If you’ve shopped for a laptop recently, you’ve probably heard the call of the many refurbished laptop deals out there. You’ll see all different kinds of notebook computers, often offered at steep discounts — accompanied by claims that a refurbished laptop is, in fact, barely different from one fresh out of the box.

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Are these deals too good to be true? Can you really save by going refurbished — and, more importantly, is it safe for you and your data? Let’s take a look at the key facts to know about purchasing a refurbished laptop vs. buying a new laptop.

1. Know your seller, and know what “refurbished” means.

The first thing to know about refurbished laptops is that there’s no universal or legally-binding definition of “refurbished.” That means you need to look carefully at who’s selling a refurbished laptop and read all the fine print that describes exactly what you’re getting. Laptop manufacturers and well-known electronics retailers offer refurbished laptops with labels like “remanufactured,” “certified refurbished,” or “factory refurbished.” For a trustworthy refurbished laptop, this is the best place to start. These laptops have been inspected point-by-point, had any bad parts replaced, had their data wiped, and otherwise been restored to like-new condition through a rigorous cleaning and repair process. On the other hand, buying a laptop billed as “refurbished” from a seller on eBay, Craigslist, or even Amazon requires a lot more due diligence. Pay close attention to the seller’s rating and reviews, and read the description of exactly how the seller refurbishes laptops. (If there is no description, that’s a red flag in itself.) If you see the word “used” anywhere, assume that the laptop is sold as-is, and either be extremely careful or don’t buy it at all.

2. Pay close attention to the warranty and return policy on refurbished laptops.

Warranties and return policies are important for any electronics purchase, but they’re especially critical for refurbished computers. You want to have a crystal-clear understanding of the following:

  • How long you can return the laptop for
  • Conditions for receiving a full refund if the laptop isn’t everything you expect
  • What kind of repairs to the laptop are covered, and for how long
  • Whether the seller or refurbisher (or both) offers the warranty

Generally, you’ll want to avoid any seller who doesn’t offer a warranty on their refurbished products. Meanwhile, some sellers offer the ability to purchase an extended warranty for your refurbished computer, or additional coverage for specific circumstances (such as accidental damage or theft).

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3. Consider open-box, scratch-and-dent, and off-lease deals.

Open-box, scratch-and-dent, and off-lease are three other common types of laptop deals that manufacturers and retailers offer. Let’s break down what they mean:

  • An open-box laptop is one that was purchased and returned within a certain timeframe (usually a few days to a month). Again, it’s important to investigate what you’re getting. Some sellers consider a computer “open box” only if it’s in like-new condition, while others may sell open-box computers that are basically used. Note also that open-box computers may be missing chargers, cables, or other accessories.
  • A scratch-and-dent laptop is a new computer that has some kind of cosmetic blemish from the manufacturing process, such as (how did you guess?) scratches or dents. The key is that these defects are only cosmetic. Any reputable seller will guarantee that their scratch-and-dents are free of problems that affect functionality. However, be aware that you probably won’t know how noticeable the flaw is until you get the computer — it might be tiny, or it might be prominent.
  • An off-lease laptop is one that was originally part of a bulk leasing deal by a large business or organization and was traded in when its lease ended. Off-lease laptops can offer impressive savings, and they’ll still be in good working condition if you buy them from a reliable seller. However, you should generally expect a higher level of wear and tear in an off-lease, even from an honest source.

4. For maximum performance and longevity, brand new may still be your best bet.

Even as refurbished computers are in many ways the best they’ve ever been, there’s still nothing quite like buying new. Some of the advantages of buying a new PC include:

  • Key components like the battery are guaranteed to be free of wear and tear
  • Your computer will likely come with a more robust warranty out of the box
  • You might have more configuration options (such as choosing your SSD or RAM)
  • You’ll have an easier time finding the newest, top-of-the-line hardware
  • You can be confident that your PC is free of potential hidden issues

That said, even when buying a new laptop, you’ll still need to do your research, read reviews, and compare specs between models. A new PC isn’t always a great PC or a PC with the latest components — but it is guaranteed to be new, and that matters to a lot of users.

5. Inspect a refurbished laptop carefully after bringing it home.

Before you start using a refurbished laptop, give it a checkup to ensure that everything is as it should be. Here are a few of the most important steps to take:

  • Check the computer’s specs against the ones listed in your receipt. You can do this via System Information in Windows or About This Mac in macOS.
  • Use the Windows Battery Report or Mac Battery Health tools to ensure your battery is in good condition.
  • Test every key on the keyboard to ensure that it works, including function keys.
  • Use one of the many free dead pixel detectors to verify that every pixel on your screen is functional.
  • Use a disk inspector tool to make sure your SSD is free of bad sectors and doesn’t have excessive wear and tear.
  • Test each port, including USB ports, HDMI, headphone jack, DisplayPort, and any other connectors your laptop might have.

Finally, you have the option to perform a new install of Windows or macOS. While this isn’t a strict necessity for everyone, many folks prefer the “clean slate” that it provides.

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New or refurbished, a laptop is a big part of your life, so you’ll want to look beyond price when making your selection. On the other hand, if price is a major concern, refurbished laptops offer some genuinely great deals, so don’t hesitate to explore everything that’s out there!