5 things you should know when buying a refurbished or used Mac

5 things you should know when buying a refurbished or used Mac
Buying a used Mac can be a smart move if you do the proper research.Phil Barker/Future/Getty Images
  • Buying a used Mac can save you some money, but there are some important things to look out for.
  • Be sure to test a used Mac — make sure the screen doesn't have dead pixels and that the ports work, among other operational aspects.
  • You should also verify the Mac's specs and ensure the battery is in good condition.

You can save a lot of money by buying a previously owned Mac. As soon as a computer leaves the retailer it loses a lot of its value, but a Mac that is a few years old can still be a great value.

5 things you should know when buying a used Mac

There are always a few risks associated with getting a secondhand computer, though, so here are a few things you need to know about buying a used Mac.

Refurbished is usually better than used

There's an enormous market for previously owned Macs out there, and you can buy a used Mac directly from a private owner - or you can get a refurbished model which has the advantage of being inspected, have bad components replaced, certified in good condition and even features warranty coverage. In general, getting a refurbished Mac is a lot safer than buying an unwarranted used computer, and you can find refurbished models at reputable reseller sites and even directly from Apple.

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Beware of the Mac's impending obsolescence

Every Mac, regardless of model or age, will eventually become obsolete. That means it will no longer be supported by Apple, and you won't be able to install OS updates and security patches. For a used Mac to be a good value, you want one that puts that obsolescence date as far in the future as possible. It's a good idea to not invest in a used Mac that is more than three years old, because Apple tends to support its computers for about six years. Also, keep in mind that Apple is moving away from Intel processors. As Macs with Intel chips are phased out in favor of Apple's own silicon, your used Intel-based Mac may start to encounter obsolescence sooner than you expect.

Get the details on the used Mac

If you're buying a Mac from a private seller, you might need that person's help to get a detailed look at the computer before you make the purchase. The easiest way to find out all the important specs at once - including the year the model was produced - is to ask for a screenshot of the "About This Mac" screen, found in the Apple menu. It will tell you details like the model, serial number, RAM, version of the OS, and more.


Make sure there isn't a firmware password

The previous owner might have set up a firmware password, which can prevent you from booting your Mac from a USB port, which might be important during troubleshooting or disaster recovery. To find out, start the Mac and hold down the Option key. If you're asked for a password, ask the owner to turn it off before you buy the computer.

Test the Mac to make sure it works properly

If you can spend some time with the Mac before you buy, there are some simple tests you can run to make sure the computer is in good working order. Minor cosmetic blemishes are no big deal, but if the battery doesn't hold a charge, that might be a dealbreaker.

Tests to run on a used Mac

Here are few of the operational aspects of a used Mac you'll want to check out before purchasing it.

  • Does the Mac start up without an issue? If it's a MacBook, can you boot it from both AC power and the battery?
  • Do all the ports work? Test all the ports on the Mac. Use a USB flash drive, for example, to make sure all the USB ports respond.
  • Does the keyboard work? Open a text window and test all the keys to make sure they work properly.
  • Is the screen in good condition? You can run a web-based tool like LCDTech's dead-pixel checker to look for dead pixels on the screen. It's not unusual for a laptop to have a few bad pixels, but if this Mac has a lot of them, you might reconsider buying it.
  • Does the battery hold a charge? You can test the Mac's battery by checking to see if it charges and then runs properly on battery power, but an easier test is to see what the Mac has to say about its own battery health. Click the Apple menu and then hold the Option key while choosing "System Information." Click "Power" in the navigation pane on the left and check the "Health Information."

Perform a factory reset

When you buy a used Mac, you don't know the history of what's been on the hard drive. The previous owner probably performed a factory reset, but there's no reason to take chances - it might have malware installed even if it looks clean. For details on how to do that, read our article "How to wipe a Mac computer, and reset it to its factory settings."

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