How to Test and Buy a Used Laptop

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Not Everyone can afford a Brand New Laptop.

There are numerous articles about choosing a laptop to suit your needs; most of them apply to new Laptops. There is significant market in second-hand laptops, as people upgrade, older models are sold on to recoup some money.

Buying a used laptop has its pros and cons, one hand, its cheaper; on the other hand, there maybe no warranty in case something goes wrong, repairs can be expensive. Here are 3 common types of used laptops:

  1. Buy Refurbished with warranty/returns period ($$$)
  2. Buy Used with remaining warranty ($$)
  3. Buy Used without Warranty ($)

Options 1 and 2 leave you with some recourse so that if you find anything wrong within the warranty or return periods, you can get problems fixed without spending more cash. If you are considering a used laptop without warranty, option 3, you definitely don’t want to end up with a dud, which needs costly parts replacement or upgrade.

For example, if you are buying online on ebay, you will not get to test the laptop before buying it, but you can ask the seller some basic questions to help you decide whether the laptop is worth bidding for or not. If your seller offers a week warranty you might want to do all these test as a soon as you get it so that you can return it or get a refund to fix any problems that was missed in testing.

Alternatively, if you are buying it from a newspaper without warranty, you will have to test it at the sellers house before paying for it, because once you walk out the door, that is it.

Here are a few easy tests to make sure the laptop is in working condition before handing over your cash or before any warranty or returns period expires.

Homework: Search for make and model online and get the technical specs and print it out to double check that it’s the right laptop for you, this is to avoid errors in the advert and listing. Know exactly what you are paying for.

How upgradeable is it? Do you need higher performance and capacity?

  • What OS does it have? Remember that Microsoft has discontinued support has been discontinued for Win98, ME in 2006, you might not be able to get security patches etc.

Tip: Some Essential Free (for Personal Use) Software like AVG, Zone Alarm, Macaffe only support XP onwards. The question is what freebies do you use for virus, spyware, firewall protection and are they supported by the OS?

  • What type of RAM does it have? What’s the maximum RAM it can take? Are there any free RAM slots? For example, if you have 1 slot with 512MB, another empty slot and a max. RAM capacity of 1GB, you can add another 256 or 512 depending on what you need. However if both RAM slots are full with 256MB each, you will need to replace both with 2 x 512 RAM modules to have 1GB in total.
  • Can you upgrade the OS in future? Win XP and Vista have minimum hardware specifications:
    WinXP requires: 300 mhz processor, 128MB RAM, 1.5 GB Hardrive, Super VGA (800 x 600), CD or DVD ROM. Vista Requires: 1 GB Processor, 1 GB RAM, 128MB Graphics Memory (DirectX 9, Pixel Shader), 40 GB Harddrive (15GB free), DVD ROM.

Tip: Make sure you add or replace with the right type of RAM, e.g. DDR1 needs DDR1 replacement or additions, no point replacing with DDR2 as that costs more but will not be fully utilised if your motherboard only supports up to DDR1. (Check technical data online)

  • What Harddrive does it have? What’s the maximum HD capacity supported by the mother board? For example, if the Laptop has 40 GB Harddrive, and the motherboard can support up to 80 GB, then you know that you can upgrade to 80 GB, as needed in the future. Tip: Make sure you use the right RPM speed, there is not point ins paying for a 7200RPM upgrade is your motherboard only supports up to 5400RPM. (Check technical data online)

Legal Issues:

  • Does it have the original System Recovery CDS, Application CDs? This is important in the event that you need to re-format your laptop as it can be time consuming to obtain a replacement when you need it. The System Recovery CD is more important as applications drivers can be downloaded from the Laptop manufacturer’s website.
  • Is the OS genuine? Look for the holographic sticker on the base, if you end up with non-genuine OS, you may not be able to upgrade security patches. If in doubt, make a note of the number and call the OS company, to verify that its genuine.
  • Hot Property? Are any serial numbers altered or scratched out, this can indicate theft, something to avoid.

Does it have an original box? Original boxing has proper foam supports to make you your laptop is transported safely, if there is no original boxing, consider collecting in person or taking out insurance for any damages in transit.

Functionality tests:

  • Does it have a power cable and transformer? Is the Transformer working? To test this, plug in and see if charging or AC lights come on.
  • Does the battery store charge? For how long? To test for this, use it in battery mode and go to power management to see how much charge it carries and how long that’s supposed to last. If the battery does not work, ask for a discount so you can replace it.
  • Does the CD/DVD drive work? To Test, insert a DVD or VCD to play. This also tests the Speakers.
  • Does the floppy read and write? To Test, insert a floppy and see if you can read and write to it.
  • Do the USB ports works? To Test, plug in a flash drive and read and write test on every USB port.
  • Harddrive condition? Does it grind a loudly when in use, like an angry rumbling stomach? To test for bad sectors, for Win 9x, ME, go to Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Scandisk. For WinXP, go to My Computer > Right click on disk and select properties > Tools > Check Now.
  • LCD Screen Condition? Can you see any dead pixels, flicker or lines?
  • Wifi adaptor, if you turn it on, can you view other networks?
  • PCMCIA slot/s, does it work when you insert a PCMCIA card? This is important if you don’t have built-in WiFi so you can use a PCMCIA WiFi adaptor.

Tip: Once you buy a used laptop, you may want to wipe it clean from previous data so you can use up all free space and get rid of any lurking spy ware or virus or set own partition. With XP it’s easy to format, just insert the recovery CD and it does it automatically. That’s why it’s important to have originals as it have be hard to get a replacement.

Tip: If you are nor confident about going to view a Laptop, bring someone who is tech savvy with you, or even if it just for moral support, whatever helps you to focus on making sure you are not buying a lemon.

Note: While these tests indicates the current state of the laptop, its does not mean that nothing will go wrong in the future.

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