As mentioned earlier, often a refurb doesn't come in its original packaging. If it does, it might be torn or ripped where shipping labels have been added and torn off. But this doesn't seem to reflect the quality of the product inside.

"I've bought every Mac that I have ever owned from the Apple Refurb Store," says Mac fan, Jon Waters from Cambridgeshire. "That includes every Mac I've bought for my wife, every Mac at my office and every Mac I've suggested to my friends and family. Everything's come from the Refurb Store and none has failed. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the refurbished Macs have actually run better than a family member's new Mac."

Some people take the money they save and pimp out their Mac further. "I'm on my second Apple refurb," says Michelle King from Doncaster. "I have a refurb PowerBook that's served me well for years without any issues. And I just got a refurb iMac. It looks and works absolutely perfectly. With the money I saved I bought an extra gigabyte of RAM, a wireless keyboard and a wireless mouse."

Bagging a bargain

Getting the best deal from the Refurb Store can be a bit of a dark art. The store is monitored slavishly by many eagle-eyed bargain hunters and dithering for too long often means that your item goes. But choosing often isn't straightforward because of the variety of products on offer.

For instance, there's a white MacBook with a 2.1GHz Intel Core Duo processor and a Combo drive for £599 - £100 off the RRP. But for an extra £38, you could order a model with a 2.2GHz processor and an 8x SuperDrive. Or, for an extra £60 on top of that, you could have the sexier black model - and take the memory from 1GB to 2GB and get a 160GB hard drive.

Apple's Refurb Store is seen by obsessives as a barometer of Apple's plans for product updates. Often, in the run-up to Macworld, the Refurb Store will seem to offer more products that look likely to be refreshed - whether it be laptops or iMacs. "The last refurb product I bought from Apple (an iPod) came in complete retail packaging, shrink-wrapped," says Mac fan IJ Reilly on the MacRumors message board.

"The product refresh came a couple of weeks later (drat!). I believe selling off new hardware as 'refurbished' is one of the sneaky ways Apple has of clearing out excess inventory before a refresh." Some have found it possible to snag bargains on the Refurb Store and 'flip' them on eBay for a small profit. Part of the reason products don't hang around for too long is that they're snapped up by Mac scalpers.

"You're getting what amounts to brand new products at less than their retail price," says one source, who asked not to be named. "Often you can add £100 and sell them on eBay within a few hours. You don't even have to order them yourself - if you're quick you can sell it on eBay, then order it from the Refurb Store to be delivered straight to the buyer."

In theory, buyers can tell it's a refurbished machine because the serial number is different, but most don't bother/think to look - or they simply don't know how.

Peace of mind

Most refurb customers agree that buying refurbished is the safest way to get a cheap Mac. But if you're still worried, there's a solution - you could use the money you saved to add AppleCare to a package.

You can buy AppleCare to protect any machine, not just computers that you buy 'new'. As long as you purchase and register your AppleCare within one year of buying your product, you'll get an additional two years of warranty cover.