Mobile Computing: Update on Refurbished Notebooks

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Feature: Refurbished Notebooks Update

Do refurbished notebooks really save you money? And if so, what are the trade-offs?

The last time I checked, in May 2004, the cost savings and minimal trade-offs made refurbs attractive. For example, at that time you could buy a refurbished Dell Inspiron 8600 that was better equipped overall than a new, similarly priced 8600, for the same amount of money.

Recently, I took another look at refurbished notebooks, checking out the online inventories for Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and other vendors. I found that, at least at Dell's Web site, buying a refurbished notebook can actually save you hundreds over the cost of the exact-same notebook, brand new.

Here are the latest pros (and con) of refurbished notebooks.

Pro: More for Your Money With Dell Refurbs

Prices on refurbished Dell notebooks can be significantly lower than comparable new models.

Among computer makers that sell their own refurbished computers online, Dell offers some of the most attractive prices for notebooks. For example, I compared a refurbished Dell Latitude D610 to a brand-new D610 with identical specs and service plan. The refurbished D610 cost $1264--a whopping $504 less than the new model's $1768 price tag.

Con: That's Not Always the Case

Not all computer makers follow Dell's lead in aggressively pricing refurbished equipment. In fact, when compared to brand-new models, prices for some refurbished notebooks are sometimes higher than those of comparable models. That's because items that are included with new notebooks (such as an AC adapter) are sometimes extra-cost options for refurbished models.

Consider Hewlett-Packard's Dv1000, for example: A refurbished model recently went for a total of $1430 after I added a six-cell battery ($130) and 65W AC adapter ($70). A new Dv1000 with the same specs as the refurbished model, and including the battery and power adapter in the price, sold the same day for $1274. That amount included a $100 instant discount and $50 mail-in rebate, making the new notebook $156 less than its refurbished twin.

Pro: Dell Has a Large Selection

Among computer makers that sell refurbished notebooks from their own Web sites, Dell continues to offer what appears to be the largest inventory. For instance, on a recent afternoon, there were 210 refurbished Latitudes and 170 refurbished Inspirons in stock. You can easily search Dell's inventory by price, model, processor, operating system, screen size, and other criteria, too.

By comparison, on the same day, Gateway had only four refurbished notebooks for sale.

Pro: Return Policies Are Getting Better

Last year, I noticed a disparity between some manufacturers' return policies for refurbished and new notebooks. For example, customers who bought refurbs from Dell had 14 days to make up their mind, while new Dell computers came with a 30-day return.

Today, the return period at Dell (as well as HP) is 21 days for either refurbished or new notebooks.

Pro: Extended Warranty/Service Plans Available

Dell, HP, and others often offer extended warranty/service plans for refurbished models that are roughly comparable to those available for new notebooks.

There can be differences, however. For example, HP's site lists only four service plans for its refurbished Dv1000 notebook, while a buyer of a new Dv1000 has six plans from which to choose.

Pro: Refurbished Computers Arrive Faster

If you need a new notebook in a hurry, a refurbished model is likely to be shipped much faster than a new PC you've configured yourself.

The Bottom Line

Anyone who appreciates a bargain should consider refurbished notebooks when shopping. Indeed, if you're a Dell fan, you'd be crazy not to check out its large inventory of refurbished notebooks before buying a new one. At other sites, you may get a good deal with--or pay more for--a refurbished notebook.

In short: Do your homework, and you can save some money.

For More Information

The Refurbished Laptops Guide offers several pages of helpful information about dealers, as well as an inventory of refurbs.

The following vendors sell refurbished notebooks online:

These online retailers also offer refurbs:

Read "Refurbished Notebooks, Take II" to see what some Mobile Computing readers had to say about their experiences.

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