• How to buy/obtain a used laptop?

    I’ve received some feedback that suggests my laptop is probably dying, or the display is anyway. So, likely I’ll need to replace it. I don’t want or need a brand new machine. A used one is fine. With luck a friend or friend of friend will be discarding a suitable one soon. But, if that fails, is there a safe way to do this through a third party? Are there good online sources for used laptops? Does this market exist?

    My specs are:

    • Laptop (not that picky about size, weight)
    • XP
    • Some version of MS Office installed
    • WiFi ready
    • USB port
    • CD drive
    • > 1GB RAM
    • Not insanely slow to start up, multitask

    This last bullet is vague. I don’t know how to spec that better. I’m guessing the RAM requirement pretty much does it. This is a know-it-when-you-see it spec. Basically, I want the machine to start up in under a minute or so and be able to handle running the Chrome browser, Word, and iTunes simultaneously without trouble.

    Just because it is convenient for me, here’s a list of software I use on my laptop:

    • Chrome browser
    • iTunes
    • FileZilla
    • ScreenHunter
    • Malwarebytes
    • MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint
    • Adobe
    • 7-Zip

    That’s it. Other than the Office software, it’s all free stuff.

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    • You may wish to invest in a small SSD if you are looking for fast startup times.

    • I don’t know your budget but I assume you want to spend as little as possible.
      Your requirements are modest and can be met by just about any laptop less that 3 years old. Used laptops can be problematic since they are fragile and may have odd things that don’t work. Used Windows laptops may also come preloaded with various malware so I would advise doing a clean install of Windows which you may have to buy if the seller doesn’t have original disks.
      Another option is a new “netbook”. You can buy a decent one for about $300 that meets your specs. This way you will have a warranty and a fresh battery (laptop batteries only last a few years and a used laptop will need a new battery which will add about $75 to the cost). New netbooks have processors and memory more capable than a used laptop of just a few years ago. You’ll need to buy an external USB CD/DVD reader/writer but these are cheap.
      A good alternative to MS Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) to avoid the cost is OpenOffice.org which I have been using for many years and works well for all of these functions and compatibility with MS format files.
      If you’re concerned about speed, you could replace the OS with Linux (Ubuntu is a good distribution) which is faster, has not viruses in the wild, and runs all of the software you mentioned (if you use OpenOffice instead of MS Office). You can even run iTunes under Wine. However, it does take some time and tech mojo to install.

    • Hi Austin Frakt,

      You may want to check out the Dell Latitudes at http://www.dfsdirectsales.com, which is where Dell Financial Services sells off-lease laptops:

      RetailMeNot has some coupons for http://www.dfsdirectsales.com which I’d recommend you try:

      http://www.retailmenot.com/view/dfsdirectsales.com

      If you can get an academic license of Microsoft Office from your university (assuming you currently work at one), you can take that approach.

      As an alternative, you can buy Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 or 2010, which should be legitimate as long as it is not for commercial use.

      http://www.amazon.com/Microsoft-Office-Home-Student-2007/dp/B000HCZ8EO/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1292178435&sr=8-2
      http://www.amazon.com/Microsoft-Office-2010-Student-Version/dp/B00337D8U6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1292178435&sr=8-1

      And as another alternative, you can use OpenOffice, as recommended by Mark Spohr.

      Please feel free to e-mail me or comment if I can provide any more help.

    • I second Open Office: I don’t even use Word/Excel anymore since I started using this program. One thing to be aware of with OO, though: it’s JAVA based, so with an older machine it may take a little longer to boot up than you’re used to with MSO. My old computer often lagged when I’d open this program; my new one has enough working memory that it opens no problems. With the netbook suggestion: make sure it can handle the programs you want installed (some can and some don’t). Also, some Linux flavors (like Knoppix) can be run from a bootable USB stick, meaning you could easily switch between Linux and Windows to get used to the OS.

      I’d suggest you use sites like CNet or PC World to get reviews and spec comparisons, pick out what you need, then go for Internet bargain trolling. Newegg has some great deals on technology.