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The Time Has Come
Well, it's time. If you've followed this guide, then you've discovered what is in your PC, found your PC's weaknesses, determined what you need to upgrade, and researched the best upgrades that fit in your budget and match your performance needs. The time has finally come to part with your hard-earned money. And that means doing one final bit of research. There are hundreds of retailers on the internet and in brick-and-mortar buildings, and there are more ways to buy than simply purchasing new. New hardware can be exciting to purchase, like buying a new cell phone or a new car. But if you remain patient and research prices, you'll save a lot of dough.
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New, Returned, Or Used?
It easy to forget that there is a large used market for computer electronics. Many people see PCs as relatively fragile pieces of hardware, and assume that this means they should take the precaution of buying only brand-new components. In fact, individual pieces of hardware are fairly reliable. Processors seem to last forever, provided they are not subjected to over-clocking. Video cards can also last a decade or more when properly treated. RAM is very durable - for the most part, you only need to be concerned if the hardware has been snapped in half - again over zealous over-clocking aside.
There is also a large market of returned and "Open Box" items available at retailers. The fact that items have been returned does not always mean they are defective. Usually, someone less careful with their research than you finds that their purchase just does not work with another component; or a person attempting an upgrade discovers that their new hardware does not fit in their current PC.
The obvious advantage to buying new is that there is little risk in your purchase. Your purchase is usually covered by a manufacturer warranty, and most retailers will take back defective products for a full refund for at least thirty days (check this, many discount retailers will point you straight to the manufacturer's warranty). Should anything go wrong, you can simply get a refund and walk away. The disadvantage is also obvious - buying new means paying a higher price.
Returned or "Open Box" items tend to occupy a middle ground between new and used products, but their overall value depends on the backing of the retailer selling them. Some retailers will only take back an Open Box item if it is brought back within a week, while others will take the product back for thirty days or more, so make sure you know the return policy of the retailer you're buying from. Most returned items are still covered by the manufacturer warranty, but again, make sure.
Used items typically cannot be returned because they're purchased from individuals or from small used-component dealers on websites like Ebay or Amazon. Because products usually can't be returned, you are taking a certain amount of risk. This risk can be mitigated, however, by only buying from sources with a good reputation. Purchasing from an Ebay seller than often gets poor reviews is not a good idea, but buying from an Ebay seller who has received hundreds of positive reviews is nearly as good as buying from a regular retailer. Purchasing from an individual usually means you don't have an easy way of judging their reputation, but if you're making the purchase from the For Sale section of a popular tech website, you can look at their seller's earlier transactions to see if the buyers ever had any reason to complain. Used items are sometimes covered by the manufacturer warranty depending on: the warranty's terms; how old the item is; and any modifications the previous user might have tried to perform.
Refurbished items fall in between used and open box. They have been used for some time and sold back, not used briefly (or not at all) and returned. But they go back to the factory (or a third party) to be cleaned up and tested. You can value these, indeed any of new, open box, used, or refurbished, products, based on the warranty available.
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Searching For The Best Price
Once you've decided what you want to buy, you'll also want to find the lowest price. This requires some finger-work. Search engines like Google offer the ability to search for a product on various online retailers, but don't count out brick-and-mortar shops. Their standard prices are usually higher than what is found online, but they can often surprise you with their sale prices, which can result in drastic discounts. I've seen Best Buy have numerous video card and hard drive sales with prices lower than or similar to what is found online, and you don't have to pay shipping from a brick-and-mortar shop. Usually though, they're better for peripherals than components.
If you're buying used, finding the best price will probably require a little more research and time. There are no rules that used component sellers have to follow, and the average price of hardware can change significantly from one source to another. Remember, if you're buying used, there is probably some room to haggle. If you see someone offering to sell a piece of hardware for $100 dollars, and they haven't sold it after a few days, offer them $80. The seller might jump on your offer simply because they don't want old hardware cluttering up their office.
No matter what avenue you pursue, be willing to take some time before making your purchase. Sales come and go. Buying around major holiday sales is obviously going to save your some money - if you're looking to purchase new hardware two weeks before Labor Day, you might as well wait. Retailers usually have a newsletter that offers a limited quantity of items at a deep discount, you can save big money if they happen to have what you need at the right time.
It also pays to keep an eye on the news sections of tech websites every couple of days, because these websites will often have information about price cuts a week or two before they occur. For example, Intel's plans to slash their CPU prices typically show up on tech websites before they occur.
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Avoid extended warranties unless having to replace the equipment would result in the kind of financial and personal hardship you would usually insure against. Paying a premium so that someone will replace something you can't afford to replace, like a house or car, is just common sense. Even then, you have a deductible, an amount you would be able to cover if the cost to fix something is less than that, which keeps your premium down. If your car or home policy carry $500 or $1000 deductibles, why would you pay for an extented warranty on something that costs less than that?
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Once you've found a deal you think is good - jump on it! Hardware sales often last only a few days. Limited quantity offers can disappear in hours, and open box or used items are usually one of a kind deals. You may be hesitant to part with your money, but if you've followed all the steps listed in this guide, you're making as good a decision as you possibly can. There is ultimately only so much research a person can do, and even if you for some reason find out that the hardware you've purchased is not compatible with your old PC, you can always return the product or sell it online. If you've followed our advice and read product specifications carefully: it is very rare that you'll simply be stuck with a piece of hardware that does not work as planned.
Good luck with your upgrading, enjoy your quicker, refreshed PC, and put the money you saved to good use.
Upgrading Your PC Part 5: Time to Buy!
Upgrading your PC means more than rooting around in the guts of your digital companion. It also means deciding which upgrades are worthwhile, what hardware to keep, and if upgrading is even possible. This series focuses on the mental work that is required before diving into the bowels of your PC.