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Buying Used Computers from Family & Friends

written by: Jesma•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 6/3/2009

If you're in need of a PC but on a very tight budget, you might be giving thought to buying a used computer off of a friend or family member. While there is little risk of them trying to scam you, you need to know what things to look out for, and what kind of price to expect.

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    There are plenty of reasons to go searching for a used computer. Perhaps you are on a very strict budget and desperately need a computer for very basic tasks. Or maybe you want to get a cheap computer for your children that you won't be too upset about if it gets destroyed. Perhaps you are like me, and collect other people's old computers to use as servers, or spare parts. Regardless of your reasons, there is some information that you should really arm yourself with before proceeding, to reduce the chance of buying a complete piece of junk, and wasting your money.

    In this article, we'll discuss reasonable pricing for used computers and problems to keep an eye out for.

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    Potential Problems with Used Computers

    When considering buying a used computer being offered to you by a friend or family member for a really low price, you'll first want to determine why they're selling it. If the reason is that they've upgraded and have no use for it, then that is a safe one. If their reason, however, is that they are having problems with it that they are "sure you can figure out", be wary. Even if you are a computer expert, don't commit to buying a computer that could have problems that will cost you money to fix. If possible, see if you can fix the problem before forking over your cash.

    A common reason the less technical savvy out there dump their computers is because their operating system became corrupted, either through a malfunction or virus. The less "in the know" think that if they do not have the original operating system disk, then there is no way to recover the computer without buying a completely new OS. Of course, this isn't the case, and any OS disk of the same type (ie: XP Pro 64 bit, Vista Home Basic, etc) will work for a fresh install, so long as you have the serial key (which can often be found printed on a sticker on the back of the machine).

    If the computer being offered to you was recently considered a good or "new" one, but won't power on, you can probably pick it up and repair it for very little money. A very frequent hardware problem that can effect computers at any age is a failed power supply. There are great articles here on Bright Hub to help you troubleshoot computer hardware problems, and potentially find a very low cost solution.

    If the computer you're considering is in good working condition, then the only thing that you should try to make sure and get along with it is the documentation, operating system, and driver disks, if at all possible. This will make anything you need to do with the computer in the future much, much easier.

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    Computers do not age well. As a general rule, a computer will lose 90% of its retail value after about two years. This means that a computer that originally cost $1000 would only be worth around $100 a couple of years later. Any used computer three or more years old, regardless of its original cost, is probably not worth over 100 dollars. It is difficult to put a price on old hardware as it has much to do with the features of the machine, but don't plan on spending any more than $200 for a reasonably new (used) computer, even if it is in good condition. Older machines with any sort of problems shouldn't be purchased for any more than $50, at most.

    For laptops, the prices are usually higher. 1-2 year old laptops can still be worth around $400 if they're in good condition and have good features (ie: DVD Burner, big screen, etc). You will rarely find any used laptop under $100, and should be planning on the 100-200 dollar range if shopping for a used laptop.

Guide to Buying Cheap & Used Computers

Article series that discusses buying cheap, used computers on a budget. Looking at buying computers from online retailers and auction sites, and how to spot the scams so you don't get stung!
  1. Revitalize Your PC: Making a Used Computer as Good as New
  2. Buying a Used Computer: Craigslist or eBay-style Sites?
  3. Buying Used Computers from Family & Friends