a Used PC: An overview of the whole process
ensure that you aren't buying from a "dealer".
Many of the apparently 'private' ads in second user papers
and the classified sections of your local paper are inserted by
dealers posing as private sellers. AVOID THEM. It is
illegal for dealers to pretend they are selling privately. No matter
how cheap the deal seems you WILL lose. How do you
identify the dealers? It's simple really. Full
lower down on this page.
the PC thoroughly before purchase. (Don't just see it
issues: Ask to see the original receipt (Caution: it's
easy for someone to print a receipt at home. Do you
recognise the company that issued it? Do they have a vat
number on the receipt?). Visit the seller at his or her
house. Car parks and the local MacDonald's are a definite
no-no. If it's not a suspicious sale they should have no
problem giving you their home or work address where you
can try the machine out and make the purchase.
copies of all the drivers disks and manuals. 30% of PC
buyers have to re-format their hard disk and re-install
the operating system within the first year. Unless you
have all the relevant disks you'll end up with an
expensive paper-weight. Read these and other
sure you know what a new
of equivalent specification costs. Why pay "new"
price for second hand goods? Typically, the price of the
second hand PC should be roughly 50% of what a new PC of
equivalent specifications would cost. The price should
reflect not just that the goods are used but also the fact
that you do not have a full original manufacturer's
guarantee, and you are therefore taking a risk.
Main Faults with used PCs
Hard disks that have faulty
This is revealed only by running a full surface scan of the hard disk. Note: A full
scandisk can take from a few minutes to over an hour depending on the size of the hard
CPU fans "freezing"
Within the base unit is a processor that usually has a heat sink and a fan to ensure it
is kept cool. These fans collect dust and dirt and it is not unknown for them to stop
spinning. When you have insufficient cooling the processor can overheat and eventually
stop functioning. Check for abnormal sounds which indicate the fan is on the way out.
If it is remember that the processor may already be damaged.
Monitors that don't work once they have warmed up a
It's called a "dry joint", but without going into the technicalities, it's
best to check that the monitor still works after 15-20 minutes of putting it on.
Software glitches like freezing and
Over a period of time the installation of Windows on a computer can get damaged. The
best way of overcoming this is to ensure that you have a fresh and clean installation of
the operating system. You'll find it makes life a lot easier to do this before you start
using the computer than after six months of use. (These problems are also caused by faulty
RAM or cache).
Notes on Laptops
- ensure you have the charger and you've tested it
- test any additional batteries offered with the machine
- test the PCMCIA slots
- if you can't tell the difference between a TFT screen and a DS screen then ask for the
receipts that prove the screen is a TFT (as TFTs usually cost a lot more).
- Ask to see the receipts anyway.
Many laptops offered for sale as used machines are actually stolen
the PC before parting with the dosh
Even computer professionals fall for some of the
common cons in the industry. Did you know that you can order what you think is a
computer, pay for what you think is a 500 MHz computer, get what you think is a
computer...but it reality it's only 333 MHz, and there's almost no way you can ever tell
the difference?! Arm yourself - learn what the common
We've reproduced some of the basic tests you can
perform quite easily in a few seconds. If the computer is on a network, disconnect it
before running the tests below:
- try reading and writing from the floppy drive
- play an audio CD (or a DVD movie if the computer has a DVD drive).
Try recording to a CDR if the PC has a CD Writer
- dial out using the modem
- try the monitor on different resolutions and different colour and refresh rate settings
- shut down and start up the computer a few times
- run a text and a graphics file through the printer
- run a full surface scan on the hard disk if time permits
- enter CMOS & run an
auto detect on IDE to ensure that the hard disk is the right size
- press pause on the keyboard when the specification screen comes up. You can then verify the RAM, cache, processor etc
(this is not necessarily a conclusive test) .
- check that all passwords have been erased (pressing delete on booting will usually let
you go into the CMOS Setup).
is illegal for dealers to pose as private sellers. But
let's look at why they do it.
ads are free. That's always a good reason.
second, and quite common reason, is that the PC is
stolen. You could end up paying a lot for it and end
up paying again by getting done for handling stolen
most important reason is that the dealer doesn't have
to give you a VAT receipt if it's a 'private' sale. He'll
give you a 'cash' receipt and a lot of promises. If
you get the PC home and it stops working he's not
legally obliged to sort the problem out. Don't be a
lastly, they've saved some cost by installing some
dodgy or pirated software. Not a problem, you say?
Don't mind the odd pirated program? Be warned. It's
not just a matter of getting caught. Software in
general is unreliable. If, on top of that, you have a
pirated installation of Windows you are 50% more
likely to keep having problems with your PC, including
losing your data and having the PC crash on you.
do you tell the dealers? Here are some tips. None of them
are conclusive, but they'll serve as a guide.
out for ads that say "Unwanted gift", or
"Several available", but especially the ones
that say "New and boxed" or just
"new" or "New, with guarantee". If
the advertiser has only just bought it, why are they selling?
for one person (on one phone number) who has several
advertisements. Also, when responding to any ad
say that you are interested in the PC advertised. If
they ask, "Which PC?" the chances are that
they have several (this kind of question was
originally used to catch out the used car salesmen. It
private ads that make any mention of VAT i.e.
"vat inclusive", "no vat to pay",
out for timings "9 AM to 5 PM only" that
suggest it's a business (there are, of course,
exceptions to this. Bonafide businesses sometimes
upgrade their PCs and sell the old ones).
Make sure you get all driver disks with the computer. Depending on what's in your
computer you will need drivers for: Graphics (every computer has this), soundcard, CD
drive, modem, other cards, external devices like printers & scanners. Make sure
also that you have drivers for the Windows 95 or Windows 98 that you intend running on
Ensure that you have a clean hard disk. You want to erase any software or user files
that the previous owner had on it.
Get a copy of every piece of software sold you with the computer. Programs installed
on the machine will be of no use to you if you have to re-format the hard disk and start
from scratch (this does happen with PCs). Make sure you are given the CD or floppy disks
with the programs on them, including the disks for the operating system (Windows 3.x, 95
If you can format the hard disk and re-load the operating system, do it. Or get a
friend to do it for you.
Ask to see the original purchase receipts and get a copy if possible. Get the
warranty transferred if the computer is still under warranty. (Call the manufacturers and
they'll usually be able to confirm if it is still under warranty). Ask them if the
warranty can be transferred to your name. Check that the warranty seals (if
any) on the computer
Get the original packing if it is available. You may need it later.
If you are buying from an auction
remember that auctions are the riskiest of all sources and
they provide you with almost NO protection should things
Read our auction
Why buy a second hand computer
when you can
get a new one
at the same price ... or possibly cheaper
with a 14 day money back guarantee
with a 5 year
built to ISO 9002 quality standards
with delivery to anywhere in the UK or Ireland and
with choice of paying by cash,
cheque, debit card, or
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