TechSoup's Refurbished Computer Initiative (RCI) has supplied more than 65,000 pieces of IT equipment to nonprofits and libraries in the last 10 years.
Back in 2006, we started the RCI program to supply charities and libraries with good, low-cost warrantied computers that would stand the test of time. We found reputable refurbishers who could deliver the IT equipment that our members need and can afford.
Even after all these years, whenever we talk about refurbished equipment, a few questions pop up over and over again. I'm here to dispel some of these persistent myths about refurbished hardware.
Consumer Reports does great reliability surveys on laptop fail rates. Consumer Reports polled 58,000 subscribers between 2010 and 2015 and found that
In our RCI program, we've found that reputably refurbished equipment from all brands have fail rates much lower than all the new equipment in the Consumer Reports survey.
Sarah Cade, president of PC Rebuilders and Recyclers (PCRR) in Chicago, and one of our RCI suppliers, says "We think of refurbished equipment as well-tested equipment. Most failures happen within the first six months of a computer's life."
Like our other RCI refurbishment supplier, InterConnection in Seattle, PCRR's refurbished equipment goes through an involved multi-stage process of testing, upgrading, and retesting before being sold. Check out all that is involved in Behind the Scenes of a Refurbished Computer.
The hardware components in our RCI computers are generally commercial grade, meaning they are of a higher quality than those manufactured for home use.
Our refurbished computers are so reliable that we have moved from offering 90-day warranties to one-year and three-year warranties because we have so few returns. The warranties cover hardware and component failure, including all parts and labor costs, shipping fees, and customer support.
There is a world of difference between getting a used electronics item on Craigslist or eBay and getting a reputably refurbished device. It's true that used items from auctions or online classifieds may be cheaper, but they are often sold without warranties and likely not rigorously tested and verified to be fully functional.
I confess that I buy used stuff from time to time, but I usually find something wrong with it after a while and am then stuck with it. I have learned to buy refurbished whenever possible for complex electronic devices.
It is surprising, but there is not yet an industry standard certification for refurbishment for electronic devices. A small shop that fixes things can call the devices they sell refurbished, reconditioned, or even remanufactured if they want.
I have visited many electronics refurbishment companies over the years, and the best ones have rigorous processes for testing devices, repairing and replacing defective components with high-quality parts, installing properly licensed software, and then doing final quality control and inspection. Those are the kind of reputable refurbishers we use for our RCI program.
The refurbished IT equipment in our RCI program is usually three- to four-year-old reconditioned devices that cost 30 to 50 percent less than equivalent new models.
All the devices we have are commercial grade IT equipment and are designed for long life and heavy use. The equipment lasts a long time.
After 10 years of running the RCI program, we've found that organizations can use our refurbished equipment for 3 to 5 or more years without difficulty.
Our RCI computers currently come with Windows 7 Professional and Office 2010 Home and Business. They run pretty much all current software applications commonly used in offices.
I don't know that we'll ever successfully dispel the myths about refurbished hardware, but now that we've had our Refurbished Computer Initiative for 10 years, we know that they're just myths.
We also love the fact that extending the life of IT equipment is one of the most environmentally beneficial things possible for using electronics. It is roughly 25 times more beneficial environmentally to reuse computers than to recycle them at 3 to 5 years of age.
Browse RCI catalog
Our organization has ordered several refurbished computers over the years and had not problem at all with them. When they arrived, we unpacked them, plugged them up, connected everything and downloaded our information. However, the last one we ordered did not work when plugged in. Fortunately, we had someone here who was able to check it out for us and found that the hard drive was not plugged in, the CD/DVD unit was not plugged in and it was very dusty on the inside. We were very disappointed in our experience this time. We would have returned it but needed it right away. I wouldn't hesitate to order again but might be a bit wary of the next one.
A few years ago I would have agreed with this article 100%. Our organization has saved a fair amount of money over the years from Dell refurbs that worked well. I do think the quality of Dell refurbs has gone down, however.
It seems (no proof) that Dell is turning around somebody else's problem equipment. For example, a small order of monitors in the past year included two problem monitors. A laptop in the past year has had to be returned three times for different problems. For the latest problem, their tech support supposedly cannot duplicate it, yet it persists. I have now contested this issue through the consumer protection agency of my state. I no longer will purchase refurb Dell products.
To The Re-use/Recycling Community: You would have an easier time selling your products if you used the terms RECONDITIONED or RESTORED instead of REFURBISHED. When I hear the word REFURBISHED, I think of a refurnished house. When I hear the word RECONDITIONED, I think of something that has been returned to original operating condition. When I hear the word RESTORED, I think of something that has been returned to original operating condition AND appearance. PLEASE SHARE THIS. email@example.com
I have been buying refurbished equipment almost exclusively for well over 15 years now - everything from desktops, laptops, tablets, server systems, networking gear, and even the occasional printer so it is certain that I agree with this article. It is important to realize that most refurbished equipment is not defective goods that have been sent in for repair; the vast majority of this equipment is "off-lease" equipment. Large companies usually don't buy their computer equipment; they lease it for 2-3 years after which is goes back to the lease company who sells it to refurbishment companies for pennies on the dollar.
Solid state electronic components generally don't fail -- moving parts do. The weak links in refurbish equipment tend to be the hard drives and fans -- mechanical parts that are subject to wear. Fortunately, most modern computer hardware has the ability to detect early signs of fan and hard drive failures and can alert you before catastrophe strikes. Check with a knowledgeable person to make sure that functionality is enabled on your systems.
I would encourage anyone purchasing refurbished computer equipment to give it a careful once over before turning it on. If there is evidence of dust build-up on the air vents or fan blades, tell your supplier -- cleaning should have been the first step in the refurbishment process. If you are handy with a screwdriver and want to open up the computer (NOT recommended for laptops!), I would encourage it unless doing so breaks a warranty seal. You might not be an electronics expert, but you can certainly tell clean from dirty. If it is dirty, call the supplier and tell them you want a replacement unit.
I posted earlier that I had no proof that Dell was taking somebody else's defective computer and pushing it out the door, but then I found proof. When you get a refurbished computer, you can contact their tech support to find out the service history for a particular device by giving them the service tag code. This includes the service history prior to your owning it. I was able to determine that the previous owner of my refurb laptop had sent it in for the same reason I had. The problem was never fixed, and I became the "lucky" recipient of a defective product.
Fascinating, ScotH. Very clever of you to get that information from Dell using the service tag code. If that happens to anyone with any of our RCI equipment, our refurbished computers have a no questions asked 14 day return policy.
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