7 Myths about Refurbished Computers Busted

For years, people have created myths to explain things that they don’t fully understand. The difference is that now, instead of the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot, many of our myths are technology-related.

Take, for example, the myths about refurbished computers. As you read this, your brain is already flooded with preconceived notions of how they work (or how they don’t). Set your mind at ease, because reconditioned laptops and desktops can actually be great machines and equally good values. For proof, check out these seven refurbished computer myths, and how easily they are busted.

1. Refurbished computers are slow and run poorly.

As the worldwide manager for Microsoft’s refurbisher programs, Sean Nicholson has heard it all when it comes to refurbished computers. The first wild claim that comes to mind when discussing these machines is that they run poorly — a belief that’s off by a long shot. “If it goes through a half-decent refurbisher, it’s actually going to be as or more reliable,” says Nicholson.

In fact, one of Microsoft’s partners did a side-by-side test with new and refurbished units, letting users surf the web and perform other tasks with both kinds of computers, but they weren't told whether they were using a reconditioned model or a fresh-from-the-box system. The result: From a performance perspective, people couldn’t discern the difference between the two kinds of PCs.

Putting refurbished computers to the test in the real world, Tom Drew, owner of Eugene, OR-based ATW Manufacturing Company, found similar results. "We run a little program that'll tell us how old the hard drive is, how many times it's been turned on, the number of hours that it's run, and so on,” says Drew. "The two refurbished computers we just bought came with brand-new one-terabyte hard drives, and the memory inside had been upgraded and replaced."

2. Refurbished computers are more likely to break than new systems.

Some people think that because refurbished computers were previously used and returned, they were once broken. Actually, they were probably working great when they were sent back, says Nicholson. The reality is that with new computers, manufacturers have an expected failure rate.

On the other hand, “when you head into the refurb world, if they’ve gone through that soak test of being used in a corporate environment for three years or whatever, they've gone through that first bit where the majority of them fail,” says Nicholson. In other words, refurbished computers are the cream of the crop, put back to work because they’re running great. "What you're left with are machines that were built properly to start and that just keep on ticking,” says Nicholson.

3. Refurbished computers are just resold junk that hasn’t been looked at properly.

It’s true that with a wide variety of companies reconditioning computers, there are no set standards for how these machines are cleaned up and made ready. This is because every computer is different, so it’s impossible to make a code that applies to every system. But large companies can become Microsoft Authorized Refurbishers and work with Microsoft to ensure their repurposed machines get the most out of the Windows operating system. Also, says Nicholson, there is a standard called R2 that helps make computers ready for reuse. Refurbishers who use R2 stand by their work.

But one way reconditioned computers actually work better than off-the-shelf models is that they often have their BIOS upgraded as a part of the refurbishment. A computer’s BIOS is the underlying software that drives the hardware — it’s the code that does everything from render pixels on a system’s display to helping the processor talk to the hard drive. Over time, as a computer has been out in the world, manufacturers can sometimes uncover bugs in the BIOS, but this code is difficult to update. Refurbished computers often come with a fresh, new BIOS installed. Ask yourself, when was the last time you upgraded your system BIOS on a computer you bought new? You’ve probably never done it before.

4. Refurbished computers are not powerful enough to run a business.

There couldn’t be anything more opposite from the truth, says Nicholson. In reality, these computers have likely already run businesses in their previous lives. "These are ex-corporate machines,” says Nicholson. "They will generally have better processors and all that sort of stuff than a normal entry-level cheap consumer device."

In fact, Drew has witnessed this first-hand. In order to perform its online shipping, his company was supplied with a refurbished computer by UPS — a move that inspired Drew to buy reconditioned machines for his own employees. "For all I know, they're taking them out of their corporate areas and giving them to schlubs like me to run WorldShip on,” says Drew. “When they plug it in and we run it in a shop environment for a couple of years and that baby never burps, you can’t help but say, 'Hey, this thing is probably well made. Let's be on the lookout for some of these.’"

5. When you buy a refurbished computer, you’re just buying someone else’s problem.

It’s natural to think a reconditioned system is one that was just discarded because it wasn’t working well, but that’s rarely the case. "You know what you're buying?” asks Drew. "You’re buying somebody else's financial situation."

According to Nicholson, the majority of refurbished computers are systems that have actually just come off the end of a business lease. For example, Microsoft leases computers to run parts of its own business. And after three years, when those systems come off lease, Microsoft passes the computers on to a refurbisher, which resells them.

Drew sums it up perfectly: "You're basically getting a two- or three-year-old computer that's been used in a corporate environment, probably babysat, and taken care of by a corporate IT team."

6. Refurbished computers have great warranties because they’re essentially junk.

When you buy a brand-new computer, there are usually multiple warranty options, ranging from 90 days to three years. But reconditioned systems can have warranties that can go as long as seven years, and some people think that’s because refurbishers expect these systems to need to be repaired again later. Not so, says Nicholson. “No refurbisher or new equipment manufacturer really wants machines coming back — it actually costs them a lot of money,” he says. “It’s economic suicide to put out machines whose quality you’re not confident about."

Drew can attest to these machines’ quality first-hand. "The computers come in basically like a new computer,” he says, adding that his company has never needed to make a warranty claim.

7. Refurbished computers don’t last as long as new machines.

There’s an old adage: “You get what you pay for.” But according to Nicholson, it doesn’t hold water in this instance. Because refurbished computers not only cost less and perform excellently, they also last a long time.

For instance, he says if you give someone a brand-new computer, and they run that system for seven or eight years, that machine has likely never had any updates, reinstallations, or overall check-ups. It’s like buying a car, never getting it serviced, and expecting it to continue to purr like the day you bought it. But if you opted to buy a pre-owned vehicle instead, you can be confident it’s been looked at by expert mechanics, and everything is up to speed. That’s what Microsoft Authorized Refurbishers do, too — only it’s for computers, not cars.

Don’t be dismissive of refurbished computers right off the bat. Remember Most of what you think you know is actually the opposite of the truth.

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