How to Shop for a Used Laptop or Desktop PC

How to Shop for a Used Laptop or Desktop PC

In the best of times, it’s hard to find a cheap computer with a screen that’s nice to look at, a keyboard and trackpad that are comfortable to use—or just not terrible—and fast-enough performance that won’t leave you waiting for apps and tabs to open. Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and an economic recession, a rush of people buying computers for school and work have made the task almost impossible.

One solution? A used PC.

Buying a good used PC entails a little more work than getting something new, but a laptop or desktop from a few years ago should still be good enough for you to browse the internet, hop on video calls, edit documents and other school projects, and chat with teachers and friends. And stores like Amazon, Best Buy, Newegg, and others all have a wide selection of used PCs, saving you from riskier sites like Craigslist and eBay. Whether you’re preparing for another semester of remote schooling or still adapting to working from home, choosing a used PC can be an economical way to buy a computer you don’t hate.

Why you might want to buy used

In getting a used PC, you can save a few hundred dollars on a computer that can do most of the same stuff a new one can. For the things most people do on their computers—browsing the web, editing documents and spreadsheets, or looking at and editing pictures and videos from your phone—a new computer and one from a few years ago don’t perform that differently from one another.

If you’re on a strict budget, buying used may allow you to buy something that’s nicer than a modern budget laptop for the same money. A high-end Lenovo ThinkPad that sold for $1,400 two or three years ago, for example, will have an as-fast-or-faster processor and a better screen, and will be made of nicer materials, than a new laptop that’s selling for $500.

Plus, buying a used PC cuts down on electronic waste. You rescue an old but functional computer from getting thrown in the trash, and you avoid buying a cheap PC that will wear out and be disposed of in a few years.

What to look for

Lenovo Yoga C740 (14″) Laptop
Photo: Michael Hession

The three most important things to look for in a used PC are its physical condition (especially for laptops, which move around more and take more punishment), its make and model number,and its specifications.

Some used-PC sellers post pictures of the actual computers they’re selling, which makes it easier for you to assess a computer’s condition. Others might assign it a letter grade—stick to systems with an A or B rating to reduce the risk of visible damage or wear. The only way to guarantee you’ll get something that looks truly new is to buy a manufacturer-refurbished system.

Most people can get by with a computer that meets our minimum requirements.

Generally, we suggest sticking to desktops and laptops made by Dell, HP, or Lenovo(orApple, if you’re buying a Mac). It’s okay to buy used computers made by smaller outfits like Acer or Asus, but it’s usually easier to find parts and support for older computers made by the bigger companies. In particular, we like business desktops and laptops such as those in the Dell Optiplex and Latitude series, the Lenovo ThinkCentre and ThinkPad family, and the HP Pro and Elite lineup. These kinds of PCs are chunkier than modern ultrabooks like Dell’s XPS 13 or Apple’s MacBook Air, but they’re easier to upgrade and repair, and they’re built out of sturdier materials more likely to hold up under stress.

Minimum requirements

Most people can get by with a computer that meets our minimum requirements. If you just need to do basic tasks like web browsing, document editing, and video chatting, here’s what you should look for:

  • Processor: Choose a fourth-generation or newer Intel Core processor (look for a model number that starts with Core i3, i5, or i7, followed by a number in the 4000s or higher). Intel’s fourth-generation chips aren’t much faster than its third-generation chips, but they do support noticeably better battery life.
  • Memory: For basic web browsing and app usage, 4 GB is the absolute minimum. But if you buy a computer with 4 GB, check to see if you can upgrade the memory yourself—you can almost always upgrade a desktop, but lots of laptops don’t allow it.
  • Storage: A 128 GB or larger solid-state drive is preferable to a larger but slower mechanical hard disk drive, in both reliability and responsiveness. But buying a computer with a hard drive and upgrading it to an SSD yourself can allow you to save some money.
  • Screen type: For notebooks, look for IPS displays, which provide better color reproduction and viewing angles than cheap TN displays (WVA displays, although rarer and not as good as IPS, also usually look okay). Used-computer listings don’t always specify the display technology, but 1080p screens are more likely (albeit not guaranteed) to be IPS.
  • Screen resolution: We prefer laptop screens with a 1920×1080-pixel resolution, also called 1080p or Full HD, but some older laptops might get by with 1440×900 or 1600×900 screens. Avoid 1366×768 (also called HD) screens, which look worse and tend to use inferior TN technology.

Preferred requirements

If you want a computer that looks and feels a bit faster and more modern—and can run higher-end professional apps when you need them—look for a system that meets our preferred requirements instead:

  • Processor: Look for a seventh-generation or newer Intel Core processor (Core i3, i5, or i7, followed by a number in the 7000s or higher) or a 3000- or 4000-series AMD Ryzen processor (Ryzen 3, 5, or 7, followed by 3000- or 4000-something). These processors are a good baseline if you’re playing 4K video or connecting to 4K monitors.
  • Memory: Most people can get by just fine with 8 GB of memory. The biggest reason to buy more than that is if you’ll be playing games or using professional apps like Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, or Premiere.
  • Storage: When you’re buying a new PC, we recommend an SSD that’s 256 GB or larger, which is enough for your operating system, your most important software, and your photos and documents. If you need more space, consider a cloud storage service or an external drive.
  • Screen type: Same as above—IPS displays are the best thing to aim for in a notebook, and they’re more common in newer computers.
  • Screen resolution: We think 1080p screens offer laptops the best combination of sharpness and battery life. You may be able to find laptops with 4K displays, but such a screen adds to the laptop’s cost and reduces battery life without adding benefits most people are likely to notice. In Macs, look for a Retina Display.
  • USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 ports: These aren’t a necessity, but a USB-C port that can charge a laptop and connect to newer monitors is especially convenient (these ports are not as big a deal for desktops). Replacement USB-C chargers are also easier to find and cheaper to buy.

Things to avoid with used PCs

  • Old or slow processors: This list includes Intel Celerons and Pentiums, Intel Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad processors, and first-, second-, and third-generation Intel Core processors, as well as AMD A-series processors. These are older or slower processors that will all feel their age as you use them. Some may even have trouble supporting basic features of Windows 10 or running modern versions of macOS.
  • 1366×768 screens: These low-resolution screens, sometimes called HD or WXGA displays, can’t fit as much information and don’t look as sharp as higher-resolution screens. They’re also more likely to use cheap, washed-out TN display panels.
  • Spinning hard drives (HDD): A traditional hard drive is the slowest part of any older or cheaper computer. If you buy a computer with an HDD, consider replacing that storage with an SSD.
  • Less than 64 GB of storage: That isn’t enough space for you to comfortably install Windows and your most important apps while leaving enough room for Windows Update to work properly. Computers with such tiny SSDs also tend to use a cheaper kind of storage called eMMC, which is slower than a typical SSD and not upgradable.
  • 802.11n Wi-Fi (aka Wi-Fi 4): A computer with an older Wi-Fi adapter can still connect to a Wi-Fi 5 or Wi-Fi 6 network, so if an 802.11n Wi-Fi adapter is the only thing wrong with a computer you like, that shouldn’t be a dealbreaker. But Wi-Fi 5 (or 802.11ac) has been standard in most computers for the past five or six years, so you should avoid Wi-Fi 4 if you can.

Source : Wirecutter

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