The Best Place to Buy a Used Mac is the Apple Refurbished Online Store

Oct 31, 2012 - 22 Comments

The Best Place to Buy a Used Mac

If you want to buy a used Mac to save a bit of money, the best place to do so is directly from Apple’s Online Refurbished Store. We’ve bought used Macs from just about everywhere under the sun before, from friends, coworkers, Craigslist, and eBay, but nothing beats the official Certified offerings from Apple. Why? Apple Certified Refurbished products have been thoroughly tested, cleaned, and any defective item has been replaced. For portables, Apple Refurbs usually get brand new batteries too. You can read more about the official refurb process here, but we’ll elaborate on six main reasons why we think buying refurbished is the way to go when buying anything in the used Mac market.

1: Competitive Pricing

Apple certified refurbs are often cheaper than buying on the used market from places like Craigslist and Ebay. For example, a base model 2011 MacBook Air 11″ from the Apple Refurb Store is $749, but the average price on Craigslist is closer to $800. Yes, there are outliers on both Craigslist and Ebay, but those lower prices can come with hidden costs. Was the ebay/craigslist item thoroughly tested before being resold? Were any faulty items replaced? Does it have a full manufacturers warranty? The answer to those questions is probably not, so though you may be saving $50 or so by finding a screaming deal, that could come back to bite you if the hard drive fails a few months later and there’s no longer a valid warranty.

Even the newest Macs are usually available as certified after a month or two from the refurb store thanks to returns. You’ll typically save at least 15% off the sticker price grabbing one of these rather than getting the same thing new.

Refurbished Mac discount, even on latest new Mac models

2: Full 1 Year Warranty – Same As Brand New

Other than the discount, this is arguably the most important aspect: You will get the exact same 1 year warranty with a refurb as you would with a brand new Apple product, even if the refurbished item is a few model years behind. You’ll also get the exact same great service when calling Apple or when going to the Genius Bar at an Apple Store, there’s no difference in service at all. This alone is worth going the certified route, in our view.

3: Eligible for AppleCare Extended Warranties

Speaking of warranties, official refurbs are eligible for the full 3 year extended warranty through AppleCare. Macs acquired on the used market are only able to buy the extended warranty if it was purchased within the past calendar year.

4: Free & Fast Shipping

Apple always offers free basic shipping, and even the free shipping is fast. Sure, a lot of Ebay sellers also give you free shipping, but if you’ve done a fair amount of shopping on Ebay you know not all sellers ship free, ship and pack items well, let alone ship items quickly. Apple’s shipping on refurbs is very quick, usually going out the same or next day as the order, and everything is very well packed. Speaking of packing, scroll down below to see what the packaging looks like, and how well protected a MacBook ships.

5: Usually Eligible for OS X Up-To-Date Program

Almost all Macs currently being sold on the Refurb Store are eligible for a free upgrade to OS X Mountain Lion through the update program. If the Mac you’re buying used elsewhere is still on Snow Leopard or Lion, you’ll be out at least $30. Don’t forget to factor that cost in. Plus, with the Up-to-Date program offering, your Apple ID gets the OS X Update, meaning you can install it to your other Macs too by downloading it again through the App Store.

6: Random Upgrade Lottery

Just like playing the lottery, don’t ever buy from the refurb store expecting to get lucky, but it’s not unheard of for some refurbished Apple gear to come upgraded with better hardware than what you paid for. For the lucky few, you can sometimes get more RAM, a better processor, or an upgraded hard drive. Again, this is never something you should count on or bet on, but it does make for a very pleasant surprise if you do get lucky.

What About Downsides?

Of course there are a few things that aren’t so great, here are the primary reasons you may not want to go refurb:

  • Not configurable, what you see is what you get and that’s usually the stock configurations
  • Choice and supply is limited to what’s listed on the Refurbished Store, you’ll find greater diversity elsewhere
  • You don’t get the same shiny Apple box as a brand new product, bummer for the box collectors out there
  • The “New Mac Smell” is not as strong, only the biggest Mac fans can understand this one…
  • Sales tax is enforced, unlike buying on the private market

What Does an Apple Certified Refurbished Unboxing Look Like?

Admittedly, the unboxing of a refurb isn’t quite as exciting as a brand spanking new Apple item, but when you save $400+ from new, do you really care? Here are a few shots of a refurbished MacBook Air and what the packaging looks like.

This is the discrete box that arrives:
Refurbished Apple shipping box

Opening it up shows an “Apple Certified” box containing the power cables, manuals, Apple stickers, and whatever else usually comes with the Mac:
Apple Certified Refurbished MacBook Air opening

Pulling that box out shows the ridiculously well insulated and protected MacBook Air, floating in the middle with at least 4″ of foam on each side:
MacBook Air refurbished box opening

Once you pull the computer out, everything else is the same as getting a brand new device. It’s wrapped in plastic, the keyboard and screen has a cover/protector separating the two, and the cords are wrapped in plastic as usual. At this point it’s basically impossible to tell it apart from a brand new Mac. No complaints!

Have you bought a refurb from Apple? Would you? Why or why not? Let us know your experience and thoughts in the comments!


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Posted by: AJ in Mac, Tips & Tricks


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  1. kralnor says:

    I could be wrong but if its my main computer I’m buying, I’m more than willing to spend a couple hundred bucks more for a brand new one. Especially if I’m already shelling out a couple grand, it just feels funny to act frugal at that point lol.

    I’d grab refurb Mac mini in a second though for an htpc or something but I hardly ever see them there.

  2. Chris says:

    I have purchased multiple Macs from the refurb site. A mini, a 21.5 iMac and a 13 MBP. All worked perfectly out of the box and still running strong.

  3. Sebastian says:

    I’m thinking about buying refub mac, but also wondering if devices are shiny and without scratches? Apple is replacing only hardware or cases too if “broken” somehow?

    • Matt says:

      I have never heard of Apple shipping a scratched or damaged product refurb, but I bet if they did you could just call them and get a new one. My refurbs arrived looking exactly like new.

  4. Cristiano says:

    The only thing that stops me from buying a refurb is because they can’t ship it to Brazil… :-(

    And unfortunately Apple Brazil doesn’t have a refurb shop

  5. Robert says:

    I almost always purchase from the refurb store and have never had a problem with anything I’ve purchased there. I have two Airport Expresses and two Airport Extreme base stations in addition to my mid-2009 MacBook Pro. I’m now trying to decide whether to buy a new or refurbished mini in fact.

  6. Xman71 says:

    I have gotten 3 Macs second-hand. A black Macbook from Ebay that worked great (not even any cracks in the plastic Macbook casing either!); A Macbook Air (2010) baseline refurb model from Apple that also was also great until i spilled beer all over the keyboard; and a 2011 Macbook Air baseline refurb from Apple that was a lemon and kept freezing up even after Apple replaced the logic board on it…Nobody ever could explain why it was problematic but I finally had to sell it for parts.

  7. Concur wholeheartedly. I got the last MacPro laptop with a Superdrive and firewire with enough memory and HD to be very useful as a portable system. I only needed a laptop for a short term project but after being down with a dead monitor for two weeks, having a spare system seems worth it. Didn’t save all that much but the system came from Apple as if it was brand new.

  8. John Hurt says:

    That’s true! Almost my entire Apple devices are refurb! No complaints and the best products….

  9. J Bob says:

    I own a MacBook (late 2008 unibody) and most recently an iPad 3rd gen frm the refurb store. Completely agree with this article. Best purchases I have made on big ticket items.

  10. Hal Howell says:

    I bought a refurbished iMac G4. What a mistake! One year and 2 motherboards later the iMac was dead. Of course, Apple would do nothing. Things might be different now but I got burned. Too bad too, I really liked the G4. However, I stayed with Apple because except for this one experience, Apple has had some great systems. Would I buy a refurbished system again? Maybe, but I’ll probably stay with new systems.

  11. PJ says:

    I could not agree more with this article. I’ve told virtually everyone I known who’s been in the market for a new Apple product to check out the refurb store first. I’ve bought a few items through the store and never had a single problem. Sometimes you only save a little (10 percent) sometimes a lot (30%). If you’re shopping for an Apple product and want the same guarantee as a new product, this is the best deal around.

  12. Ed says:

    I bought an Airport Express from the Apple refurb store, and aside from the brown box, you would never know it wasn’t brand new. It’s been serving me faithfully for months.

    I’ve recommended refurbished Macs to people in the market for one, though not actually purchased one myself. I’ve gone the route of buying a previous-generation system after Apple announces new products.

    My most recent buy was a couple weeks after the June 2012 product launches. I ended up with a late 2011 15-inch MacBook Pro “Ultimate” – 2.5 GHz i7 CPU, 4 GB RAM, 1 GB Radeon 6770M GPU, 750 GB 7200 RPM hard drive, and Hi-Res antiglare display. I bought it brand new, still sealed from a major brick-and-mortar Apple-authorized retailer for $1599. When it was a “current” product, its price would have been $2649. As a refurb, the closest machine spec-wise is $1779.

    The moral of the story is, if you’re even more patient and can live with “last year’s” technology, it’s quite possible to score an even better deal on a brand-new machine.

  13. Kingsford says:

    I’m agreeing 110% with this! I just bought a MacBook Pro 17 and my girlfriend bought a MacBook Pro 15, both refurbs.

    I paid for 4GB thinking I’d just save the cash and upgrade later to 8GB on my own. It came with 8GB. The Random Upgrade Lottery is 100% true.

    I extended both warranty’s to 3 years. In total between the two we saved over $700.

  14. Matthew says:

    I have when able always gone the re-furb route. There isn’t the same box fresh feel as you open it up, but the quality of the product and the care taken over the packaging is still there.
    Would always reccomend the re-furb route if you need to save a few pounds.

  15. Mike Sullivan says:

    I have bought a ton of stuff from the clearance and refurb store, and have never been disappointed. All the gear has been just like new, perfect condition, and in a brown box instead of white — but at a nice savings. It’s perfect for accessories, too — I don’t even know how many AirPort Express units I have bought for friends needing a reliable Wi-Fi setup, and every item has been like-new.

    Apple exceeds expectations here, as they always do.

  16. Matt says:

    100% agree here. I have bought a refurbished and have never had a problem with it, though I will get the Apple Care upgrade when the year has almost passed just to be safe.

    • Kyle says:

      At the risk of parroting everyone else, I totally recommend looking at used Macs. I bought my first (and currently my only)refurb Macbook Pro in April 2011. However, I have to chime in on the writer’s slight disdain for non-Apple buying sources. Full disclosure: mine’s from Ebay and paid about $100-$200 less than if I bought it from Apple. It’s not nearly as tricked out as the i5s nor does it have Retina Display. It’s a 2007 15′ Intel Duo Core,2.2 with a Superdrive,4G of RAM running Lion. Yes, I know it’s old. Sure, I know my battery life is about a third less than the newer machines. Despite all this, it runs like a damn top and is just as functional as the new MBPs. No, I don’t have AppleCare but,thankfully, I’ve had enough Macs to know my way around.

      My point is if you need a used Mac and have the money, by all means,go to Apple. On the other hand, eBay is a WAY better option if you’re on a budget & only wish to spend about half to 60% the original price. Thankfully, the MacBook Pros and newer Macs made within the last 5-6 years seem to be built to last (my old ass 2005 PPC MacMini confirms it) so something from 3 years ago will still get the job done. Also, if you’re a semi-savvy shopper and know your Macs fairly well, you can sniff out the legit dealers from the con artists pretty easily. It helps that eBay seems have a strict selling policy regarding laptops so buyers are,almost always, given a full rundown on the shape of the computer.

      I lucked out getting a MBP with almost zero dents/scratches and a seller who took care of their machine like it was a newborn. These are who you want to buy from when dealing with eBay. With that knowledge, I know I can get about,at least, another 2-3 years of life before having to fully retire it. By then, I’m sure I’ll have a newer (yes,possibly used) Mac. Avoid Craigslist like the plague.

  17. marshmelon says:

    All of my home machine are refurbs. Three (3) total. Never had an issue with any of them. Only new Apple products in my home are iPads and iPhones. The iPads only because refurbs were not available at the time of purchase.

  18. Ryan says:

    Couldn’t agree more, can’t beat a 15% discount on Macs just by waiting a little bit!

    Currently the iPad 3 is $379 too!!!

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