A significant number of people see the practice of buying reconditioned / refurbished equipment rather than brand-new equipment as a way of saving money or being eco-conscious when buying new capital equipment like IT equipment.
For example, a tertiary student may buy a refurbished laptop or their parents may buy it for them so as to save money and ascertain whether they are still interested in their studies. It may also be about buying a secondary computer where you don’t really expect much from it and don’t want to spend much on it.
Similarly a non-profit organisation may purchase reconditioned or refurbished computer equipment for their office to prove they aren’t spending too much on office / administration costs and spending more on their raison d’être.
Buying refurbished or reconditioned equipment is different to buying secondhand or used equipment through an auction or through online classifieds where you buy the equipment “as is”. It is also different to buying brand-new where the equipment isn’t used in any way and comes with a manufacturer’s warranty.
Where does this equipment come from?
The sources for refurbished or reconditioned IT equipment typically are faulty goods returned by customers; samples that have “done the promotional rounds” like review or display samples; or traded-in / part-exchanged goods. Perhaps some of the equipment I have borrowed for review on this site has ended up being sold in to the refurbished or reconditioned IT equipment market.
It may include ex-lease and ex-rental equipment as well as equipment bought from a government or large business entity who are upgrading their equipment fleet to newer technology. In some cases, the manufacturer or repair workshop who works on the equipment may buy it at an auction or through a broker rather than directly from the prior owner.
What kind of work is done on the equipment?
If the item is refurbished, it is known to work or any failed parts are replaced. Then the item is given a cosmetic clean-up before being made ready for sale. There will still be some symptoms of use like it showing signs of wear.
If the item is reconditioned or renewed, technicians will have done a lot more work on that item. Typically this will be a significant amount of testing and overhauling including replacing those parts likely to fail. This is before it undergoes a thorough clean-up before it is made ready to sell. You may even find that a mechanical device that has been reconditioned has had all mechanical parts replaced.
Who performs the work and what parts are used?
As well, whoever performs the refurbishing or reconditioning will affect the standard of work that took place.
A factory-authorised refurbish or recondition job will be performed by the manufacturer or a workshop approved by the manufacturer. This work will be done according to the manufacturer’s standards including the use of parts prescribed by the manufacturer. Such equipment would come with a manufacturer’s warranty and be supported by the manufacturer.
Here, a question that can arise for older equipment is that if the original-specification part isn’t available from the parts vendor, would a newer part from the same vendor with the same specifications be considered satisfactory? As well, if the parts vendor goes out of business or changes hands and an equivalent replacement part is used, would that also count?
On the other hand, products reconditioned or refurbished by the reseller are worked on by the reseller themselves or a repair workshop appointed by the reseller. This work involves the use of technically-equivalent parts not used by the manufacturer for that model of device. You may find that some of these technically-equivalent parts are not to the same standard as what the manufacturer would prefer or, on the other hand, the workshop has fitted newer and better parts than what the manufacturer would prefer.
Some reseller-reconditioned or reseller-refurbished equipment may be modified beyond the original specifications. For instance with computing equipment, this may encompass upsizing of RAM and storage to higher capacities than what the device came with. Or you are dealing with equipment that has been engineered for a particular use case in its life and has to be re-engineered for general usage or another particular use case.
Where is this equipment sold?
Such equipment ends up being sold through manufacturer “outlet stores” which may also be part of a manufacturer’s main direct-sales storefront. Or it would be sold through independent computer stores or some major technology storefronts who also sell refurbished / reconditioned equipment alongside new gear.
Be aware that some second-hand dealers and pawnbrokers may purchase refurbished or reconditioned equipment from a manufacturer or wholesaler. Here, you may see signage beside that equipment stating that it is refurbished, perhaps with details about the workshop who performed the work; or the shop staff may mention that they are selling refurbished gear.
That holds true for some equipment sold through online classifieds and other second-hand sales channels where the vendor may state they are buying, fixing up and reselling older gear.
What to be aware of when buying refurbished or reconditioned
Check over any listings of work that is done on the equipment as well as what hardware or software including versions of that software is included in the deal. This also includes any parts that have been replaced and what was used for the replacement parts.
When you buy reconditioned or refurbished, expect a warranty on the equipment, preferably a generous warranty. Also expect a proper return policy so you can return equipment that is defective. Infact in most countries, failure to honour a warranty or return policy including the general fitness for use warranty is infact a breach of the sale contract.
Computers that run Windows, MacOS or desktop Linux and made within the past 5-10 years are a safe bet for buying reconditioned or refurbished. Here, you will have the ability to update them to the latest version of the operating system. As well, any software that is part of the deal must be effectively and legally transferred to yourself when you buy the computer.
This holds especially true with standard-form-factor desktop computers, or laptops made over the last four years. They would have to be running Windows, desktop Linux or, in the case of Apple products, MacOS.
Chromebooks and mobile-platform (iOS and Android) equipment aren’t likely to be safe to purchase this way due to the vendors not likely to provide updated operating systems. As well, computers using low-tier AMD or Intel silicon or older microarchitecture like 32-bit Intel microarchitecture are very risky when it comes to today’s computing requirements.
If you are buying a refurbished printer, you need to be sure you can continue to get ink or toner and any user-replaceable servicing parts for the machine you are after. Here, it may be more wise to buy a printer, scanner or similar equipment that has been fully reconditioned with a lot of overhauling work taking place, rather than refurbished with little work done on it if you are buying this kind of equipment that way. This is due to these printers and similar devices being mechanical in nature and having parts more likely to wear out.
An issue that will also come about with refurbished or reconditioned hardware is whether any firmware that drives this equipment is updated to the latest version. This includes the BIOS or UEFI firmware in a computer that instigates the loading of its operating system. It also has to be delivered as if new with any prior user settings and data removed from the system. Here, it is about making sure that buying refurbished or reconditioned isn’t a security risk for you, your family or your business.
You may find that buying that piece of IT equipment as a refurbished or reconditioned specimen may help you save money. But you have to be very careful about the prospective purchase such as what kind of work was undertaken on it and how old it really is. In some cases, you may find that going refurbished may not be the right way to go.