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5 Differences Between Used And Refurbished

Posted by nik on November 6, 2018

Buying refurbished tech is an excellent way to get a great bargain on the technology you need to use for work or play – but what exactly does it mean to say that something is refurbished? Does it mean the same thing as “used”? Actually, no. There are a number of significant differences between a refurbished item and a used one. A refurbished item is a product that the manufacturer (or sometimes a third party) has restored to new or like-new condition.

Difference 1: Warranty

Refurbished items generally come with a warranty, just like a new product from the same manufacturer. Occasionally you will see a used item offered with a warranty, but not often.

Difference 2: Physical condition

A refurbished item is supposed to look just like a new item, and they generally do. The process of refurbishing a tech product usually involves the replacement of things, such as the chassis, faceplates, buttons/knobs, and so on. A used item has had nothing changed on it. It is the same as when it was new, with whatever wear or damage has accumulated over its lifetime.

Difference 3: Vendor

It is rare that an OEM will sell used products. The closest they usually come is to sell items that are “off-lease,” meaning a corporate customer leased a ton of the whatever-it-is from the OEM, sent them back when the lease expired, and now the OEM is reselling the items. This is not done very often because if the items are too old (and therefore cannot be supported directly,) the OEM won’t bother reselling them and instead find other means of liquidating that inventory. OEMs do, however, sell refurbished items.

If you are buying a used item, it is almost certainly coming from a third-party vendor or a private party. Some unscrupulous vendors will sell used items as refurbished when in fact they’re not.

The general rule of thumb is that if you purchase a refurbished item direct from an OEM or a large, reputable third-party vendor (like NewEgg or TigerDirect,) it is truly refurbished. With smaller vendors you risk receiving used goods. This is especially true if a vendor is selling something labeled as refurbished but there is no warranty, or if the item is being sold “as-is.”

Difference 4: Age of item

As noted in #3 above, an item that is too old to be supported will not generally be refurbished at all. The OEM will instead find a way to liquidate the inventory. If a particular item is still available from the OEM as new, you may find legitimate refurbished versions of it, warranty and all.

If on the other hand the item is discontinued but is no longer available as new, what you will usually find are used versions of that item with no warranty.

The easiest way to check if something is discontinued or not is to go to the OEM’s web site. If you see the item still sold as new, it’s obviously not discontinued. If it’s vanished, then it’s probably discontinued. Some OEMs are consumer-friendly enough to tell you this up front and give you a complete list of what’s discontinued. Others don’t do this, so you’ll have to go look item-by-item and see for yourself.

Special note on this: There is a period of time right after an item is discontinued where it “rides the fence” for a few months or even a few years and may still be supported by the OEM, but after that it goes into used-only territory. This all depends on how the OEM handles discontinued product support for newly discontinued items, as well as on the industry. Software is often supported for longer than other products.

Difference 5: Support

This directly relates to #3 and #4 above. Current-model items from the OEM are supported and therefore are available as refurbs. These refurb items have support, so if you run into an issue with the product, you can call the OEM for help.

Used items have third-party-only support or no support at all. Once you buy it, you’re on your own.

Are refurb items better now compared to in previous years?

Yes. When refurbished items first appeared years ago they were often pretty crappy. This soured a lot of people on the idea of buying anything other than new, and to some extent is responsible for the belief that used = refurbished.

Today OEMs understand that there is legitimate profit to be made by selling refurbished items. As such, refurbished products now are a whole lot better than they used to be. These items are good enough that the manufacturer can offer the same warranty as you would get with a new product. OEMs are not in the business of giving out charity warranties; if they warranty a product, it means that their data show the product is reliable.

Refurbished products are a great way to save lots of money on your tech needs without compromising on quality or value. If the refurbished item has all the features you want, comes with everything the same new product would, and is supported by the OEM (which it is,) you can buy with confidence. There are some product families where the product has a certain lifespan which can’t be extended no matter what you do to the components (hard drives, for example), and for those products a refurbished or recertified item might not make sense, but you have to look at the individual situation. (If you only need the hard drive to last a year, and it’s 90% less than the new version…)

Most of the time the refurbished items you buy will serve you just as well as new products would.

10 thoughts on “5 Differences Between Used And Refurbished”

Ben R says:
I realize this article is old, but it still applies today. A few things I’ve come to realize from personal experience over the years of buying refurbished items: some refurbs are very good, some are terrible, it depends on what the type of device or hardware it is. Hard drives are a no-go, DO NOT EVER buy them refurb. You do not want your most precious data on something that WILL fail, GPUs are OK, headphones/earbuds, from a few brands I’ve tried have never had a problem with, phones believe it or not are actually really good at on refurbs (only have used Samsung and Apple), laptops can be OK but it depends on the brand and the price-range. If it’s a high-end machine it will usually be quality refurb. Appliances are a big no from any brand as well as TVs.
I could go on and on but it would take forever and I think you see the pattern between them. In conclusion, certain things are really good when refurbished. I don’t know if that is necessarily due to the contents of the hardware or who does the refurbishing of that particular item. But what you really need to do is read reviews first. If there is no reviews because it’s fresh to the market, maybe don’t chance it and just buy the new version it or something similar. Like I said, this is all from my personal experience that I go by so I hope that it helps someone else in making choices in the future.

P.S. Sorry this is so long!

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Tom Inglis says:
Doing intake for repairs I’ve come to the conclusion that buying a refurb PC is a crap shoot, even from legit vendors. When I’ve helped a customer contact the seller, I’ve seen no issues with them making it right but it’s always a disruption to their life. As far as components go, again from a legit seller, I’d agree that anything that is current with the exception of hard drives, go for it. Keep in mind that there’s a significant difference from generation to generation on processors though. A fifth generation i7 is not the same as a seventh or eighth generation.
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Mike says:
I always recommended and go for refurbished parts from a genuine dealer for laptops and MacBook parts NEW parts are a very costly example a new 512GB-SSD for MacBook Pro Retina will cost less than $250 wherein new 512GB-SSD cost more than $550. If you dealing with a good seller he will always give you a warranty on parts many a time we can get a warranty on refurbished parts same as new.

If money is not your concern buy new. Yes, we have to make sure that before buying parts Do check the year and physical condition of the goods.

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ralph says:
I do buy some gear second hand or refurb but when it comes to IT (which is what I do for a living) I value downtime or rather lack of it over price, hance I only buy recognised brands from reputable dealers otherwise I look a pillock!
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David M says:
I tend to agree with David K. Its sort of like choosing the box on the store shelf that has already been opened versus choosing the box with the factory seal still intact. You just know someone before you has been messing with the contents of the opened box.

Even though it may still have a warranty, sometimes getting a manufacturer to honor a warranty can be a hassle not to mention dealing with the shipping and the time waiting for the replacement to arrive. It may be worth the extra money for new just because of the increased potential hassle factor of buying refurbished.

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David K. says:
I never buy refurbished, or used for that matter, if it’s something I want to count on working. I may be wrong, but my thinking is that for some reason, there was likely something wrong with the product to start with. Sure the OEM will try to repair that and refurbish it, and most of the time they probably do. But I figure some of the times, they have to miss something. Ever taken your car in for repair only to get it back with the same problem? Exactly.

Just not worth the risk, IMO, if you can afford new.

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WI_Winger says:
I did by a refurbished hard drive a couple of years ago from GearXS. I didn’t realize it was refurbished until I got it. (my fault for not reading all of the info on the website) Fortunately, the drive has worked flawlessly. I do backups a lot, so I wasn’t really worried. I think Rich has a good idea though when he said not to rely on refurbished drives. You might modify that to say don’t buy refurbished drives for data drives.
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Diablo says:
@ MrDraven…
did u read the the last article… GOSH1
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David M says:
Great information Rich…thanks!
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MrDravenX says:
I have bought only one refurbished item and it was an e-machine notebook back in 2005. I got it because it was cheap and I just wanted a laptop for a deployment. It lasted for a few months and stopped working completely. I will never buy another refurbished item again.
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