Often these machines are ex-lease.
These are usually machines that have been used in offices on a lease. That means that they have received some form of maintenance through their previous usage-life.
Unless it's a Babbage Differential Engine, the chances are that the machine is still technologically useful, and better distributed for some cost recovery to a willing public than no return at all as land-fill.
It does depend on the company responsible for the "refurbishment". One can often find equipment from "eCycle" on eBay, but this is a churning house, and there is no warranty as to whether any purchase will be a working one. This is not a shot at eCycle----that's how they choose to run their business.
If you purchase a "refurbished" unit, it is most likely part of a "fleet" of identical machines. The company handling the machines will have restored the hard drive image to that of the original factory release, and the machine should arrive in your hands with a still valid COA for the OS, even if the restore discs are copies, like my HP: the restore partition on the HDD lets you make a back-up set of CDs or DVDs so that if the partition is wiped, you can still restore your machine.
My first involvement with a "refurbisher" who was "highly recommended" did not go down too well. I very specifically ordered two IDENTICAL machines. If you're going to back up your software, it makes sense to back up your hardware as well. When they arrived, I had a Toshiba 440CDX and 460CDT. I was furious! "Oh, but the 440 had extra RAM..." (which turned out to be faulty). Toshiba have always paid attention to the quality of their machines, and apart from the faulty additional memory, both machines are still in running condition today.
What you receive should be a good quality second-hand machine restored to as close to 'new' as possible. One machine may just need a wipe-over with a damp cloth and repackaging. Another may want a keyboard swapped out because of a broken cable, etc.. The company handling this will have a projected rate of loss to damaged equipment, and may well rely on that damaged equipment for other parts in order to honor their promised warranties. If 25% of incoming laptops have damaged screens, but the bodies are in perfect working order, then they have an excellent chance of reselling the remaining 75% of the machines, knowing that if a HDD fails, there are several thousand replacements to choose from. The more fussy the dealer is, the higher the price. One dealer may let a machine with scratches go out the door while another will say, "Swap this part of the case with one of the defective ones."
I now have a pair of HP/Compaq nx6320 machines, and externally the only differences are Serial Number and COA. Internally was a different matter. One is slightly faster and has a screen that does that weird resolution of 1280*1024, yet it came with 512MB of RAM while the slower machine had 1GB (No, these came from two competing sources so I did not expect them to be identical this time.) I checked with HP directly to find out that these machines could be upgraded to 4GB (done) and 250GB HDD (also done). They both have docking stations with Multi-Bay drives (why didn't they just use the same standard as the internal CD ROMs?)
The last laptop(s) to pass my way that had half-way decent keyboards were NEC Prospeed 386 machines (I still have the keyboards.). So whether I'm taking a Toshiba Satellite 460CDT to class for taking notes, or a HP Compaq nx6320 to a LAN party, I always have the appropriate cable for external keyboard and mouse!
These days, if you're going to dabble in the "refurbished" zone, you should expect:
- Sturdy build mechanically,
- Anything less than a flatscreen LCD is unacceptable,
- There may be corporate ident tags remaining on the equipment, but if it just sat on a desk for three years, the casing should be in pretty good condition.
- Pretty much as above,
- Don't expect the batteries to work (if even supplied),
- Make sure there is no visible battery leakage/damage,
- Check the back of the LCD panel for any signs of "hinge fatigue", which is usually first manifested as cracking above the hinges on the back of the plastic shell--decide whether you are going to pursue warranty over this or fix it yourself. I get two pieces of 1/4" by 1/2" aluminium strip cut to length and Araldite them straight up the back of the shell. Do it right, and it can look pretty stylish, and it transfers the stress past the cracked point to the hinge where it is supposed to go.
ON ALL MACHINES:
- Download and burn a CD of MEMTEST88. I have yet to find a working machine that can't run this disc and it will thoroughly check out all the memory available in the machine. It is capable of shifting itself to different parts of memory so that it can test ALL of it.
- Boot up (presumably Windows), and run a THOROUGH disc check.
- Using a simple PAINT program, display a complete screen each of Red, Green and Blue checking carefully for failed pixels, and check this against promised warranty. I believe that some manufacturers still permit up to eight faulty pixels before they'll replace a screen which, if true, means you can't expect the refurbisher to exceed that standard. Some apparently failed pixels can be reactivated by flashing them on and off, and in some cases, even a light tap with a finger tip.
As cited, I've had good and bad experience with "refurbished" laptops but, in both cases, it was the companies that needed to be researched NOT the computers.
It really depends on how comfortable you are with the hardware. If you know your stuff, and can say with authority to the vendor, "My hard drive is faulty. I want a fresh one sent out immediately, and I'll post this one back in your packaging," then be not afraid of a refurbished machine.
If, on the other hand, you are going to be dependent on outside tech support for anything that goes wrong, spend the extra on a new machine. It really is a matter of confidence.
The only "laptops" I have purchased new were "netbooks" and if I could go back in time and tell myself to leave the damned things on the shelf, I would!