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“Used-is-cheaper” not always true

By Charles Miller

It is not uncommon for me to have someone ask my advice about buying a used computer. Many people assume that buying a used computer will save them money, but even in today’s market this is not necessarily true. The prices of new computers have fallen so precipitously in the last decade that buying new often makes more economic sense than buying used hardware. This is the case for most, if not all, modern technology. There is always an optimal price point at any given time, but given the ephemeral nature of computers, their price is a continually moving target.

Before you buy any used computer, take a close look at the prices for the new computers currently available for sale in the stores. The “newer-is-better” paradigm is hard to deny.

While buying new technology usually makes the most financial sense, do not overlook an authentic bargain. There are occasionally opportunities to obtain a genuinely good buy on the used market, but in my experience these are few and far between. Personally, I would not buy a used computer unless it was practically free, in which case I would not be concerned because I would have a very minimum economic investment tied up in it.

So what is the best advice for the person who is determined to take their chances and try buying a used computer anyway?

First, be aware that a lot of people selling used computers do not know what they are selling therefore, ask exorbitant prices. Their intentions are usually not dishonest; they just never did their homework to know what is a reasonable price to ask. Often these folks think if they paid a thousand dollars for a computer ten years ago it should still be worth that much. Fortunately there is an extraordinarily easy way to determine the fair market price of almost anything today. Point your browser to and do a search for the item. Restrict your search to “completed items” and you will be presented the price for which similar items actually sold on eBay.

Suppose you see a classified ad for someone hoping to sell a certain model Dell laptop for $500. Go to eBay and do a search for that model number, and do not be surprised if you find that twenty of the exact same model were sold on eBay in the last 90 days for prices ranging from US$50 to US$150. If that is the actual price buyers paid, then it should be fair to say that is the current market price.

When it comes time to “kick the tires” to see what you are getting in a used computer, here are a few suggestions:

Start up the computer and make sure it actually boots, and that it does not make any funny noises. Download a copy of Knoppix, burn it to a CD and use this to start the computer. If it detects all the hardware and does not give any errors then you probably have a good machine.

Open up the device manager and yellow question marks, which denote hardware or driver problems detected by Windows.

Look at the condition of the keyboard. One with a lot of the letters rubbed off has already had a lot of use. The same goes for the serial number sticker on the bottom of laptops.

Check the installed software that comes with the computer. You should not count on being able to upgrade to the current software versions due to the hardware being inadequate. In other words, make sure the currently installed software can meet all of your needs.

After the computer has been running for awhile, put your hands on the bottom and the exhaust to see if it seems to be overheating.

Finally, before buying any used technology, consider the normal life expectancy of the item in question. Consumer-grade computers have very short life spans, and so if you buy one used, you really need to consider that your Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) could easily be higher for a used computer than buying a new one.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044-415-101-8528 or email FAQ8 (at)


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