Environment

Published on April 23rd, 2019 | by Manisha Gehlot

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Benefits of Buying Refurbished Laptops

Why would anyone buy any used thing ever in 21st century with new technology being developed and deployed almost every month? We are the privileged ones in the human history with unprecedented choices, so we only buy brand new and any slightly worn thing is immediately destroyed completely. This might be true for a major section of the society but used laptops are renewed as refurbished laptops every day, at times from manufacturers themselves let alone third party suppliers as there is a huge market for it.

HP Spectre

HP Spectre: A flagship laptop today

I personally think that laptops having some bumps and scrapes give them character, opposed to some glossy photo perfect fakeness. I find them fine. I am not really on the bandwagon of revering a laptop that has a super-mega-ultra-quad-HD resolution 12 or 13 inches of display with a few caveats. It makes no sense to me as of now unless I were into production with actual need for it. Regardless, every laptop manufacturers is pushing these unnecessary upgrades to every laptop needlessly. The thing is what do you actually do with so many pixels that you can’t even tell the difference because what you’re looking at picture-wise doesn’t even come in that resolution anyway. So I have a super mega HD ultra quad resolution display; and play a DVD. Woot, right? All those unused pixels! When I need screen space it’s at home and I have external monitors connected to a stationary computer. On the road I want compactness and portability.

Not everyone would like a six- or eight-core brand new shiny laptop with PCIe NVMe disk to do word processing or check mails when a two year old refurbished laptop does it pretty well.

What is a refurbished laptop?

It is a used laptop inspected by a couple of software tools or utilities to check various components and if everything is still correct or functional. Of course it is cleaned after thorough physical checks of the interiors. It often comes with a certification by a trusted supplier or store if not by original equipment manager themselves for limited hardware warranty. In other words, it is a supplier’s best attempt to restore a laptop to mint or factory condition.

An Acer Aspire laptop being refurbished

An Acer Aspire laptop being refurbished

So, a refurbished laptop is a used laptop that is renewed for use and often carries a limited hardware warranty. One might say there is no difference between a used and refurbished laptop but a quality supplier for refurbished laptops do replace vital components (usually mechanical disks) to add usability and peace of mind to potential buyers. This process of renewing could just be thorough cleaning of a laptop or replacement of components in order to avail that limited hardware warranty you get from a given supplier. This is what distinguishes a used laptop from a refurbished one provided that it is from a trusted supplier or even an OEM.

That being so, calling it “refurbished laptop” tries to make it sound better but all it means is that it did not just roll off the factory assembly line and someone else had it before you did. In theory the fancy term “refurbished” might mean, “we opened up the machine and clean out the dust” and whatever. But someone could also do that and call theirs “used”. So don’t get hung up on terminology like that. Let us keep the downside of refurbished laptops aside for now.

So when you put it all together you have a less expensive machine that provides more flexibility, is better for the environment, and is more trustworthy than the newer machine since you can actually audit the boot firmware and above by yourself in some cases. For example, whole of the free/libre hardware freedom movement has laid its foundation on renewed, refurbished laptops of a particular brand that I wouldn’t like to name.

Renewed laptops can be just as good as new or like new if bought from a trustworthy source like Recompute refurbished laptops with a few exceptions.

What are the factors that people consider when buying a refurbished laptop?

The most important things that come to my mind are flexibility, trust, money and not forgetting climate change.

There used to be days when we could replace most of the components in a laptop with supported replacements just like that. Laptops with easy access panels to disk, RAM, battery for user upgradable designs are becoming extinct in today’s world. Laptop manufacturers today are making it more and more difficult for users to be able to upgrade their laptops by themselves. The top-of-the-line and most premium laptops today come with disks, RAM, processor, graphics and every other component soldered to your motherboard. So, say if one of the RAM sticks got bad, the whole of the system has to be sent to the OEM or to someone who has authorized access to their supply chain. Whereas, a few years ago, it was just a matter of replacement by the user at home or office. Also, if you needed more disk space or RAM owing to a different use case after a couple of months, it just isn’t possible. Not only that, even some manufacturers today are making it legally impossible for geeks who would like to help. The flexibility of being able to replace, audit software right from firmware to the GUI like your word processor is just amazing too. One last thing I liked is that for the old laptops, manufacturers made hardware maintenance/repair manuals showing how to completely disassemble the laptop.

An old laptop disassembled

An old laptop disassembled

When you get a refurbished laptop, you trust a supplier. At times you can have bad luck and your refurbished HDD has hiccups after a few months or the keyboard is not working nicely anymore or the display color went a bit pale, which is of course very rare but possible. The condition of the laptop might or might not be perfect. But that depends on the specific machine. Maybe it needs a new battery or some other components. You may even need to buy screws and hard disk caddies and other pieces. Be ready for the playful cleverness. If you wish to avoid all these cases, always verify the source of the laptop supplier and run a couple of tests yourself on the laptop you like. Finally, if you happen to like the terms of warranty and find it a bargain deal, go for it. One has to balance the deal with the quality of the hardware. Trust, but verify to the best of your ability.

There is a different more positive side to it as well. Refurbished older laptops (the ones supported by opensource boot software called libreboot) have free boot firmware and so provide more software freedom than newer laptops that have not only have proprietary boot firmware but also the Intel Management Engine, AMD PSP, or whatever. If you ask me, I personally can trust a refurbished laptop with free boot firmware more than I can trust one without. My first action on getting one of those machines is to flash the boot firmware with a known-trusted version and then wipe the OS and install a known-trusted version etc.

Renewed laptops are usually cheaper than new ones depending on the current age, quality of the hardware not only in terms of the ownership cost but also when something goes bad, as you get to replace the exact component instead of going through a harassing process as offered by many manufacturers today. For example, there are numerous reported cases of a loose display connector causing back-light problems where a premium brand recommended in-store repairs amounting to the cost of a brand new laptop itself.

Everyone wants to the save the nature and our mother planet Earth. I guess you would save a bit on gas emissions that are resulting in adverse climate change by buying a second hand or refurbished laptop. Usually old laptops get recycled pretty well and the minerals go back into the production system, which of course still takes energy, but release lesser kg of carbon-dioxide. People around the globe are just interested in those aggressively priced Black Friday deals. They still want to save the planet somehow and yet everyone’s laptops and other gadgets are of the latest release. They do not even know how much CO2 the production of electronic goods cause. This is a thriving threat to our mother Earth in form of E-waste. I don’t want to get into the stats or details but a major proportion of it is portable PCs and other computing devices including but not limited to laptops. The Internet has made us global citizens and brought us together, but we have to be careful with devices, especially portable form factors like laptops and smartphones. There are so many options today and manufacturers are not properly disposing off the old hardware or recycling it but burning it to ashes giving birth to shameful new phenomena like ash rivers in Africa and Asia. It is just tip of the iceberg. But do remember that it is the consumer’s responsibility first to avoid new shiny portable devices like laptops. If you buy a device to show off, you are essentially forcing manufacturers who crave for nothing but profit to dump and burn your old devices in the neighborhood of families just like yours who might not be as privileged as your are. It is just not justified or ethical at all.

Dumped e-waste in Africa

Dumped e-waste in Africa

Lastly, unless you need a state-of-the-art multi-core processing unit with powerful graphics processors and dozen or more gigabytes of RAM in a portable form factor every year for practical purposes, a refurbished laptop from a decade ago works just fine for most purposes including multimedia production systems. For beginners, a used laptop from a trustworthy supplier is just like getting your first bike or car from your relative. Yes, it is used and and I agree that you may not be able to get the original warranty on it and also the hardware may get outdated or fail sooner. But, how does it matter even if it all goes wrong? Don’t manufacturers mess up with their new design failures like every year and then the users are stuck with it for life? For example, you can see the new MacBook Pro keyboard’s butterfly mechanism. Don’t brand-new devices arrive in dead condition or go dead in a couple of months too? I would not shy away from trying a refurbished laptop at all if the price and supplier is right. You should too.

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About the Author

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I am a privacy, security, encryption and software freedom enthusiast. I am into VPNs, TLS security. Recently I also got into technical writings. I am working as a VPN support and consultant at some nordic VPN providers.



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