How to buy a refurbished Mac

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Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Do you find yourself looking wistfully at the screen and counting the zeros on the latest Apple price tag? It’s no surprise that students, professionals, and entertainment gurus around the world struggle to afford the new, super-resolution iMacs and MacBooks. But there is a savior, and it comes in the form of refurbished products.

Here’s what you need to know when buying a refurbished Mac — either through Apple or another retailer.

What does refurbished actually mean?

First things first, let’s be clear: Refurbished is not the same as resold. Resold just means that someone is selling the same item again, often used, with all the problems that entails. Refurbished means that the Apple product in question was sent back to (ideally) a professional because of a minor issue, or because it was no longer wanted. Any malfunctioning parts are replaced, the product is given a once-over to make sure that everything is shiny and working right, and then it is repackaged to be sold again.

Because refurbished Apple products cannot be sold at MSRP, they are typically sold at a discount, which means you save money while buying a product that is often just as good as new.

Apple manages its own refurbishment store, complete with its own Certified Refurbished certification, which means trained professionals ensure every device functions properly before putting it up for sale. The store offers the highest quality, so you’re essentially getting a machine that barely differs from a new model. Many people think of it as an instant discount option when shopping for a new Apple device — as long as inventory is in stock.

A couple other caveats also apply, however. First, it’s unusual to find recently-launched Apple products that have been refurbished, given they likely haven’t come back yet. Typically products have to be out for at least a few months before any refurbished Mac deals hit the market, and these will be quickly snapped up. The greatest range of products will probably be between one and two years old. It’s difficult to find refurbished Apple electronics beyond a few years old.

Buying from Apple

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If you want to buy straight from the source, then head over to Apple’s Refurbished and Clearance section. Purchasing directly from the manufacturer is a great way to go when it comes to refurbished items, because you know they have been professionally inspected, fixed, cleaned, and repackaged by people with experience in those specific electronics. Apple even backs these products with the same warranty you’d find on a new Mac, and you can further your device via AppleCare. Below are some additional notes to consider.

  • Both pre-owned and once-defective models are available, and Apple guarantees that all products meet Finished Goods testing. The discounts on the Online Store are a bit underwhelming, though. The average discount rate hovers around 15 percent, which is good but doesn’t exactly get hearts thumping. Some discounts can be as high as 25 percent, however, if you get lucky.
  • It’s not just about Macs: Macs and MacBooks are some of the most popular options, but Apple sells refurbished models of just about everything in the company’s arsenal, including Apple Watches and iPhones. The website’s left-most menu shows what’s available and what isn’t, but keep in mind that inventory can change quickly, especially for popular products.
  • Refurbished items become extremely popular when a new Apple product comes out. Sure, it takes a while for refurbished versions of new products to hit the digital shelves, but consumers immediately begin wondering if they can get an older model for a cheaper price, which drives them to seek refurbished products. In other words, availability tends to be scarce and competitive immediately following an important Apple release.
  • The cheaper models tend to be the most in-demand. For example, iPads with just Wi-Fi are hard to find, but those with cellular data options are more common, and so on.
  • Free shipping and returns apply to all these products.
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