The Refurbished Computer Trap

By Michael J. Weaver11/19/2019

The idea for this article developed over the period of several months, as I was in need of a new computer since one of my outdated systems was failing. In the process of looking for a replacement, I almost fell into a trap that I think many people would want to avoid.

The important thing is that you select a computer that is suitable for your needs, be it simple word processing, video editing, number crunching, or high-end gaming. In short, don’t make a purchase until you’ve done the research first. If you are going to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a new computer, make sure it’s going to do what you want it to do without further hassle.

Let me explain my predicament: A few months back, my file and print server, an extremely outdated HP desktop system (circa 2008), had a critical failure and would only stay up for a few minutes if and when it decided to boot at all. I promptly replaced it with another somewhat outdated system, an HP desktop system (circa 2011) that, while functional, has known crash issues possibly related to the video card’s GPU locking up. The card the computer has happens to be the top model allowed by the computer because HP never updated the system BIOS to handle the new UEFI standard needed for newer video cards. A replacement card for the system actually costs more than some of the better, newer models, probably because they are old stock and no longer manufactured. My logic was, if I’m going to spend that much money on a video card, I might as well get a whole new system.

In the process of browsing the Internet for a cheap replacement computer, I found that there is a flood of refurbished or “renewed” systems available for what at first glance seem to be reasonable prices. The problem is that most of these systems originally shipped with a different BIOS, a different operating system, and in many cases, a different processor, so there is little or no actual support for them through their original manufacturers. In fact, most of the hardware isn’t supported at all, because it’s already past its end-of-life and is considered obsolete. Many of these systems are built up to the point that they are at the limits of their capabilities and can’t be upgraded any further.

What first drew my eye to these systems was the fact that they were extremely inexpensive – under $200 in some cases. Then I started looking at their configurations. I wanted a better power supply, graphics card and a bigger hard drive, so the price went up. Now I was looking at systems around $350 to $500. Finding a system that might work, I looked online for the exact specifications. That’s when I found that these systems were from the time of the Legacy BIOS to UEFI changeover. Some people had been able to successfully update the BIOS themselves to support UEFI, but many failed, probably due to a slight motherboard variance within the same model. Some of the systems were being sold with an updated BIOS and already supported UEFI, but further research showed that these systems had problems upgrading beyond the cards they came with. I decided these systems weren't worth my time. For around the same price, I could get a brand new system, not a refurbished one.

It didn’t take long for me to prove myself right, and I was able to avoid any possible future headache a refurbished or “renewed” system could potentially cause. The system I settled on is better in every way and is upgradable beyond my current needs.

If all you need is a simple computer for word processing, web browsing, or watching streaming video, a refurbished system might be just what you need, but keep in mind that it might not be able to be upgraded much beyond what comes with it, if at all. It might be better to avoid the potential headaches it could cause in the future. And if the computer you are looking at is an older one and costs around $400 or more, you might want to look into a newer system – especially if you want to keep your future upgrade options open. If you want something with any sort of processing power, such as a gaming computer, don’t even bother looking at refurbished or “renewed” systems, even if they are advertised as gaming systems, as they won’t meet the needs of any modern game. The same can be said for anyone who wants a system for number crunching of any sort.

So how do you select a computer that’s right for your needs? Just keep in mind that the more you want to do, the more processing power, system memory, and hard drive space you will need. And if you want to do something like gaming or video editing, you’ll need a higher-end video card, a higher-end processor, and possibly a solid-state storage device.