just one item ie printer or camera or, for in your case, they have a listing of deals on notebook computers.

Might be that none of these puters blow your skirt up -- cool. I just saw them earlier, thought to show you, in case they might work for you. (I'm typing this on a really nice little $325 compaq laptop I bought in July, win7, good sized drive, blah blah blah, certainly not overpowered but does anything I'll need it to do. Bear in mind that if you purchase from or newegg or some other merchants, they'll often offer free shipping and you can get it without paying any taxes on it -- cool.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:57 AM on November 11, 2010

I bought a refurb laptop from It was off-lease, reliable and cheap.
posted by theora55 at 12:58 PM on November 11, 2010

here is where to go for used thinkpads

thinkpad forum's marketplace

best place to look for used thinkpads...can often get great quality there for not a ton
posted by knockoutking at 7:46 PM on November 12, 2010

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