Apple computers are very popular. They feature industry-leading build quality. An intuitive software ecosystem and a virtually universally appreciated design. Unfortunately, they also come with some of the most mouthwatering price tags in the personal computer industry.
The good news is that you can buy a Mac directly from Apple at a significant discount. Often in the range of 15-20%. The only drawback is that the Mac in question has already been owned by someone else. These “refurbished” Macs can be very tempting, but should you buy a refurbished Mac?
New vs. Refurbished Mac?
First of all, in this article, we refer to Apple’s internal restructuring program. No third party restructuring. So how does it work?
Apple takes back used products from various sources. For example, they offer trade-in discounts for customers who purchase new products. If those Macs are good enough to be refurbished, Apple puts them in the program. If not, they are recycled properly.
Apple cleans, tests and repairs or replaces anything they need. Once done, the product appears to be new. It is packed in new packaging, includes its accessories and comes with a one year warranty. Yes, the discount is pretty small in the larger scheme of things, but by all accounts, Apple’s restructuring program is pretty comprehensive.
So, if you decide to go this route, what are the pros and cons to consider?
Pros: Better specs for the same money
Macs generally have rather modest specs, despite being quite expensive. This means that the Mac you want may have to give way to a slightly slower one that falls within your price range.
Since Apple often takes its time when it comes to updating their Mac lines, going with a refurbished Mac could get you a Mac of a higher level than you could afford at new prices. This can make the difference between an OK user experience and an excellent experience.
This is especially true when it comes to onboard storage. Apple charges a hefty amount of money just for storage, which means the savings you get on a refurbished model may very well be enough to earn you a more comfortable amount of space for the same price.
Pros: one year warranty
Get the same warranty with a refurbished Mac as you do with a new one. Apple treats these computers equally from a warranty and support standpoint.
This is certainly better than getting a shorter warranty as other computer manufacturers may have done, but it’s also a double-edged sword. How we will clarify when we come to the cons of this decision.
Pros: it’s (physically) clean
Buying a used Mac directly from the previous owner can earn you serious savings, but it can also bring home new friends you haven’t invited. Yes, from cockroaches to germs, the average person won’t hand you a pristine Mac.
It’s not even their fault. Macs, in general, are not user serviceable. Apple has the tools and skilled technicians who can open that Mac and give it a deep clean. This alone makes it a better deal.
Pros: It can be cheaper in the long run than buying a used Mac elsewhere
If you buy a used Mac directly from its previous owner or (for example) from a pawnshop, you will likely get it at a much greater discount than the refurbished route. However, if that Mac is in need of any kind of professional repair, you’re looking for a huge bill to get the job done by a certified repairman.
If you take a chance and something goes wrong, it’s often not worth the cost of repairing, which means you’ll be left without both your used Mac and the money spent on buying it.
Since a refurbished Mac comes with a one-year warranty and is eligible for optional AppleCare, you have a way to access Apple’s repair services for a single, predictable price that you can add to your cost of ownership. From that point of view, it makes a lot of sense, unless used is incredibly good.
Cons: one year warranty
What is this? Didn’t we just mention that this belongs in the “pro” column? Well, this is a double-edged sword. Refurbished Macs can be quite old, especially since Apple rarely updates them.
In other words, although the warranties are of the same duration, the new product has a wear advantage, which brings us to the next point.
Cons: You usually get an older device
As previously mentioned, Apple has been quite slow with Mac updates over the years. This creates an interesting situation where a refurbished device might be the same model as the current or previous model but is quite old in absolute terms. This means that fans, hinges, keyboard switches, and the like may have suffered significant wear.
Mechanical hard drives and SSDs also fail more as they age, and components like the screen backlight are also more likely to die with age. These components may not be considered a problem during the refurbishment process, but they may end up failing just outside the one-year warranty included in the base price.
One way around this is to only purchase refurbished versions of Mac models that have received a recent update. So you know that the production date cannot be earlier than the update.
Conclusion: should you buy a refurbished Mac?
Ultimately, you need to assess whether the small discount these machines get is worth the bet on Apple’s build quality. If a component that Apple has lost is on the verge of failure, then you have to hope it fails during the one-year warranty or shell out the extra money for AppleCare.
If you they weren’t will get Apple Care with a new Mac, so this nullifies the cost-benefit ratio. However, if you were to still get iCare, purchasing a refurbished model still represents the same overall savings. So we highly recommend buying a refurbished Mac along with Apple’s extended warranty under those conditions.
On the other hand, if you only plan on using the included one-year warranty, the small savings you get with a refurbished model won’t offset the increased risk of some components failing in the medium term.
Another factor worth considering is Apple’s trade-in program. If you have an eligible older Apple product, you can get a much larger discount on a new Mac than the small discount usually offered by refurbished Macs. Since you can’t trade your device for a refurb, this is probably the best deal.
So, on balance, a remodel is relatively safe to buy. It’s a better deal than buying a used Mac elsewhere and should be seriously considered if your budget depends on the small discount they get. If you’re not planning on getting Apple Care or can get away with a slightly lower spec machine, it’s generally much better to buy the best new Mac you can afford.