Need cheap computer fast!
April 21, 2006 6:14 AM   Subscribe

A friend with a limited budget is looking to buy a reconditioned desktop computer. What are the best resellers to deal with? Anything in particular I should be wary of?
posted by TheManticore to Computers & Internet (16 answers total)
 
I don't know how much this helps, but there was this story (via Digg) the other day, saying that refurb computers were one of the 5 things one should never waste their money on.
posted by CRM114 at 6:41 AM on April 21, 2006


Here's the blurb, actually:

Refurbished computers
There are two key factors that make the purchase of a used or refurbished computer a nonstarter. With ever-more demanding applications, most of us find we need to upgrade to new hardware about every couple of years, so buying one that isn't bang up to date will only shorten the time before the onset of yet another case of upgradeitis. Then consider that computer prices continue to fall at a pace that will certainly make powerful brand-new machines just as cheap as a refurbished PC in less than six months, and you'll realize that this really doesn't make sense.

posted by CRM114 at 6:42 AM on April 21, 2006


You can get a brand new Dell for ~$300.

Is that considered within your friend's spending level?
posted by k8t at 6:52 AM on April 21, 2006


Not sure what your budget is but this new $400 Dell comes with a 19" flat panel.

I recently purchased a refurbished computer from Apple and I'm very happy with it. I did it because the warranty was similar to buying new.
posted by Sagres at 6:54 AM on April 21, 2006


I don't know if your friend is considering Apple hardware, but the Apple economy is a bit different. The gear tends to hold its value longer, for one thing. For another, the much longer product cycle means that in six months, your computer's not outstripped by a completely new generation of hardware. Apple themselves offer refurb machines from current and recent product lines with a smallish discount, and Small Dog tends to have a pretty decent array of used and refurb systems at reasonable prices.

This is all even more true for Apple's portables (and somewhat true for other portables) than desktops.

Otherwise, the quoted advice is more or less correct for PC desktops. Rather than save a few bucks buying refurbished commodity hardware, just buy cheaper hardware from a lower performance tier.
posted by majick at 6:59 AM on April 21, 2006


Please don't get recond. computer except apple outlet stuff... I checked out a lot of recond/used computers and sites... but it almost always come out cheaper with new dell or something similar.... You really can't beat Dell pricing nowadays...
posted by curiousleo at 7:02 AM on April 21, 2006


I don't know much about refurbished stuff in general, but the one refurbished piece of equipment I bought was a Thinkpad X30 that ended up being almost exactly a grand, not quite a year after release. I expected this thing to be visibly refurbished, but the thing is still doing well 3 years later and has been my workhorse machine in a lot of instances. Take that for what you will. That was before Lenovo bought IBM's hardware division though.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 7:29 AM on April 21, 2006


There's the Dell Outlet as well.
posted by zsazsa at 7:29 AM on April 21, 2006


The cheapest place I know of is vfxweb, they mostly sell off-lease Dell and Compaq systems. Currently the best deals are on the PIII systems page. However, a new $300 Dell is a better deal, if you can afford it. I've purchased components from vfxweb, and they seem quite good, but I've never bought a system from them.

Whatever you get, you probably want a memory upgrade. While 512mb is usable, 700-800mb is much better, and 1gb should be good for anything you want to do. Never buy your memory upgrade from Dell directly - big waste of money. With enough memory, a PIII 1GHz system (or even a PIII 800Mhz) will do almost anything you want to do, other than new games.

When buying anything Apple/Dell/Compaq (or any other brand) you will get proprietary hardware and connectors everywhere. If you are just going to use the thing as-is, they won't bother you, if you want to do something more it will be a nightmare..
posted by Chuckles at 7:41 AM on April 21, 2006


Keep an eye on www.bensbargains.net for some good deals.
posted by k8t at 8:04 AM on April 21, 2006


I have to disagree with that page on reconditioned computers.

If you have a specific application for the computer in mind that is reasonable for the computer to run, a reconditioned system can offer PLENTY of value to someone running appropriate software who isn't in a rush.

My parents are still VERY happy with their Athlon-700 with 384 MB RAM. All they need a computer for is surfing the internet and the occasional light office duty (printing a letter, etc). They keep asking if they should upgrade it. I ask them if it's too slow. They say no, so I say don't fix it until it's too slow or broken. I figure it should suit them for at least another 2 or 3 years.

An equivalent used machine can be had for under $50 from the right places. If a $50 refurb machine was enough even for just ONE year, you've beat the curve.

But that's just me. I like to use my entire CPU if I can. Heating my house with NO-OPs just isn't all that exciting to me... unless it's winter! :-)

The same thing about floor models -- but only if the price is right. A lot of places only offer 10% off on floor models (Future Shop, I'm looking at you)... that's ridiculous! The few places that will do deep discounts (30% or more) and sometimes free delivery on floor models can make them attractive enough for you not to care about dents / scratches.

And there's even exceptions to the extended warranties are bad mantra. A few chain stores will honour extended-extended warranty options. As in they offer service above the regular extended warranty that you wouldn't normally get to increase their warranty plan sales. In some cases this can be worth it: For example, some stores will warranty laptop batteries against wearing out (sometimes even the LCD against scratching / breakage!), some will warranty iPods against being scratched, and other things that are more YOUR fault as a consumer than the products' fault. If you're careless (like me!), they could come in handy... assuming the store fully honours their extensions of the extended warranty.
posted by shepd at 8:39 AM on April 21, 2006


What almost everyone else has said, stay away from reconditioned computers. Second hand Apples can be a good deal, but you can almost always find a new PC for the price of a reconditioned one.

There are cases where reconditioned equipment (even PCs) make sense, but if you have to ask AxMe, then you probably aren't ready to make the determination for yourself.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:43 AM on April 21, 2006


most of us find we need to upgrade to new hardware about every couple of years, so buying one that isn't bang up to date will only shorten the time before the onset of yet another case of upgradeitis.

This advice might make sense for gamers, but most of us can be quite happy with 2003-era PCs. The truth is that running a web browser, e-mail client, and word processor just doesn't require the massive computer power they are selling these days, and certainly does not require repeated upgrades. As long as your computer is running an OS that has some support out there, you're good to go.
posted by profwhat at 11:16 AM on April 21, 2006


I just recently decommissioned my Win98 machine that I built in like 1999, because the HDD controller began to fail. I had a 2003-ish Dell sitting around, so I switched and am now up to the late 90's with my home computer (and I'm a computer guy - you know how they say the doctor's kids are always sick, etc). In other words, I agree that, depending on what you do with it, you(r friend) may well not need a brand-new, up-to-the-second computer.

That being said, with new Dells as cheap as they are (as mentioned), and the potential for trouble with a reconditioned computer, I'd just go new. A one-year old computer is probably equivalent to a 5-10 year old car; if the price difference was negligible, and depreciation wasn't a factor (which it isn't with a PC), would you buy a new car or a refurbed 1996 model?
posted by attercoppe at 8:25 PM on April 21, 2006


Great comment shepd! I was going to try to broach that subject in more detail, but I got bogged down trying to make the perfect irrefutable argument..

attercoppe: A one-year old computer is probably equivalent to a 5-10 year old car; if the price difference was negligible, and depreciation wasn't a factor (which it isn't with a PC), would you buy a new car or a refurbed 1996 model?

No offence, but that analogy is terrible! Most computer reliability problems appear immediately, or not at all. If a computer functions properly for 1 year, 95% of the time it will continue to work with no hardware maintenance whatsoever for 10 more years. Cars just aren't like that at all.

Dismissing depreciation is kind of misguided too, even though $300 Dell's do seem to hole their value pretty well, if you get the right deal when you buy.
posted by Chuckles at 8:57 PM on April 21, 2006


My parents are still VERY happy with their Athlon-700 with 384 MB RAM. All they need a computer for is surfing the internet and the occasional light office duty (printing a letter, etc). They keep asking if they should upgrade it. I ask them if it's too slow. They say no, so I say don't fix it until it's too slow or broken. I figure it should suit them for at least another 2 or 3 years.

When my parents used to run a second-hand computer store, it was the same scenario. People would come in and we'd say "What do you want to use it for?" and they'd say "Internet & word" to which we'd say "This will do that and it is only $300" (rather than the $1000 the new ones were).

Having said that, the bottom has really fallen out of the new computer market (the computer store closed about 6 years ago, partly because of this, and partly because of the Y2K bug!). Unless you can get a really cheap second-hand PC (like less than $100, I'd recommend pawn stores and auctions houses if you want this), then it would seem sensible to stick with the cheap Dell and get the good warranty.
posted by ranglin at 11:53 PM on April 22, 2006


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