How to Shop for a Used Computer

When it comes to buying used PCs, it’s best to avoid sites like Craigslist, eBay, or Reddit—it’s possible to find good deals there, but if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, you can easily get tripped up by fake or misleading listings or even a PC preloaded with malware. If you’re buying your first used computer, you can avoid scams and heartbreak by sticking to major retailers. Computers from these sellers are also more likely to be professionally cleaned and restored.

Best Buy has a wide selection of preowned, refurbished, and open-box laptops and desktops. The site’s filters make it fairly easy to narrow down the specs by our recommendations above, and the desktops in particular are good deals if you’re able to upgrade the memory or install an SSD yourself.

When buying from Amazon, stick to models with the Amazon Renewed tag, which Amazon says “have been inspected and tested by qualified suppliers to look and work like new” and come with a 90-day replacement-or-refund policy.

A screenshot of Newegg's laptop listings.
When you’re searching Newegg, limiting your search to systems shipped and sold by Newegg can return higher-quality results.

Newegg, a popular site for people who like to build or upgrade their own PCs, also has a lot of used laptop and desktop PC listings, though the search function isn’t as nice. Some of Newegg’s listings are for much older computers than you’ll find at Amazon or Best Buy, so be especially careful about checking the offerings for our minimum and preferred requirements. Using the “sold/shipped by Newegg” search filters limits the models available but makes it easier for you to find something in good condition sold by the site itself rather than a potentially sketchy third party.

Check the listings for laptops to make sure that the charger is included.

Local computer stores may also be a good place to check for used hardware. Micro Center keeps a decent selection of refurbished desktops and laptops on hand—some of these are available online, but many are available only if you can make it to an actual store. You might have other decent options local to you—in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, Central Computers is a well-regarded local chain. A little research and checking Yelp and the BBB might reveal good, reasonably priced options near you, and calling ahead with our recommended specs in hand can help you figure out if any of the store’s in-stock systems will work for you.

If you do take your chances on a site like eBay, it’s especially important to make sure the pictures in the listing are of the actual computer you’ll be buying—not one laptop among several, or pictures that claim to be “representative” of what you’re buying. Avoid buying computers from outside the US, since they can take several weeks to ship and such listings are more likely to be scams. Check the listings for laptops to make sure that the charger is included. And don’t buy from sellers with little to no feedback or a lot of negative feedback.

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