Buying a used laptop instead of a new one can save you a lot of money. Older devices are available for as little as 200 to 300 dollars and can provide years of reliable service. Yet the question as to whether the purchase is worth it is largely determined by the intended use and the follow-on costs that can be expected. You should therefore figure out beforehand what still works and what might soon malfuction. A little luck doesn't hurt either.
"It's important to be clear about why you need the laptop in the first place," says Peter Leithaeuser from "Second Notebooks.de," a Munich-based shop. An old used laptop is more than enough for simple word processing. Game freaks who rely on powerful up-to-date technology will be "in a pickle" if they try to use an old device. The age of the laptop isn't necessary all that important when selecting a machine.
"It's a question of how well cared-for it is," Leithaeuser adds. Key ingredients are few scratches and stains on the screen and a working keyboard.
"Scratches on the casing can't really be avoided, that's part of normal wear and tear," explains Juergen Rink from Hanover-based c't" magazine. Especially deep cracks may hint that the laptop was dropped, however. Particularly in the hinges, where laptops are subjected to extra strong stresses, the casing and cover must not show any cracks. Buyers should have a look at the USB ports as well.
"They can be bent if someone forced a USB plug in there with the wrong side up," says Rink. The casing should be subject to a thorough inspection as well: The battery ought to sit firmly in the holder.
Batteries lose their storage capacity with age, meaning that you shouldn't expect much from an original battery on a five year old laptop.
"You should check it out in advance if you can, but it's not so easy, and you have to be a bit lucky," says Philipp Petrasch from the ConCord-IT-Shop in Tuebingen. Buy a laptop with an unreliable battery and you'll be shelling out for a replacement battery sooner rather than later - which often costs as much as the entire rest of the computer. Yet persistent bargain hunters will also often turn up new batteries at a low cost.
The follow-on cost for new batteries can be calculated, but repair and replacement costs are much more difficult to peg, and represent a key risk when buying a used laptop instead of a new one.
"That's why you should take the time to try the device out," Leithaeuser advises. The safest bet is a model from a major brand name maker. "There are always replacement parts around," he says.
It's also a better idea to buy used business models instead of consumer ones, Petrasch recommends.
"Those devices are more expensive, but the differences in areas like workmanship are enormous."
The experts recommend against buying a computer from another private person. Such purchases are quite risky because private sellers are often not subject to guarantee laws.
Depending on where you live, buying used hardware from retail stores usually brings a guarantee with it. And regardless of the legally stipulated guarantee, many dealers offer their own voluntary warranties that go above and beyond the legal mandates. "We offer a one year guarantee on all devices," Petrasch says. "Only wear parts like batteries are excluded."
As there are more risks associated with these types of purchases, consumers should gather as much information as possible about the device. The risk averse should instead look for sales on new laptops. They are a bit more expensive, but do bring a certain peace of mind.
By Stefanie Zenke, Dpa
© 2007 DPA