Buying A Refurbished Mac? Here’s What You Need To Know

Apple’s computers – like its phones and tablets – have continually topped customer satisfaction and reliability surveys, and often by no small margin. Though Macs don’t sell in the volume of other computers, their high prices make Apple the largest computer manufacturer by profit. Consumers with a fat wallet usually look towards a new iMac or MacBook.

Buyers on a tight budget, however, find even the most affordable Mac unobtainable. This often leads to the consideration of a refurbished model. No one wants to lay down a wad of cash for a dinged-up, battered second-hand computer – here’s what you need to know on your search for a pristine, but affordable, refurb.

Apple’s Refurbished Store Is The Only Official Source

applerefurbished   Buying A Refurbished Mac? Here’s What You Need To Know

Like most computer manufacturers, Apple runs a shop that resells units that were defective (but are now repaired) or returned for other reasons. Every Mac product, including the iMac, Mac Mini and all MacBook models, can be found on Apple’s own refurbished outlet.

Buying direct from Apple has its upsides. You’re guaranteed to receive the system in factory condition, including packaging, cables, documentation and pre-installed software. All refurbs come with the standard one-year warranty, too, and AppleCare can be purchased for further protection. There’s essentially no difference between a refurbished Mac direct from Apple and a brand new one.

That translates to moderate discount, however – almost never more than 20%, and often 10% or less. This can save you over a hundred dollars if you’re aiming for a particularly expensive Mac, like a MacBook Pro 15″ with Retina display or a 27-inch iMac. But it isn’t going to make a Mac affordable to someone who can’t afford a new one.

macbookrefurb   Buying A Refurbished Mac? Here’s What You Need To Know

Still, you can sometimes scoop a good deal, so even the most frugal buyers should check the official store. For example, the MacBook Pro 13″ with Retina can currently be had refurbished for as little as $1,249, a cool $250 of the regular purchase price.

If you’re looking for officially refurbished products, Apple is your only source. Cupertino does not want other retailers to participate in third-party refurb programs, not even those that are certified as official Apple specialists. Everyone else has to sell their second-hand Macs as “used”.

Amazon does list refurbished Macs, but on closer inspection this appears to be due to a quirk of the company’s third-party listings. The products labeled as refurbished are usually new-in-box Macs being resold by people who decided they did not need or want them. You can score a discount, but it’s often no better than what Apple offers.

Some Used Macs Are Practically Refurbished

themacstore   Buying A Refurbished Mac? Here’s What You Need To Know

While the conservative use of the “refurbished” term has kept third-party stores from cashing in, there are some that provide an extensive testing process, and “used” Macs from these companies are still worth your consideration.

The two big names in used Macs are The Mac Store and PowerMax. The former is essentially a third-party reincarnation of the Apple store, complete with retail locations in the American northwest, while PowerMax is an online retailer specializing in selling used Macs. Both companies offer a wide selection of products, ranging from near-new models to those several years old, and the testing process for each retailer is similar. Both inspect their used models to ensure everything is working, test the battery to confirm it still holds a charge, and then re-sell the used Macs with a 90-day warranty. PowerMax also offers six and 12-month extended warranties, though they are rather expensive.

Since these are used systems – albeit tested and refurbished to a minimal set of standards – you won’t receive the original packaging and you usually won’t receive all original documentation. Of course, this leads to a much better price. MacBook Air models go for as little as $749, which is 25% off the new price; 27-inch iMacs go for as little as $1,069, a whopping $730 cheaper than the newest model.

Of course, not all sellers test their hardware. You can find used Macs on eBay, Craigslist and Amazon, but these often have not undergone a testing process, and may not come with their original OS. In exchange, these used systems usually sell at the lowest prices available. Un-warrantied used Macs are often a great find, but sometimes they are the dinged-up, half-broken horrors every refurb shopper has nightmares about. Buyer beware!

New vs. Refurbished – What’s The Better Value?

usedimac   Buying A Refurbished Mac? Here’s What You Need To Know

While the discounts found on Apple’s refurb store are unlikely to make a Mac affordable to budget buyers, they do call into question the value of buying new. An official Apple refurbished Mac comes with all the original accessories, has the same warranty, and can be covered by AppleCare. Buyers can usually buy a refurb of the newest version of a particular Mac, too, unless it hit store shelves just a few weeks prior.

Considering all you receive, is there a reason to buy a new Mac? Honestly, I can’t think of one. The refurbished option is a bit less expensive and otherwise identical to the new laptop in every way. Buyers who want the latest model will have to go new, because refurbished models are not immediately available when a new Mac comes out. But even that justification seems weak, as the first refurbs are stocked just a few weeks after the latest model is released.

“Used” Mac models from third-party outlets provide even greater savings, but whether the savings is worthwhile depends on your taste for risk. Apple computers are reliable, so the used Mac will probably be fine, but you can’t buy AppleCare for these systems so repairs that happen after 90 days will come out of your wallet.

Buyers should also consider the value of new-ness if the Mac in question is more than a few years old. Though The Mac Store and PowerMax perform a basic refurbishing process, they don’t replace the battery or the accessories. Desktop systems tend to age better than laptops because they are quicker to begin with and have no battery to age – keep that in mind while browsing.

Conclusion

Buying a refurbished Apple product is not a bad idea, but the official refurbs are not going to significantly improve the affordability of a new Mac. Fortunately, there’s a vibrant market for “used” Macs which can essentially be considered refurbished, but they are technically not because Apple does not have a third-party refurbishing program.

Have you purchased a refurbished Mac before? Let us know about your experience in the comments.

Image Credit: Jeff Geerling/Flickr

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35 Comments -

Cheryl

I’ve had great luck with Apple refurbs. I think I’ve only bought one brand new Mac in 20 years.

John Bloxham

My last three Macs have all been reburbs. I have been delighted with performance and reliability.
My first Intel iMac now 6 years old has recently been given as a gift to a daughter.
My five year old 15″ MacBook Pro has recently been sold for $750 CAD.
My latest refurb is a 27″ iMac, and am thrilled!?
I think of my total savings over the years, extreme reliability, and re sale value.
A very satisfied Canadian customer.

mel

where did you buy your refurbed mac’s?

Andy vj

Was just planning to but a new one. Thanks for opening my eyes!! Lol.

Mike Amato

Another reliable source is Smalldog in Vermont – http://www.smalldog.com. I’ve been purchasing from them for years. They specialize in Apple products. Very helpful site for upgrades and repair instructions etc. excellent support, too.

Gary Underwood

bought an ipad 4 and apple tv refurbs and they work great and i couldn’t tell the difference from my new apple products I bought in the past .

Havi Govinda

I’ve only had excellent results buying refurbished Macs and I had deals with 60% of the regular price. That was in Australia though.

Mike Simmons

Recently purchased a refurbished Mac from Apple.
After discussion with on-line “help”, I ordered a 21.5 inch I-mac with 2,9 GH processor with I-5 Intel chip. Received I-Mac but with 3.2 Processor and I-7 intel and there was no price change to me. A FREE Upgrade!!!!!!

WE are and have been Apple users for years, and always satisfied.

Mike

Eric

The article was ok but they forget to mention the best place to buy a used mac. Other World Computing. macsales.com.

I purchase new every 5 years as well as refurbished. I have purchased from Small Dog in vermont, from PowerMax and macofalltrades as wel las Apple’s refurbished store and OWC gives you used macs with up to a 6 month warranty on most used models. They also have very good tech support and customer service. I run a design shop and we been happy with them and we also buy our memory and hardware upgrades from them.

mbs

I am using a refurb iPad Mini right now — it’s just fine and looked new when I bought it.

David Marsh

Where can I get a UK spec. in the UK? I’m in the market for a new iMac and if I can save a few quid all the better.

David Marsh

Where can I get a UK spec. in the UK? I’m in the market for a new iMac and if I can save a few quid all the better.

joe

My company has been buying refurbished MAC’s forever; we have bought more than thirty of them and have never had any problems whatever. We have never bought a new one because we could never see any reason to do so.

Anthony

I’ve just brought a refur. 15″ macbook pro Saturday from mactraders and I’ve done my homework searching for what I wanted tru local ads versus the retail. I coulf of brought it from someone but didn’t want to risk not being able to use the warranty if things don’t go right. I go this route because I could afford it then I would with a brand new at much more price. If I needed manual youtube it or google search it.

Donna B

I have an iMac, eMac & a Macbook all bought from a computer recycling center. I added some memory & bought a keyboard & mouse. Spent less than $800 for all 3.

Duke

I personally dont like Apple products. Too expensive-over priced,under valued-extra steps required to download anything,and incompatability with anything else. I greatly prefer HP/Compaq.They are the only PC’s I’ll buy. Ask me,Apple is full of worms!

Peter East

Since 2009, when I ‘switched’ to Apple, I have bought 2 iMacs, 2 iPads and 1 MacBook Pro, with only 1 of the iPads bought ‘brand new’. Only one problem surfaced, with the 2nd iMac, (a mid-2011 21.5 inch), and I cured that by doing a ‘clean’ re-install of the OS. In every case, I bought the Apple Care warranty, using the ‘savings’ to offset the cost, (except ,of course, for the new iPad!)
Although I sold the first iMac privately, I will only buy ‘refurbished’ from the Apple Store to be certain of reliable support.

Max

While believing used Macs from any reputable source are generally overpriced compared with any other items bought second hand, my experience with them has been perfect.

My first Mac was bought, second hand, from New Wave Technologies (now Apptech) in suburban Melbourne about 15 years ago. Since then I have bought three others from them for family and friends, and at least three others have bought there on my recommendation.

All the experiences have been positive. Most have led to later purchase of a new unit or a later second hand model from the same store, when upgrading became necessary or money became available.

Barry T

Another good source for used Macs, and other computers, where you can customize your computer is Gain$aver:
http://www.gainsaver.com/

Bill B

And yet one more source that I have, so far, found quite reliable and always worth checking:

http://www.expercom.com/

Brick & mortar stores in Utah but have a good online presence. Also, for what it’s worth, I have been a long-time Apple user and have not bought a new computer for many years. Actually, I’ve only owned two new ones… my very first, an Apple II+, and later my first Mac. Since then, all refurbs. And all have been exceptional.

Joe

I assume most of the commenters bought the AppleCare.

Mike

I just bought a ‘used’ Dell Win8 Pro 10″ tablet with docking station for $300. Thing is 3 months old, and it boots up from completely off, to complete control in under 10 seconds – every time. This is the best PC OS ever published by Msft, and the Dell hardware and screen are beautiful. The battery lasts me about 2 days with heavy use.

Apple is nice for you 1%’ers out there for sure. I’ve got other bills and and am a working stiff – but at least I don’t have to sell a kidney for a sweet ultra-portable. BTW, I just repaired a MacBook for a client…. would swear I was working on my Zorin-linux machine – and that OS is free.

Open your eyes everyone…..Apple is racking up record profits because the sheeple keep shoveling money at them. Fine if you’ve got a printing press at home…. M

XpsychO

Apple is nice for you 1%’ers? Do you realize you purchased a product that was built by a bunch of little kids stuck in a sweat shop somewhere in Tailand? Apples are more reliable than your dell, they offer better technical support, and what’s really nice is if I have a problem with my macbook, I can take it into my local apple store and get it looked at without having to send it back and wait weeks for a response.

Mike

I’m sorry but your comment is just willful ignorance on your part. You own Mac’s and you’re never heard of China and Foxconn? Mac’s are Intel architecture, just like my Dell. When you denigrate my Dell, you also denigrate your Mac – the OS, and a single mainboard chip separate the two platforms. I’ve been a PC tech for 20 years and do send equip back for warranty repair when needed. It’s never taken weeks man! These companies (and I) are in business to make a profit, not to take weeks to fondle some broken hardware. I’m glad you’re a happy customer, just don’t be a cult-follower is all I’m saying.

Kelly

Mike: any recommendations for good reliable places to buy used or refurbished Dells? We have no preference for either laptop, the price is the driver here.

alex

I bought my third refurb from apple just over 2 1/2 years ago, along with applecare. Never again. Within the first two weeks I started having problems. A call to applecare and it should work for a month or two, then break again. I did this for about a year and a half, then applecare said I could not call again, no longer a software issue, has to be hardware so go to genius bar. Four official appts and 2 unofficial and I’m back to applecare, but to a senior advisor (my third) and all they want to do is wipe the drive and reinstall. The past 5 months I have been ruining barebones, no pages, numbers, backup drive, no work at all. They still can’t fix it. Built myself an I5 has well for 1/3 the cost but 10 times the performance. No more macs for me, including my phone, one more month and I get early upgrade, I think I see a galaxy in my future. Applecare made a big mistake, they treated me badly and now I tell everyone I can how bad they treat their customers. You have been warned, I have never been treated this badly by anyone. I have been treated better by Best Buy.

Mike

Kelly, I have no special source for refurb Dells. I found mind locally on Craigslist….the seller just needed money asap and I was right place/right time. My experience is that lots of people buy new hardware, realize its got a learning curve, and the new equip languishes on a shelf. A C.List ‘want’ ad, esp this time of year, could unlock one of these little-used tech artifacts. I was lucky to find mine for a third the cost of retail…..and i’ve already transferred the mfg warranty to my name – and it runs to May 2015! Just know what you want, I bought because i wanted Win8 on a tablet, i wanted a warranty, I have ‘x’ to spend, etc. Then, watch and wait…… took me 6 months to find the right one for me, and i passed up several on the way to finding my tablet. Best of luck to you!

Rodman

I have purchased 2 refurbished Macs. The first was a 24 inch the 2nd a 27 inch. When they arrived I thought there was a mistake. They looked BRAND NEW and cane with a full warranty! There wasn’t a mark, ding, blemish… I have been using these machines for several years now for music production and photography. I have recommended refurbished Macs to my friends who wish to purchase a Mac.

Anonymous

An old Mac is easy to improve – replace the disk with the latest and add RAM. “Anyone” can change the disk and insert more memory. This MacBook came with a 60GB disk and now runs 760GB with performance ten-fold improved thanks to new disk technology. You may also consider a SSD. This makes a “used” Mac comparable with a new – spend $150…

Anonymous

I did purchase a 24″ 3.06 Refurbished iMac . I was fortunate to have the Extended Warranty because the month before it expired, I had to have the HD replaced. Previously, I had a new 21 iMac with Extended Warranty and that one was practically rebuilt, so I strongly recommend the Warranty because it may give you more years of service. Many of the members at my BAM club have purchased the refurbished products.

XpsychO

Just build a hackintosh and save yourself a ton of money.. I am running a 6 core intel extreme system, 64 gb ram, 1TB SSD (dual 512GB RAID) and for much less than you would pay for a mac pro.

Mike M

XpsychO- Do you know of any good “How to…” resources for learning what ya need to put together a hackintosh?

Carol

I’ve bought 3 refurbished devices from Apple: iMac G5 (still running), MacBook (sold it for $325 a few months ago when I bought a MacBook Pro), and an iPad2. It’s a great way to buy a Mac! All the devices were problem free. Bought AppleCare for the MacBook. Didn’t exactly need it, though when I took the laptop to Apple for a checkup just prior to expiration of AppleCare, they kindly replaced the battery without my even asking. Another benefit of buying refurbished from Apple is the opportunity to also buy One to One, which you can’t buy for devices purchased elsewhere. I’m on my second round of One to One, and am blessed to live within 25 miles of three Apples stores so I get full value from my One to One.

Cat

I bought a 2013 Macbook Pro Retina laptop (refurbished) in late October and by the end of February, it suddenly would not take a charge at all. I took it to a certified Mac repair store and just got a message on my phone that they will need to be replacing a few parts AND the hard drive. I am wondering if traveling in very cold temps did something to it.
I was in and out of my car for a couple of hours at a time and it got pretty cold for a while in my car. However, my older macbook pro (2008), which was with me as well, works just fine. I really had not even used the new refurbished laptop that much before this happened. I am glad they seem to think they can save my data. Lesson in backing things up every time….Thanks for this article as I was trying to figure out what goes into the refurbished Mac and potential pitfalls. It sounds like my case is a rare one.

Laura

I just bought a 2012 Imac 27 inch refurb. It came with dead pixels AND a bent frame. So no, I did not have luck with refurbished! I returned it and have yet to order another.