What You Need to Know Before Buying Refurbished PCs: MAR, Quality, and More

Refurbished PCs and electronics require additional consideration when shopping, but can net some great deals for quality equipment.

The life of an electronics fiend is filled with a tormented sense of joy. The latest gadgets break out on the scene amidst a ton of hype, and for a short time they are the exciting, mind-blowing apex of technology. Everything in life is wonderful for a moment, until the high comes crashing down when the inevitable newer and more advanced models are released shortly afterwards.

This frustration makes it tough to stay on top of the latest trends without going broke (and mad), which is where refurbished electronics come to the table. When it comes to buying refurbished PCs and other electronics, there is a lot of confusion and several big misconceptions to address.

Why would anyone buy refurbished electronics?

Refurbished PCs are a good way for businesses and consumers to get new tech without forking out a ton of cash.

Before even getting into the details about the different elements of refurbished electronics, it is worth diving into why someone would consider purchasing a refurb unit to begin with. Given the opportunity, with an unlimited budget I have no doubt everyone would prefer to have the latest, brand-new tech as soon as it comes out each and every time.

Chances are though; most people can’t keep up with that sort of lifestyle. Refurbished PCs and electronics are a much more affordable way to get reasonably new-to-market tech, without having to pay full price. Most brand-new releases don’t have refurbished models available for a few months at least, but if you are willing to wait a little while you can save some serious cash and still snag the goods.

The misunderstood “refurbished” statusThe misconceptions about refurbished electronics drives many people away, but doing your homework can alleviate much of the mystery.

The common misconception about buying refurbished is that you are getting a used product, it is poor quality, it isn’t covered by any warranty, and you basically have a 50/50 chance it will be a dud. Do any of those sound familiar?

A couple of years ago I had the same perception of refurbished electronics, and there wasn’t a ton of information available to the contrary. The thought of buying a refurb product made me feel like someone else had their go at my gear before I did, and I didn’t like it.

That all changed when I was in the market for a sound bar to match my TV, but I didn’t want to fork out a ton of money (I did just buy a new TV after all). I just wanted to have crisp, clean audio with decent power across the spectrum for simple home entertainment. After much deliberation, I went ahead and took a chance on a refurbished sound bar, and I haven’t looked back since. The unit arrived looking brand-new, without as much as a fingerprint on it. Out-of-the-box performance was stellar, and I saved a fat chunk of change.

Since then, I have purchased a DSLR camera, a few camera lenses, a laptop, and a large Bluetooth speaker that have been refurbished, and every one of them has been perfect. The only thing I didn’t get from them was a gaping hole in my wallet.

So from personal experience, here is the truth about the myths that surround refurbished products. When new products come off the line, they are rarely individually tested. They get packaged, go into a box, and sent out to be sold as quickly as possible. Sure, you have QA checks per batch and random sample inspections, but the potential chance for a dud is certainly present with any new electronic device.

When you purchase refurbished electronics, you are getting something that has been brought in-house, diagnosed, fixed, and tested—by a human. That extra assurance knowing what you are purchasing has been double-checked by someone gives me extra comfort making a purchase, especially the larger-scale ones.

What is MAR?MAR-certified refurbished PCs give an extra sense of security knowing that a Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher has taken care of data wiping and OS loading.

When it comes to buying refurbished PCs, there is quite a bit on the line. You want to make sure the product you are getting is legitimate, properly prepped, reliable, and just like new from an operational standpoint. MAR stands for Microsoft Authorized Refurbished, which is a title that is granted to refurbishers by Microsoft guaranteeing the legitimacy of the product. There are only 16 MARs in the United States to date, which speaks to the stringency of the regulation.

To become certified as a MAR, products and refurbishers must adhere to a strict policy regarding the asset collection, data wiping, and loading of a valid version of the Microsoft OS onto a refurbished desktop or notebook before it  is sold to the customer. Additionally, MAR products come with a Microsoft Certificate of Authenticity (C.O.A.) label slapped on the machine, letting you know right away you have a genuine product that has the Microsoft name backing it up. We had some hands-on time with MAR machines from Arrow Electronics last year.

Class in session- refurbished PC grades

Refurbished PCs can vary in quality, ranging from the best quality at A-Grade down to C-Grade, relating to the aesthetics of the product.

One thing to pay close attention to when shopping for refurbished PCs (or other refurbished electronics when applicable) are the grades they are marked as. Grades range from A-C, and while it is more of a qualitative analysis that guides the classification of each, the most pristine start at “A-Grade” and the more heavily-worn end up as “C-Grade”.

The end goal for refurbished PCs is that they should all have the same high-functioning components and security, regardless of whether or not they have aesthetic blemishes. The grading scale might vary slightly based on the refurbisher, or product category, but they will be similar to this scale from Arrow Electronics’ Value Recovery division:

A-Grade System has passed testing for key and essential functions. A Grade items will have only minor surface blemishes that can be seen but not felt. These blemishes will be less than 3” long. Screens will not have any visible marks or blemishes.
B-Grade System has passed testing for key and essential functions. B Grade items will have minor wear and will have more obvious blemishes than our A Grade products. You may find dents of ½” diameter or less, small areas of discoloration from removed tags and stickers, and scratches that are no more than 3” long but may have removed a bit of paint and might be able to be felt with your finger. Any keys, track pads, and mouse buttons may have some wear and shine. Screens may have minor surface blemishes that can be seen when the display is off (For example, screens could have small scuffs, other minor marks less than ¼” long, and keyboard rubs on laptop screens). B Grade units are offered at a higher discount than A Grade items.
C-Grade System has passed testing for key and essential functions. C Grade items will show wear, as well as having more and/or larger dents, discoloration, and scratches, and can also have minor to moderate cracks (up to ½” long). Any latches or hinges may be damaged or broken, and there may be missing or damaged plastic panels, bezels, and covers. Surface blemishes on screens may be larger and more plentiful than those found on Grade B items, and there may also be up to five dead or stuck pixels when the display is on. C Grade units enjoy a deeper discount than B Grade items.

Other considerations when shopping refurb

Warranty is one of the most important factors when shopping for refurbished electronics; most quality operations stand behind their work and can be a red flag if they don't..

For me, seeing a manufacturer refurbished item is almost an immediate buy, because I know the same expertise that went behind product design will be put to use in the repair and quality assurance. That means any damaged components are swapped with genuine replacement parts, and most often there is a warranty to cover it. In my opinion, there really isn’t a better choice if quality is a concern since the brands that make products are (usually) willing to stand behind their quality.

Some of my refurbished electronic purchases came from third-parties, and they have been wonderful. Of course there are always exceptions, and you’ll want to carefully investigate any third-party sources of refurbished products.

One thing you always need to check regardless of the source of the product is the warranty, and return policy. Since this is often times different than the regular policies for new items, it is always best to check before purchasing so you don’t end up flat out of luck. If there isn’t a warranty on a refurbished product I would definitely be skeptical and do serious digging into the company that is selling it and the one doing the refurbishing. Quality companies stand behind their products and handiwork. It’s as simple as that.

Is buying refurbished electronics worth it?

If finding a great deal on high-quality tech is your idea of fun, refurbished PCs and electronics can be a good choice.

If you care about getting the best value, refurbished is definitely the way to go. Getting high quality products that (in most cases) look and perform just like new with a massive discount is a rush, and just makes it easier to keep up with the latest technology.

If you want to be on the front lines and get the newest tech as soon as it is available, you won’t really be able to benefit from refurbished products. Also, if you can’t stand the idea of someone else laying hands on your treasured goodies before you, this is not a viable option. One other area where refurb might be less attractive is for gift items, since you don’t want to have an item end up not having the same warranty coverage and a recipient get left out in the cold.

All in all, there is a great value to be had buying refurbished PCs and electronics if you do your homework and are willing to make some minor concessions. You’ll save money while still getting a solid product, so what’s not to like?

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