Buying a used laptop is a lot like buying a used car. You have to kick the wheels, look under the hood, and take a test drive. I have gathered some thoughts on what you should look for when you buy a used laptop and they can be found below.

laptop computer

What brand to buy.

I have been asked this question a hundred times and the answer usually is the same. It really depends on how much you are willing to spend. If you want a product with good resale value the Apple Macbook or Macbook Pro is where you want to be. If you are used to using a Windows PC you can always dual boot Windows XP and Mac OS X. You will need to purchase a copy of Windows XP which you can then configure to dual boot using Apples Boot Camp.

As far as a used laptop which is what this page mainly talks about, I always recommend IBM (Lenovo) Thinkpad laptops. IBM Thinkpads have been used in space by NASA, and if you walk the halls of any hospital you will see them in service. They have a great reputation as being a solid and well built laptop. Lenovo a Chinese company bought the PC division from IBM in 2005 which contained the Thinkpad line of notebooks. I still believe the quality is there even though a different company owns the Thinkpad laptop.

Who you buy from.

When looking for a used laptop whether it is on Ebay or on Craigslist there are certain things to look for. The obvious things like checking feedback on Ebay and asking questions about the laptop should be first and foremost. Let’s take a look at how to buy a laptop through Ebay.

Ebay

Ebay Step one – OK you found a laptop on Ebay that you think would be nice. If the feedback is sketchy and they have some negatives go elsewhere, no matter how good a deal the laptop is. There are reputable laptop dealers on Ebay you just need to find them. I always look for 98% or better on the feedback. Make sure the person has at least 50 positive feedback and has been a member of Ebay for a year or more.

Ebay Step two - Read the auction listing completely. If you breeze through the ad and miss the fact that the laptop crashes every Thursday at 6 pm it is your fault when you own it and find that out.

Ebay Step three - Ask questions first before pulling the trigger on it. If the auction does not address something you are interested in then you must ask questions about it. Don’t assume anything. Take a look at the DOA warranty they offer, it should be at least 7 days from delivery to give you time to run it through the paces. Remember you can’t physically touch this laptop when buying on Ebay, you have to go by their word. If everything checks out and you would like to go ahead with the purchase it is best to use Paypal for payment. Watch out for people wanting you to send them Western Union money orders, it is always a scam. Using Paypal you have a middle man who could help in the event of problems with the deal. Tell them to package the laptop carefully with at least 2-3 inches of cushion all around the laptop. Tell them to ship the AC adapter next to the laptop NOT on top of the laptop.

Craigslist

Craigslist step one - respond to the ad and ask questions right away. Your first e-mail should NOT read “is the laptop still for sale?” It is live on Craigs so that means yes it is still for sale. Instead ask all important questions right away so you can get some answers and decide if you want to pursue the laptop. Any info not found in the ad needs to be asked about. You can copy / paste this list if you would like, omitting questions that are already answered in the ad:

Are the hinges good?
Is the LCD screen in good shape?
Is the power jack in good condition and it does not wiggle in the laptop. USB ports in ok shape?
Is there any plastic cracked?
Does the computer boot properly and not full of viruses.
Has liquid ever spilled into the laptop?
Ask about battery life
How big is the hard drive?
How much memory?
What processor does it have?

Does it have wireless built in?
Does it have a DVD-RW drive or at least a CD-RW drive and it is functioning.
Is the keyboard in good shape? Missing any keys?
How old is the laptop? (Don’t overpay for a 10 year old laptop)
Does it come with reinstall CDs?
Are there any known problems with the laptop?
Does it come with an OEM Ac adapter?
What operating system does the laptop have, and does the certification on the bottom match?

¬†Craigslist step two – Chances are if you send those questions to someone you will probably get short answers to the questions which is fine, people don’t like to type all day and that is understandable. But if someone does answer all the questions you know they are probably legit and not trying to hide anything. Take a look at the answers and make a decision on whether to go ahead or not.

Craigslist step three – Arrange to meet the person preferably in a public place, please be careful. Tell them you will buy them a coffee at a coffee house, there are usually outlets at a coffee house and free WiFi to test the Internet. It helps to have a well lit location to look the laptop over, you don’t want to miss anything. If you like it and it is in good shape make an offer. Never pay full asking price. This is a used piece of electronics and everything is negotiable. If the person is asking $350 see if he or she will take $325. It doesn’t hurt to ask. If it looks good and you are happy with the deal, go for it.

Lets talk more about the questions I have listed above.

Are the hinges good?

The hinges on a laptop play an important role. You know how your arm falls asleep and you can’t move it and it flails all over the place. Well if the hinges on a laptop are bad that is exactly what is going to happen to the LCD screen, it is going to flail all over the place and possibly open by itself. Make sure it stays open by itself and has friction when opening and closing. Make sure there is no slop in the hinges.

Is the LCD screen in good shape?

This is an obvious one. Look at the screen and try to identify dark spots, light spots, a dim screen, scratches, dead pixels, etc. This is something you have to live with so make sure you are OK with any defects you see. A dim screen while the computer is plugged in could indicate signs of trouble in the future. It could mean the laptop CCFL bulb is about to die or possibly an inverter problem is right around the corner.

Is the power jack / USB ports in good shape?

Insert the Ac adapter into the laptop and carefully push it side to side, up and down and see if the charging light goes out while doing this. If it does go out you probably have a bad power jack or maybe a bad Ac adapter tip. Also look at all of the USB ports and make sure they are not broken. The USB port gets used a lot these days and they get a ton of abuse thrown at them. Learn what a good USB port looks like and make sure you verify the laptop has good USB ports intact.

Is there any cracked plastic?

If you see missing chunks of plastic or cracked plastic this is an indication the laptop was dropped and abused. The problem is that the motherboard, hard drive, optical drive are also subjected to trauma when it is dropped which could lead to future problems. Be careful if you see cracked plastic, tape, glue, epoxy, etc.

Does the computer boot properly?

Push the on/off button and watch (listen) what happens. Most hard drives have built in SMART monitoring which will alert you to a future hard drive failure. The SMART message is displayed not long after you push the button to boot a computer. Read everything on the screen. Does it take forever to arrive in Windows? Are there any error messages? Are there any strange messages indicating Spyware or Virus infestation? Don’t let the owner quickly close any errors messages telling you they are no big deal. Get answers for any messages displayed.

Has liquid ever spilled into the laptop?

This is not the easiest thing to determine. Look for a tacky keyboard with sticking keys or a spill residue in between the keys. If you see this be very careful about your purchase.

Ask how much battery life do you have when not plugged in.

A bad battery is not the end of the world with a laptop. Laptop batteries are consumable items and are expected to go bad after 2-3 years. It is nice to have a battery that will give you enough time to move the computer to another room if need be.

How big is the hard drive? – How much memory? – What processor does it have?

The hard drive size really depends on what you want to use the laptop for. If you have 10,000 photos that have to go on the laptop or 20,000 songs make sure the hard drive is big enough. A small hard drive is 20gb-30gb and a large one is 320gb-500gb just to give you an idea. The amount of memory should be at least 512mb to 2gb for Windows XP, and at least 2gb for Windows Vista. There are a lot of processors out there. An Intel Celeron is bottom of the barrel and a Core 2 Duo is 20x better top shelf processor. The speed should be at least 1.0 ghz or better. You don’t want a super slow computer, they are not fun to own.

Does it have wireless built in?

It is a nice feature but for the right price you can install a PC Card WiFi card into the laptop. It does mean that the laptop is probably 3-4 years old or more. Make sure to verify that the wireless works. Some laptops have small switches on the side of them, make sure the switch is in good condition and it works.

Does it have a DVD-RW drive or at least a CD-RW drive, and is it functioning?

Bring along a CD to check and make sure the optical drive is working. If it does not work you are going to be bummed when you try to load your software. Do you burn DVD’s or CD’S? If so you will want to make sure the computer has that installed. Does the tray pop out cleanly and close normally?

How old is the computer?

If it does not have wireless built in that indicates an older computer. Another thing that indicates an older computer is a Parallel port. Most computers built in the last 3-4 years have not had a Parallel port built into them. How many USB ports do you see? Most computers built in the last 3-4 years have at least 2-4 USB ports. Older operating systems such as Windows 98 and Windows ME are also good indicators. Older computers are slow, lack up to date features, are heavy, may have dim screens, and in general not the best things to have. They are however cheap and plentiful to find.

Does the laptop come with reinstall CD’s?

Most laptop makers these days have decided not to include reinstall CD’s with laptops when bought new. I guess they are trying to save a dime or something like that. It is stupid and I hate them for it. What they want you to do is create your own reinstall CD’s immediately after you buy the laptop. Problem is that people don’t want to burn reinstall CD’s when they buy a new computer, they want to surf the net or install their favorite programs. Another trick the computer makers do is install a recovery partition on the hard drive. What this does is it makes your hard drive usable space smaller, and you then you run the risk of a dead hard drive meaning there is no way to reinstall the Operating system. If you buy a used laptop ask the owner if they have the reinstall CD or ask if they created them when they bought the computer.

Are there any known problems with the laptop?

Easy question to ask, don’t forget to ask it.

Does it come with an OEM AC Adapter?

Look at the Ac adapter and make sure it is not a “replacement adapter” or a generic no name adapter. OEM adapters fit properly and give the correct electrical current to the laptop.

What Operating system does the laptop have?

Most people are used to a Windows Operating system whether it be Windows XP, Windows Vista, or the newer Windows 7.  Look at the bottom of the computer and find the COA sticker and it will tell you what was shipped with the laptop. Stay away from laptops that have older operating systems such as Windows 98 or Windows ME unless you know what you are getting into. Eighty percent of software and hardware sold today is not compatible with the older operating systems.

I hope this has shed some light on buying a used laptop. If you need any help feel free to contact me.

Call and ask for Derek @ 616.813.3685 or E-mail me at derek@derekscomputer.com

I service the entire Grand Rapids Michigan area including:

Jenison | Hudsonville | Grandville | Wyoming | Byron Center | Cascade

Kentwood | East Grand Rapids | Rockford | Comstock Park | Walker

Thanks / Derek