Buying a second hand computer

Tips & Hints

Buying a second hand computer appears attractive, but theres more pitfalls than advantages.

Posted 25 February, 2005

Computers are expensive items, so buying second hand appears an attractive option. Sadly unlike other high priced items, we’ve found second hand not to be such a good deal. The reasons for this are to be found in the nature of the computer industry.

Few industries develop as fast as the computers. That shiny system on the shelf at your local computer shop is almost certainly about to be replaced by a better system. Today’s top system is next year’s old dog. 

As the newer technology becomes available, the older equipment gets left behind. Parts for older systems become difficult and expensive to find, making repairs harder. The older systems also become incompatible with newer software and accessories. 

The two main reasons for ditching a computer are that it no longer does what the user needs or the system has become unreliable or needs expensive repairs. A machine that needs expensive repairs is simply not an option for most computer buyers. Even if the older computer is running well, the odds are an older computer is going to fail sooner than a new system. 

Dealers in second hand systems have to allow for the increased likelihood of failure. So we find five year old systems selling for half the price of new systems with only a three month warranty. Not only does it have five year old specifications and parts, but it also has a five year old operating system. 

Running Window 98 or Mac OS9 might not be a problem if you just need a glorified typewriter. At the right price, an older system for that use may be worthwhile. The problems arise as soon as you buy a new printer to go with that typewriter, or decide to try out a digital camera or the grandkids come around with new game. 

Replacing a system because it doesn’t run the latest software or hardware is the other common reason for replacing an old box. A second hand system might be a good buy if the previous owner was an architect or engineer who upgraded because the old system couldn’t run Autocad. If the original owner was someone with similar computer needs to you, then the system probably won’t meet your needs either. 

Probably the biggest mistake buyers of second hand computers make is paying too much. A five year old Celeron 500 MHz sells for around a third of a new computer. The new computer is six times faster, has four times more memory, ten times bigger hard drive, four times longer warranty, runs the latest operating system and comes with all the software and manuals. 

Software and manuals are one of the biggest problems with second hand systems. Many come without the original disks, licences and manuals. If something goes wrong, you have to buy all the software that the system came with. 

This is where auctions are dangerous for computer buyers. Equipment is sold on an as-is basis. The system might be cheap, but if the disks aren’t with it then tough, same with defective software or missing passwords.  

Not all auctions though are second hand. Some brand names sell their excess or returned stock through online auctions. These can be good deals, but it’s important to check what a new system costs first, it’s too easy to get carried away at an auction. 

There are other situations where second hand systems are worthwhile. Apple Macs have an established second hand market where good deals can be had, and high-end users like engineers and graphic designers may dispose of good systems simply because they need even more powerful machines.  

Should you buy second hand, it’s essential to know what a new system costs before starting. When buying or bidding, it’s important to factor in the limited specs or life of an older system. It’s also essential to allow for the cost of buying any missing software and licences. 

Overall, we believe that second hand computers are rarely worth the money. If you believe you can find a good deal, then check the cost of a new system and what is included before buying. It’s important to be an informed buyer before entering the second hand market.
PC Rescue Pty Ltd, Suite 236, 4 Young Street Neutral Bay NSW 2089
ABN 36 082 635 765
ŠTechnology Publishing Australia, 2008