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Should you buy a refurbished laptop on Black Friday?

Should you buy a refurbished laptop on Black Friday?
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

There are deals on everything come Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Particularly in the tech world, the bargains traditionally fly around thick and fast, and laptops is one area where plenty of discounting is always seen. There are even deals on refurbished laptops that crop up, and the fundamental question we’re posing here is – are these a good bet?

Of course, whether or not you should part with money for a refurbished notebook on Black Friday is a pretty broad question which contains a host of nuances to be considered. So let’s get considering…

What is a refurbished laptop?

For the uninitiated, the first point that might cross your mind could be: what exactly is a refurbished laptop? The simple answer is that it’s a machine which has been bought new, subsequently returned to the manufacturer or retailer, then refurbished – repaired in some cases (more on that momentarily) – and then resold.

So it’s not a new laptop, but it’s theoretically good-as-new in many cases. Although there are a number of different categories which refurbished laptops fall into (in some cases these machines are actually categorized by a grade given by the seller, with the top grade denoting mint condition notebooks, and dropping down in condition from there).

In the main, refurbs are likely laptops which the user has returned because of a minor (or sometimes even major) fault. That fault is, of course, addressed and fully fixed – or at least that’s what should happen – before the vendor resells the machine, and refurbished notebooks should always come with a warranty to back that up (we’ll discuss this in more depth later).

However, sometimes the laptop is completely unused. Maybe the buyer simply changed their mind about the product and sent it back, perhaps after opening the box for a quick look.

Or it might have very minor cosmetic damage, like slight scuffs or scratches on the chassis of the machine (or even just a damaged box, or missing instruction manual). These sort of notebooks can be absolutely as good as buying a new one – just with a good chunk of money off.

Another scenario where a laptop refurb might not be faulty at all is in the case of businesses which have leased machines, and they’ve been returned at the end of that lease period. So they might have been used considerably, but there may well not be anything wrong with them at all beyond the usual wear-and-tear. And again, if there is anything amiss, it should be fixed by a reputable reseller.

Naturally, the key common denominator with all refurbished laptops is that they are sold considerably cheaper than a brand new notebook, taking into account the fact that you aren’t getting a new shrink-wrapped product.

So the theory is that buying a refurbished laptop on Black Friday should be a ‘double dip’ – not only are you getting a cheaper machine because it’s not brand new, but also you’re (hopefully!) receiving a chunky Black Friday discount on top.

Are we likely to see some compelling refurbished notebook deals on Black Friday? The short answer to that is yes. Amazon usually graces us with numerous tempting deals on refurbs, and another good bet is Dell, which often does coupons for big Black Friday discounts (maybe 15% or 20% off, or even more sometimes) on some of its refurbished models.

There are certainly some storming deals to be had, then, and that can especially be the case when looking at older (perhaps no longer manufactured) machines which are being sold off – although such aged notebooks have their own issues to consider.

Issues? That sounds a little ominous, you might be thinking. Well, don’t panic, as there’s certainly lots of promise held by the prospect of getting a very cheap ‘double dip’ refurbished laptop on Black Friday, but there are potential pitfalls too. The trick is to be aware of them…

Should you buy a refurbished laptop on Black Friday?

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So what are the risks when buying a refurbished laptop?

These risks apply to buying refurbished laptops in general, of course; not just on Black Friday, which holds no special peril for such discounted portables.

For starters, the most obvious concern is that you might end up with a notebook which isn’t, in fact, as good as new. And more to the point, if the portable does indeed develop a fault or goes wrong in some way, there’s the obvious fear that you might somehow end up being stuck with a lemon.

Naturally, the primary consideration here is which company you buy from, and what its warranty and return policies consist of in case of the worst eventuality. We’ll cover this fully in the following section on how to avoid buying a duff machine.

But there are other factors at play, too. We are thinking mainly of the laptop refurbs that are several years old – or more – which may well be leased portables that businesses have returned after the lease period is up. (Often these will be common business brands like the Lenovo ThinkPad, Dell Precision notebooks, HP ProBook, and those sort of professional-orientated machines).

In these cases, there are some further points to bear in mind. Firstly, there’s the obvious fact that older machines will have hardware that’s correspondingly a few generations old (possibly even older), and maybe less storage (because, for example, they might date back to a time where SSDs were still more expensive).

In other words, these machines are not going to perform as well as a new laptop with contemporary hardware components. That said, they could still be well enough equipped, relatively speaking – or at least powerful enough to deal with your needs, because as ever, a lot will depend on exactly what you want the notebook for. If it’s just a simple portable for some light web surfing, emails and so forth, then you’re not realistically going to be troubled by any performance issues.

There is one internal component that particularly suffers from the ravages of time, though, and that’s the battery. If a laptop has been used for a couple of years in a business (or any) setting, the battery will have been depleted and charged over and over, and may have considerably less capacity than when new as a result. That could mean a lot less battery longevity to the tune of hours, particularly if the previous owner didn’t follow best practice when it comes to charging.

A final point to bear in mind is that refurbished laptops may have all manner of bits and pieces missing, in terms of accessories and instructions, but you should always get a charger provided (which is the only other critical element you absolutely need, aside from the device itself).

Should you buy a refurbished laptop on Black Friday?

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

How can you avoid buying a duff refurbished laptop?

As we already briefly mentioned above, buying from a trusted seller is the key factor here – at any time of the year, not just Black Friday. Refurbished laptops floating around at some obscure retailer, or a relatively unknown eBay store, might just be fine – but then again, they might not. And the trouble is if they aren’t, you may encounter a whole load of hassle trying to return the device or get your money back.

It’s best to purchase from a well-known and established retailer or a big-name PC manufacturer, which has some sort of multi-point check system as part of its refurbishment procedure. Furthermore, look for a one-year warranty – in other words, retailers putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to repaired hardware. A six-month warranty is passable, but anything like a 30-day affair should send alarm bells ringing – and we’d still recommend a full year for optimal confidence in your purchase.

Major PC vendor Dell, for example, sells plenty of refurbished PCs via Dell Outlet with the exact same warranty and service as provided for new products. Apple also directly sells refurbished MacBooks (and other hardware) with a one-year warranty, and 14-day return policy – and these products are eligible for AppleCare cover, too.

As well as big-name PC vendors selling refurbished notebooks, many well-respected retailers offer refurbs, such as Amazon – with ‘Amazon Renewed’ products boasting a one-year warranty – which as we’ve already mentioned is the source of a lot of tempting deals going by previous Black Friday sales.

Furthermore, remember that you don’t want to buy an old refurbished machine – perhaps one of those aforementioned ex-business models – which is so over-the-hill that it isn’t really the bargain it might seem at first glance.

That said, it may be the case that even a device like this might have upgradable components, and by beefing up the system RAM, or switching in a contemporary SSD, you might be able to pep up, say, an old rather ailing workstation notebook to a decent level of performance suitable for a modern machine running cutting-edge apps.

And really, this is where TechRadar comes in. When the time arrives, we’ll be constantly trawling through all the Black Friday deals, finding the best ones, highlighting laptops that may have hidden potential – perhaps via upgrades – and generally picking out all the most tempting ‘double dip’ discounts.

Buying a refurbished laptop on Black Friday could be the route to a true bargain. Just be sure to keep our Black Friday laptop deals page bookmarked for when November 29 rolls around – and indeed before that. Because a bit like the holiday season, Black Friday always starts early, and some killer deals are already on the boil…