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  1. #1
    General Used Computer Purchasing Tips
    pigoo3's Avatar
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    General Used Computer Purchasing Tips


    Hello Mac-Forums members. In a recent thread regarding purchasing a used Apple computer I mentioned that for the past 20+ years I've only been purchasing used computers for my own & families use. There was a request that I put together some used computer buying tips that I've picked up & used over the years.

    First let me share a little background. I purchased (brand new) my first Apple computer back in 1986 (a nice shiny Mac Plus). I was very new to computers back then...and had no preset habits or experience as far as buying computers...when to upgrade to something new...selling a used computer...etc. I purchased this Mac Plus from a local computer store...which for anyone that doesn't know...back then pretty much the only way to purchase a brand new Apple computer was from:

    - A local independent computer store.
    - One of a few larger chain electronics stores (which mainly focused on Windows computers & are mostly all out of business now).
    - Many college or university on campus stores.
    - The one & only Apple Cupertino, California based company store.

    The Apple Stores many of us are familiar with now didn't come into being until 2001...when there was just two initially.

    I purchased my first Apple computer in 1986...and probably purchased a new computer about every 1.5 to 2 years until about 1997 or so. I then decided that I was tired of paying high prices for new computers (and the equally low price/value I was getting for the barely used Apple computer I was selling)...when a perfectly operational 2-3+ year old computer would get things done just fine...at a fraction of the cost.

    Be aware that these brand new Apple computers back then were quite expensive compared to today. A new Mac Plus in 1986 cost $2599...which was kind of the entry level Apple computer at the time. $2599 (adjusted for inflation) is equivalent to about $5958 in 2019 dollars. Imagine paying almost $6000 dollars for an entry level 2019 21" iMac (which actually sells for $1099 today)...and imagine doing this every 12-18 months. Lol With these sort of prices back then...you can see why after about 10 years of purchasing brand new Apple computers...switching to purchasing good-used computers made a lot more sense financially.

    To be fair...some others factors also played into purchasing newer model computers at the time...but then having a change of computer purchasing strategy to used computers:

    1. Generally speaking...I would say that the increases in computer performance from one model year to the next model year back in the 1980's, 1990's, and early 2000's was much greater than it is today. Thus when you purchased a new computer every 12 months back then...you REALLY noticed the difference!

    Thus the drive to want the latest & greatest was REALLY strong...since you KNEW that new computer was going to be (and feel) MUCH faster! Even simple stuff like mousing around the desktop, drop down menu's were so much snappier, and OS/Finder operations were so much quicker.

    2. In the mid to late 1990's...as the internet REALLY got going...the options for buying & selling computers expanded greatly with websites like eBay. Thus buying & selling computers suddenly got so much easier. And when Craig's List got rolling strong...that made local buying & selling of computer's wayyy easier too.

    So in 2019 (after about 22 years of ONLY purchasing used computers for personal use for myself & family)...what are the things I usually try to look for in a used computer when upgrading?? Firstly...for about the last 10 years or more I've mostly focused on Craig's List deals. For two reasons...can usually get a better price than eBay...and get to see & inspect the computer before handing over any cash. On the other hand with eBay...you have a much greater selection to choose from...and if you need something specific NOW...it's usually available.


    What do I look for in a used laptop computer?:

    Exterior Condition:

    - Look at exterior for any cosmetic issues (dents, dings, scratch's, nick's, missing rubber feet, etc.).
    - Check out the ports. Look for anything bent or missing.
    - Check out the power adapter port/mage-safe port for any serious signs of damage, spark arcing, or “black stuff” that may indicate some powering issues in the past.
    - Check out the power adapter brick for issues & both ends of the power cable from the power brick to the mag-safe end/end you connect to the computer. These areas are known areas that don't like to be mis-handled...and the insulation could be spilt, frayed, or otherwise damaged.

    Now open the laptop display & check things out:

    Interior condition/operational condition:

    - Check out the palm rests, trackpad, and keyboard keys for wear & tear.
    - Make sure the physical clicking of the trackpad works.
    - Make sure tapping of the trackpad & trackpad gestures work.
    - Maybe test each & every key to be sure they work (or at least a bunch of them). Watch out for sticky keys (could indicate a previous sticky liquid spill).
    - Check to be sure all the keyboard illumination is working.
    - Go to “About this Mac” and verify all system specs (RAM, CPU, GPU, storage, computer model).
    - Check number of battery cycles.
    - Test the builtin WiFi by connecting to a WiFi network...and get on the internet with it.
    - Test the bluetooth if possible (this can be a little harder).
    - If laptop has a spinner HD...listen for unusual noises.
    - If laptop has an internal optical drive...bring a CD/DVD to test with.
    - Play some sounds/music to check out the speakers.
    - If laptop has dual GPU's (integrated & discrete) do an activity that requires the more powerful discrete GPU to verify its operation (play some sort of video usually).
    - Check physical condition of laptop display (loose/wobbly).
    - Test the laptop's camera (usually with FaceTime).
    - And here's an unusual one. Once the computer has had time to warm up...make sure you use your nose. Laptop computer's can suffer from liquid spills...sometimes you can smell old coffee, fruity drinks, beer, wine, etc. Could indicate a previous liquid spill.


    What do I look for in a desktop computer?

    Many of the items you would look for in a laptop computer you would also look for in a desktop computer (of course except laptop specific items like the display mechanics, battery, keyboard, etc.). But these items you would definitely want to check:

    - External condition.
    - Check the ports for damage.
    - Check for the correct spec's with “About this Mac” (RAM, storage, CPU, exact model, GPU).
    - Listen to the spinner hard drive(s) if it has one or more.
    - Test the internal optical drive if it has one.
    - Test the internal speaker/speakers with some music.
    - Make the computer work a bit with some You Tube video's to test the GPU.
    - Test the WiFi (connect to a WiFi network & get on the internet).
    - Test bluetooth if possible.
    - Check builtin camera operation with FaceTime (iMac's).
    - Look closely at the display (iMac's).


    Generally speaking...checking out a desktop computer can be easier than a laptop. Desktop computers are usually just sitting on the floor or someone's desk...and not exposed to a lot of the hazards that a mobile/portable device like a laptop computer is exposed to.

    The BIG problem with desktop computer's is where to test them. Laptop computer's are much easier...since they can run on battery power while testing them. Meeting the seller at a public location like a Starbuck's is super simple & safe...and Starbuck's almost always has free WiFi to test with.

    But with a desktop computer...the meeting location is more difficult. Desktop computers like a Mac Pro or Mac-Mini need to have a display, keyboard, and mouse attached to test them fully. Even a 21" or 27” iMac is not easy to test at a public location (but I did meet a seller once at a McDonald's to check-out & purchase a 27” iMac). That was fun! Usually with a desktop computer you need to meet at the seller's home or business...so to be safe bring a friend.

    I know there are a lot of specific details here...but it doesn't really take very long to test a lot of these items out in 10-15 minutes (or maybe a touch more).

    As I mentioned...most of my used computer purchasing for the last 10 years or so has been via Craig's List. Buying via eBay can be done as well. You may not get the absolute lowest price...but you can get some good deals if you are patient. Ebay is as good as it's ever been in terms of safe-buying. Much of eBay's rules around buying & selling seem to favor the buyer more than the seller. If for some reason the used computer is misrepresented (specs's, cosmetic condition, exact model)...returning a computer to the seller is usually not too difficult (just watch out for who pays the return shipping & if there's a "restocking fee" if purchasing from an eBay store/business). I always like to pay with PayPal as well. I think it adds an extra layer of protection if there are any issues. And of course with an eBay purchase of a used computer...you have a lot more time to give it a really through examination.

    Occasionally you may be chasing after a REALLY good Craig's List deal (lower price than usual for a specific model)...and the seller has hopefully represented a less than perfect computer properly...then you have to take that into account:

    - Maybe there are some significant cosmetic faults.
    - Maybe the internal optical drive isn't working.
    - Maybe the display is loose.
    - Etc.

    Even with one of these less than perfect computers you still want it to operate properly internally (unless you're ok with replacing internal parts that are known to be bad). It may look like an “ugly-duckling” on the outside...but on the inside you still want it to work 100%.

    You may (or probably will if it's not too old) be looking at a used computer that has some Applecare remaining on it. This is always a plus...and it doesn't hurt to take it to an Apple Store after purchasing...and see if they'll look it over for you (just ask nicely).

    Three other important miscellaneous tips:

    - Make sure the seller has signed out, logged out, and disassociated the computer from all Apple accounts (App Store, iTunes, etc.).
    - Make sure you get the computer's Admin password from the seller if there is one setup. Don't want to get home after purchasing it...can't get past the login screen...and having difficulty getting in touch with the seller.
    - As soon as possible...wipe the computer clean...and do a fresh install of the macOS. This way you can be 100% sure there are no software issues that might have been there from the previous owner.

    These of course have been my personal experiences buying used computer's. Not saying it's a perfect system...but this method has served me well buying approximately 75-100 used computer's over the last 20+ years for myself, friends, and family. The actual number may be higher...never really kept track of the numbers.

    I also can't imagine how much total money I've saved over the years purchasing used. But generally speaking...I'm usually paying 40-60% of the original brand new price of each used computer. This of course depends on the age of the used computer & its specs (entry level model or maxed out model). If the used computer is going to be my "main computer"...it's usually at least 1.5-2.0 years old...and probably not older than 3.0-3.5 years.

    I'm sure there are other tips & methods other folks have...please feel free to add/share them.

    Nick

    p.s. Apologies...this turned out a bit longer than I expected. Lol
    Last edited by pigoo3; 02-05-2019 at 12:12 PM.
    - Too many "beachballs", read this: Beachballs
    - Computer seems slower than it used to? Read this for some slow computer tips: Speedup
    - Almost full hard drive? Some solutions. Out of Space
    - Apple Battery Info. Battery

  2. #2
    General Used Computer Purchasing Tips
    IWT's Avatar
    Member Since
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    A phenomenal post, Nick.

    Thank you.

    ian
    Ian

  3. #3
    General Used Computer Purchasing Tips

    Member Since
    Jan 13, 2014
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    Vancouver
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    MacBookPro 15", Original iPad, iPad 6, iPhone 5
    Wonderful lot of good information. Thank you. I just may be brave enough to spend some time on Criagslist and see what is available. I have purchased photographic equipment through Craigslist with good success in the past.

    You didn't mention shops which sell used and refurbished Apple products or even Apple it self. There is at least one independent shop in Vancouver, BC that sells used (and I presume refurbished Apple computers) and I thought I might go there for a look too. Any comment about that idea?

    Thanks again for a great post.

    Diane

  4. #4
    General Used Computer Purchasing Tips
    pigoo3's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DianeVan View Post
    You didn't mention shops which sell used and refurbished Apple products or even Apple it self. There is at least one independent shop in Vancouver, BC that sells used (and I presume refurbished Apple computers) and I thought I might go there for a look too. Any comment about that idea?
    I have commented on this in various threads in the past...but you are correct I didn't mention them here. Most of these places are totally respectable & safe to buy from...and sometimes you'll get a 30-60 warranty. But I've found the main downside to these places (compared to eBay & Craig's List)...is they are a lot more expensive for the same exact computer. They are business's & so of course they are in business to make money...and have extra costs associated with their business's to cover.

    They may buy used computers by the pallet load at per unit prices well below the current maket value...and then the actual sale price is well above current market values (eBay). In the end...you may end up paying $500 for a used computer from them...that you could get on eBay for $300. Use the tips I mentioned above...and you can greatly reduce used computer purchasing risks...making the 30-60 day warranty these stores include mostly unecessary.

    Another way of looking at this...there are used computer/equipment calculators online...that can give you an estimate of what one of these places might pay for a users current used computer. The price they will pay for used equipment is usually way below the market value...and again they will mark it way above market value for sale. They may pay you $150 for a computer...and sell it for $500...with the eBay value somewhere in-between.

    Sometimes if it's a newish computer. They may be selling it for around $850...could you could get the same thing on eBay/Craig's List for $650-$700...and Apple is selling a refurb for $1050. If someone is going to pay $850 for a computer form one of these shops...in my opinion...might as well spend the little bit extra...and get a genuine Apple refurb...and get the full-term Applecare warranty. But if you can get the exact same model computer on eBay for $650...then it may be worth getting it used.

    I'm mostly talking about online internet stores vs. eBay & Craig's List. Local independent shops may be different...but I'm guessing thay are still more expensive than eBay & Craig's List.

    Glad you enjoyed the original post,

    - Nick

    p.s. My example's in this post are general examples based on previous actual examples I've come across/researched over the years. I'm sure if I looked right now...I could come up with many current factual examples to exemplify the price gap of a used computer between eBay prices & some online used computer stores.
    - Too many "beachballs", read this: Beachballs
    - Computer seems slower than it used to? Read this for some slow computer tips: Speedup
    - Almost full hard drive? Some solutions. Out of Space
    - Apple Battery Info. Battery

  5. #5
    General Used Computer Purchasing Tips

    Member Since
    Jan 13, 2014
    Location
    Vancouver
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    143
    Your Mac's Specs
    MacBookPro 15", Original iPad, iPad 6, iPhone 5
    Gee thanks for the additional information and ideas. I'll be looking around soon and making a decision. This group has helped me a lot for various issues I have had with Apple and my devices. I even added RAM myself! So I feel confident even if I buy a used computer I can upgrade it if needed.

    Thanks

  6. #6
    General Used Computer Purchasing Tips
    pigoo3's Avatar
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    2011 17" MBP 2.2ghz, 16gig ram, OS 10.11.6
    Thanks for the question Diane. The used computer reseller folks are definitely another part of the puzzle when deciding who to purchase a used computer from. I know some folks are not as comfortable with the eBay or Craig's List transaction process...and this is when the computer reseller folks can play a part...as well as Apple refurbished...when making a used computer purchasing choice.

    - Nick
    - Too many "beachballs", read this: Beachballs
    - Computer seems slower than it used to? Read this for some slow computer tips: Speedup
    - Almost full hard drive? Some solutions. Out of Space
    - Apple Battery Info. Battery

  7. #7
    Thanks for the helpful thread, Nick. The only used computer I bought was a 2005 G4 Mac Mini off of eBay back when I was tipping my toes in the water deciding whether to switch to Mac (and the rest, as they say, is history ). After that, though, all my other Macs were purchased new. As Frank Costanza says, "I like to go in fresh!" LOL! That's just me, though. I understand there are many reasons why people will want to buy used, and so this will be very helpful to guide those folks.
    -Jonathan
    iMac (27-inch, Late 2012) - 2.9 GHz Intel Core i5
    MacBook Air (13-inch, Mid 2012) - 1.8 GHz Intel Core i5

  8. #8
    General Used Computer Purchasing Tips
    Slydude's Avatar
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    Great post. I would never have thought of turning on the computer, waiting for it to heat up, and smelling for signs of a spill. Brilliant.
    “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”
    Kevin Durant

  9. #9
    General Used Computer Purchasing Tips
    pm-r's Avatar
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    @DianeVan
    You didn't mention shops which sell used and refurbished Apple products or even Apple it self. There is at least one independent shop in Vancouver, BC that sells used (and I presume refurbished Apple computers) and I thought I might go there for a look too. Any comment about that idea?

    I don't know if they still operate several stores in the general Vancouver BC area, but Simply Computing has a very good Mac user reputation and also carry a fairly good selection of used products:
    https://www.simply.ca/
    https://www.simply.ca/pages/clearance





    - Patrick
    ======

  10. #10
    General Used Computer Purchasing Tips
    pigoo3's Avatar
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    2011 17" MBP 2.2ghz, 16gig ram, OS 10.11.6
    Quote Originally Posted by Slydude View Post
    Great post. I would never have thought of turning on the computer, waiting for it to heat up, and smelling for signs of a spill. Brilliant.
    Thanks Slydude.

    Yeah...maybe I'm a little weird that way!

    - Nick
    - Too many "beachballs", read this: Beachballs
    - Computer seems slower than it used to? Read this for some slow computer tips: Speedup
    - Almost full hard drive? Some solutions. Out of Space
    - Apple Battery Info. Battery

  11. #11
    General Used Computer Purchasing Tips

    Member Since
    Jan 13, 2014
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    Vancouver
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    Your Mac's Specs
    MacBookPro 15", Original iPad, iPad 6, iPhone 5
    Thanks. I'll check them out.

  12. #12
    General Used Computer Purchasing Tips
    MacInWin's Avatar
    Member Since
    Jan 01, 2009
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    MBP 15" Mid 2015, iPhone XS, an iMac, plus ATVs, AWatch, MacMini
    Great post! Thanks for taking the time to write it down.
    Jake

  13. #13
    General Used Computer Purchasing Tips
    pigoo3's Avatar
    Member Since
    May 20, 2008
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    2011 17" MBP 2.2ghz, 16gig ram, OS 10.11.6
    Thanks Jake. Turned out a bit longer than expected...especially including some of the background info.

    - Nick
    - Too many "beachballs", read this: Beachballs
    - Computer seems slower than it used to? Read this for some slow computer tips: Speedup
    - Almost full hard drive? Some solutions. Out of Space
    - Apple Battery Info. Battery

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