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Everything You Need to Know About Refurbished Computers

As more and more aspects of life and work come to revolve around technology, it’s increasingly vital for people to have computers at home enabling them to keep up with careers, hobbies, and families. But the cost of brand-new computers doesn’t make sense for every budget.

Fortunately, computer manufacturers and resellers frequently offer refurbished computers at lower costs. For instance, at Dell, we offer refurbished desktops and laptops at reduced prices that have gone through a rigorous process restoring them to the same performance and quality standards as brand-new products.

Knowing what to look for in a refurbished computer, and how to weigh the pros and cons, will give you a leg-up in the buying process. This guide provides an overview of need-to-know information from the experts at Dell.

What is Refurbished
What is the Process
What to Look for

What Does Refurbished Mean?

“Refurbished” is an umbrella term referring to a used product that is recertified or repaired for resale. But what that entails can vary greatly across different industries and individual companies. In the computer industry, refurbished products range from desktops and laptops that were sold but never taken out of the box to computers that were in use before they were returned for resale.

What Does Refurbished Mean?

Here at Dell Outlet, we take it even further. Stephen McPherson, our Global Operations Reverse Supply Chain Senior Manager, explains how we approach refurbishing technology: “We see it as continuing the lifecycle of a product and finding a happy home for its potential.”

Refurbishing continues the lifecycle of the product

What’s the Difference Between Used and Refurbished?

Refurbished Technology

“Refurbished” implies that the product has gone through a comprehensive process -- including repairs, replacements and quality testing -- to bring it to a set standard of performance and quality.

Used Technology

“Used” refers to a product that was previously owned and operated, often sold as-is. There is no guarantee that the product was ever repaired, inspected, or tested, or that it will function to a certain standard.

Off Lease Technology

“Off Lease” includes equipment that was leased by a customer, typically for 2 to 4 years, and then returned to the manufacturer for refurbishment and resale of previous generation models.

Three Tiers of Pre-owned Computers

At Dell Outlet, we offer three tiers of certification for refurbished computers. Here are the distinctions between New & Unused, Like New, and Scratch & Dent:

  • The top tier is New & Unused. These are either factory-sealed or open-box products that have never been used by a customer and have the software seal intact. This product is typically overstock or a returned order. New and unused products do not have any cosmetic damage.
  • The middle tier consists of Like New (Refurbished). This is Dell's highest grade of certified refurbished systems, submitted to a rigorous refurbishing process, to achieve Dell's exacting quality and performance standards. These previously-owned products could have observable minor blemishes that do not affect performance, or could look as good as new. Find: Laptops | Desktops
  • Under the last tier, Scratch and Dent products are certified refurbished products with blemishes that do not affect performance. Scratch & Dent computers do not have scratches or pits on the screen, missing or illegible letters on the keyboard, or damage on the touchpad or palmrest - just blemishes that do not impact performance.
While prices vary based on each level, products under all three tiers come with the same comprehensive warranty and support included with new Dell computers.

Dell Outlet does not sell off-lease equipment, but you can view these products and learn more about them at

What Is an Off-Lease Computer and How Is It Different from Refurbished?

Another type of refurbished computer offering you might run into are off-lease computers. These are desktops and laptops purchased using a leasing agreement and then returned when the lease is over. For example, many companies lease rather than buy computers for their employees. Because the lease period is usually three or four years, off-lease computers are typically older than other refurbished computers, which may have been manufactured as little as a year ago. The equipment is typically built for business needs and may not include brands geared towards consumers, for example gaming laptops.

While off-lease computers sometimes can carry the same certifications and warranties as other refurbished computers, this is not always the case, so be careful to ensure you’re getting the protection you desire with your purchase.

Warranty Details of Dell's 3 Types of Refurbished Computers

Understanding the Refurbishing Process

Each company has its own refurbishing process. At Dell, refurbishment involves a comprehensive, meticulous repair and inspection process to ensure these computers meet our standards for new products.

When computers arrive at our refurbishment facility in Tennessee, they undergo detailed testing to confirm the system includes the correct components and that all of those components are functioning. If testing shows that certain components are not functioning, they undergo electromechanical repair to bring them up to our standards for new products.

After repair, or if the product does not need repair, all data is deleted from the hard drive, ensuring that none of the previous owner’s files or information remain anywhere on the PC.

At the final step, the system is wiped down, restoring the drive and components to factory settings. Finally, the computer is closely inspected for cosmetic damage according to the strict criteria for each tier.

Every refurbished computer is audited multiple times during this process to ensure it is meeting Dell’s quality and performance standards. Used computers that don’t meet Dell standards are recycled.

Dell Outlet's Approach to Refurbished Computers

Refurbished Laptops and Refurbished Desktop Computers: Key Information

Whether a laptop or a desktop, refurbished computers go through a process of assessment and repair before they are sold. Key information to consider when buying a refurbished laptop or desktop includes:

Questions to Ask Yourself When Buying Refurbished

Are they a reliable brand, reseller or individual?

Questions to Ask Yourself When Buying Refurbished

Is your purchase protected? And, for how long?

Questions to Ask Yourself When Buying Refurbished

Does it come with a period of free support? How much and how long?

Refurbished Laptops

A refurbished laptop is a good choice if you want portability to work from various locations or if you travel a lot. However, they have less RAM than desktops and can be harder to repair and upgrade. Keep in mind that refurbished laptops sometimes have more cosmetic issues, like scratches and dents, as previous owners may have brought them to various locations and even traveled with them.

Refurbished Desktops

Like their new counterparts, refurbished desktops tend to be less expensive than refurbished laptops. They also tend to have more powerful processors making them ideal for activities like gaming, and more internal storage, reducing or eliminating the need for external hard drives. Refurbished desktop components can also be easier to repair and replace. If you don’t need the portability of a laptop, a refurbished desktop can offer more value for your money.

Are Refurbished Computers Safe and Reliable?

Refurbished computers can be just as safe and reliable as new computers, but consumers must do their due diligence and buy from a source they trust. If you choose to go with a reseller, make sure to scrutinize them against the criteria above while also vetting through online reviews and consumer reports.

We encourage you to research resellers if you want to get a full picture of available options, but for maximum safety and reliability, we do recommend purchasing directly from Dell Outlet to access our full warranty as well as free shipping. Unfortunately, we are unable to provide the same level of support for used computers purchased through marketplaces like eBay or refurbished by a third party.

Buy Refurbished Computers from a Reputable Brand

Refurbished Computers vs. New Computers

Comparing the different characteristics of refurbished and new computers can help you decide which one is best for your needs. Keep in mind that it can often be difficult to tell the difference between a refurbished computer and the same model when brand-new, especially with a computer that was returned before it was even opened or used.

Chart Comparing New vs. Refurbished Computers

While there are certainly differences between new and refurbished products, that’s not to say the quality or reliability will be different.

“Many people think, ‘oh, it's refurbished, it's not going to be as good as new.’ But that is a mistake,” says Stephen. “For our Dell products, we can say that it is up to new quality standards. And we believe you should enjoy a refurbished product with the same warranty as if you bought it new.”

Dell Outlet’s refurbished products are up to ‘new’ quality standards

Are Refurbished Computers a Good Deal?

By choosing refurbished, consumers have the opportunity to buy a computer with the same reliability and performance as a new computer at a significantly lower cost. When you buy a refurbished computer directly from Dell Outlet, you get the same limited hardware warranty and service as if you bought new. Oh, and did we mention refurbishing is great for the environment? More on the circular economy below.

Why Refurbished Is Better Than New (Sometimes)

In addition to the strong price-point value, a refurbished computer can be better than new when you want a model that has been “road-tested” in the marketplace for a while. This way, you can make sure you are getting the quality and features that you really want. User reviews tend to be more plentiful for older models as opposed to brand-new ones.

Choosing a refurbished computer can be a responsible environmental choice as well. Buying refurbished contributes to a circular economy as it means using fewer of the natural resources required in new computers as well as less electronic waste. Here at Dell we’re keeping a whopping 1,000 tons of electronic waste out of landfills each year with our refurbishing initiatives.

What to Look For When Buying a Refurbished Computer

The kinds of features and functions you want in a refurbished computer will depend on your needs and personal preferences, but here is a checklist that can help you as you compare options and are making your final purchasing decision.

  • Features: First, figure out what you really need out of your device for features and specs.
  • Cost: Calculate your budget, keeping in mind the various tech options available to suit your needs.
  • Certification: Look for computers that are certified refurbished, not just used or pre-owned, to ensure they have been through a comprehensive repair and testing process.
  • Manufacturer/Reseller Reputation: Make sure you buy a refurbished computer from a company known for its dependability and quality, whether it’s a computer manufacturer or a third-party reseller.
  • Warranty: Carefully review warranty information to ensure the seller fully stands by its product. Remember that you can only get our manufacturer warranty by purchasing directly through Dell Outlet.
  • Service Plan: Many refurbished computers come with no-cost support and repair services for a limited amount of time. Make sure you know what service plan you’re getting - and you’re comfortable with it. Are optional services available like accidental damage protection that would be important to you?
  • Return Policy: Knowing you can return a refurbished computer within a certain time frame can provide peace of mind. Dell Outlet offers a 30-day return policy on all products purchased from us.

Dell Refurbished Computers: Our Approach

At Dell, refurbishing is about continuing the lifecycle of our products by bringing them back to a state as close to brand-new as possible in terms of performance, reliability, service, and appearance.

Chart Detailing Dell Outlet's Refurbishing Process

Dell’s commitment to high-quality refurbishment is also a reflection of our commitment to sustainability. As part of our mission to become the greenest technology company on the planet, 100 percent of all returned Dell systems are refurbished or recycled, which prevents 1,000 tons of electronic waste from being added to landfills every year.

Benefits of Dell Outlet Refurbishing

Our refurbished products enable us to offer more options and great value to our customers, helping more people find a high-quality computer that fits their needs and their budget. If you’re in the market for a computer or laptop, we highly recommend exploring refurbished options, and we hope this guide is helpful on your journey.

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