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What's in a Computer Name?

What are Second-hand, Used, Overstock, Surplus, Refurbished Computers etc and how do I choose between them?

Let's dispense with the myths first. I'm NOT talking about the sort of second-hand computers you get from some high street junk shops, or the sort you can buy from free ads newspapers. These are the type that get used computers a bad reputation since there are many dodgy deals to be had!

I'm talking about a different breed altogether, the sort of used computers you'd be proud to own and feel safe buying because they have proper and lengthy warranties on each and every one of them and have been extensively tested and approved.

The criterion is quite strict. Sure, there are any number of companies out there who offer used computers at low prices. Very few offer 12-month warranties however and many of them disappear just as quickly as they arrived leaving you with a problem. All computers, no matter which category they fit in, or what you call them, should be high quality, guaranteed, fully working computers from a reputable supplier.

So, let's put all the computers into two categories, I'm going to call them 'used' and 'unused' computers.

1. Used Computers

Second-hand, second user and used computers are what you would expect in that they have had a previous owner. Many of the computers have been returned to the company from which they were bought in the first place. This is ideal as the company has the appropriate expertise and spares already in place to correct any faults they find.

There are a number of reasons why computers are returned:

- businesses, colleges, individuals etc upgrade their computer equipment for the latest model

- the equipment was leased over a set period and the lease expires (so the equipment is returned)

- the computer gets a fault that can't be fixed quickly so it is swapped permanently out for a new one

- the customer changes their mind just after purchasing

As you can appreciate, 'used computer' can mean anything from 'barely used' to 'a couple of years old'. However, once returned the computers go through a rigorous check procedure, have their hard disks cleared or changed, have new keyboards, mice and cables if worn and new cases if they have noticeable damage. If there are any faulty components, such as sound card, video card, floppy drive etc, these are always replaced. These computers are often referred to as ex-lease, open-box, returns, refurbished, reclaimed, remanufactured, rebuilt, recycled, recertified or reconditioned computers. Phew!

At worst, the used computers, as sold on to you, have minor blemishes, scratches, dents or wear. This is always just cosmetic and does not affect either the performance or value of the computers in any way. What you receive is a fully-working computer, the same working condition as new, but at a price well below that of new. You can often pick up recent high-specification models second-hand and save hundreds of pounds. Of course there are lots of bargains to be had whatever model or type you decide to purchase but note you will sometimes find it difficult to get anything as stock can go very quickly some weeks.

2. Unused Computers

The other main categories of computers are the overstock, surplus, liquidated, superceded, discontinued, open box or end-of-line stock. These are all basically the same in that they are all UNUSED computers. So these are not what you would really classify as second-hand, ie they have not personally been owned and used by any business, college, individual etc. They will often be in their original packaging.

The reasons why these computers come on to the market are because:

- a manufacturer has brought out new models and wants to get rid of the 'old' superceded stock in his warehouse

- a store wants to raise some urgently needed cash and sell his unsold stock

- a factory or store becomes bankrupt and the computer stock is sold

In most of these cases, the stock gets sold to specialist dealers who buy in bulk and who then sell it on to the public, businesses etc. They then either provide a new warranty themselves for the equipment, or ensure there is a full warranty from the original manufacturer. You'll often find Toshiba, HP, Compaq and other brand name computers offered with a 12-month warranty from the original manufacturer. Note that sometimes suppliers refer to open box as meaning refurbished - they will usually state in the description what they mean.

So that's it. Two main categories of computers, quite different from each other but both offering great deals on branded equipment. Either way you will save money and still get a peace-of-mind guarantee on your computer purchase.

One last point. Make sure you check what you are getting for your money. Sometimes the computer may come without Windows installed or without a monitor. Don't assume - check. This will ensure you are happy with your savings AND your purchase.
The author is an experienced computer user, having worked in IT management for a number of years and heavily involved in the purchase, use and distribution of thousands of computers.

Lee Walder