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Buying a used laptop

Russell James is Operations Manager at BJ Associates of San Antonio. They are an authorized service center for Toshiba and Sony systems. They are the laptop specialist and also handle system builds and parts for desktops. They can take care of any IBM compatible hardware or software problem that you have. You can e-mail him at or visit them on the Web at .


What do you need to know when buying a used laptop? It would be nice to know that the person that had it was good to it and treated it as well as you would. You need to look at a used laptop the same way you would when buying a used car. Start by stepping back and looking at the full picture.

Did they take the time to clean the laptop up before trying to sell it? Does it look so clean that it looks like they are trying to hide something? I know that laptops don't have fluids running through them like a car, but you can get a good general idea of how well the laptop was taken care of by looking at the outside.

Look at the overall condition of the outside of the laptop as well as a close look at the screen and the keyboard area. Are there scratches in the plastic casing or in the screen? It really takes a lot to scratch this type of hard plastic. If there are a lot of scratches then they probably weren't too careful with the rest of the system.

After you get a look at the outside and are satisfied, you are ready to take a test drive. Turn the computer on in a relatively quiet place so that you can listen for any abnormal sounds coming from the fans or the hard drive. Whining noises coming from the fans could mean a bearing about to go out. Clunking or squealing sounds from the hard drive could mean an impending failure. You need to find out the source of any noise that you hear coming from the system and make a decision as to whether it could be the sound of more dollars in repair bills coming out of your wallet.

You would be wise to take some sort of diagnostics software with you when looking at a used laptop. At the least you should have a Windows diagnostics disk that you can boot the system up with and run scandisk on the hard drive. A full surface scan will show whether there are any bad sectors on the drive which would mean that you would need to replace the drive. If you have access to a good diagnostic program you would want to run a check on the full system. This will alert you to any problems that might be lurking in the memory, video card or main board of the system.

If the computer has an operating system take a close look at the screen as the system is booting up. Look for any error messages that might come up when starting the system. If the operating system is in bad shape you might need to spend some more cash or your time to repair or reinstall the operating system. Be sure to ask whether the system comes with the software that is loaded. If you need to reinstall to correct any errors you will need the software or at least a CD for whatever operating system it is.

Any problems that you find with the system should be looked at to determine whether the price being asked for the system is fair. You don't want to overpay for a system that is three to four years old but it is hard to say what a fair price is. I have customers that ask me what their system is worth and I give them all the same answer. The system is worth what someone is willing to pay. If the price is too high then the system will not sell. Supply and demand regulates the prices of laptops the same way it does with used cars. You need to do a little research when looking for a used laptop. If you are buying it over the Internet you need to know who you are dealing with. If "a nobody" is offering a three year old laptop at a great price with a one year warranty, you need to understand that the warranty is only as good as the company or person that you are buying from.

Take your time and look at a lot of systems when buying a used laptop. There is an abundance of used computers on the market because of the advances that we are experiencing in the field. This means that there are going to be a lot of good systems out there and you don't need to settle for the first one you find. Follow your instincts and if something doesn't feel right then walk away from the deal. There are too many machines available to take a leap onto the first system that you find. Take your time and you will make a wise choice that you won't regret the morning after.


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