Apple computers are well-loved. They sport industry-leading built quality. A user-friendly software ecosystem and virtually universally-praised design. Sadly, they also come with some of the most eye-watering price tags in the personal computing industry.
The good news is that you can buy a Mac directly from Apple at a significant discount. Often in the 15-20% range. The only niggle is that the Mac in question has been owned by someone else before. These “refurbished” Macs can be very tempting, but should you buy a refurbished Mac?
New Vs. Refurbished Mac?
First off, in this article we are referring to Apple’s own in-house refurbishment program. Not refurbishment by third-party. So how does it work?
Basically, Apple takes back used products from various sources. For example, they offer trade-in discounts for customers who are buying new products. If those Macs are good enough to refurbish, Apple takes them into the program. If not, they are properly recycled.
Apple cleans, tests and repairs or replaces whatever they need to. Once done, the product appears to be basically as new. It’s boxed up in new packaging, includes its accessories and comes with a one-year warranty. Yes, the discount is pretty small in the greater scheme of things, but by all accounts Apple’s refurbishment program is pretty thorough.
So if you decide to go down this road, what are the pros and cons to consider?
Pro: Better Specs for the Same Money
Macs generally have quite modest specifications, despite being pretty expensive. Which means that the Mac you really want may have to give way to a slightly slower one that falls into your price range.
Since Apple often takes their time when it comes to updating their Mac lines, going with a refurbished Mac may get you a Mac one tier higher than you could afford at new prices. That can mean the difference between an OK user experience and an excellent one.
This is especially true when it comes to onboard storage. Apple charges a significant amount of cash for storage alone, which means the savings you get on a refurbished model may very well be enough to net you a more comfortable amount of space at the same price.
Pro: A One-year Warranty
You get exactly the same warranty with a refurbished Mac that you do with a new one. For all intents and purposes, Apple treats these computers the same from a warranty and support perspective.
This is certainly better than getting a shorter warranty as some other computer manufacturers might have done, but it’s also a double-edged sword. As we’ll make clear when we get to the cons of this decision.
Pro: It’s (Physically) Clean
Buying a used Mac directly from the previous owner can net you serious savings, but it can also bring some new friends home that you didn’t invite. Yep, from roaches to germs, the average person is not going to hand over a pristine Mac to you.
It’s not even their fault. Macs are, in general, not really user-serviceable. Apple has the tools and trained technicians that can open up that Mac and really give it a deep clean. This alone makes it a better deal.
Pro: It Can Be Cheaper Than Buying a Used Mac Elsewhere in the Long Run
If you buy a used Mac directly from its previous owner or from (for example) a pawn shop, you will probably get it at a much bigger discount than the refurbished route. However, if that Mac needs any sort of professional repair, you’re looking at a huge bill to get the work done by a certified repair person.
If you take the chance and something does go wrong, it’s often not worth the cost of fixing it, which means you’ll be without both your used Mac and the money you spent to purchase 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 which you can work into the cost of ownership. From that point of view it makes a lot of sense, unless the used deal is really incredibly good.
Con: A One-year Warranty
What’s this? Didn’t we just say that this belongs in the “pro” column? Well, this is a double-edged sword. Refurbished Macs can be quite old, especially since Apple so infrequently updates them.
In other words, although the warranties are the same length, the new product has a head start in terms of wear and tear, which brings us to the next point.
Con: You Usually Get An Older Device
As mentioned above, Apple has been rather slow with Mac refreshes 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 actually rather old in absolute terms. This means fans, hinges, keyboard switches and the like could have experienced significant wear and tear.
Mechanical hard drives and SSD’s also have more failures as they age and components such as screen backlights also become more likely to die with age. Those components may not be deemed a problem during the refurbishment process, but could end up failing just outside of the one year warranty that’s included in the base price.
One way to get around this is to only buy refurbished versions of Mac models that have received a recent refresh. So you know the manufacture date can’t be from before the refresh happened.
The Bottom Line: Should YOU Buy a Refurbished Mac?
In the end, you need to weigh up whether the small discount these machines get is worth the gamble on Apple’s build quality. If any component that Apple missed is on the brink of failure, then you either have to hope it fails during the one-year warranty or shell out the extra cash for AppleCare.
If you weren’t going to get Apple Care with a new Mac, then this wipes out the cost benefit. However, if you were going to get iCare anyway, buying a refurbished model still represents exactly the same saving overall. So we’d wholeheartedly recommend getting a refurbished Mac along with Apple’s extended warranty under that condition.
On the other hand, if you only plan on going with the included one-year warranty, the small saving you get with a refurbished model doesn’t make up for the increased risk that some components will fail within the medium term.
Another factor worth considering is the Apple trade-in program. If you have an eligible older Apple product, you can get a much bigger discount on a new Mac, compared to the small discount refurbished Macs usually offer. Since you can’t trade in your device for a refurb, this is probably the better overall deal.
So on balance, a refurb is relatively safe to buy. It’s a better deal than buying a used Mac elsewhere and should be seriously considered if your budget absolutely depends on the small discount they get. If you aren’t going to get Apple Care or can get by with a slightly lower spec machine, it’s generally a much better to buy the best new Mac you can afford.