Can you save money by buying an older, used PC? Like so many things in computing, it depends on your needs. That’s going to break down to how high your performance demands are. There’s just two cases where budget can’t be a consideration.
* Gaming. If your primary purpose in owning a desktop PC is to play games, anything used or even budget is right out. Today’s games require top of the line performance. Any new game you buy will almost always assume that you’re equipped with the latest graphic and memory setup.
* High end design and development. Here again, if your work involves graphic design, video editing, or sound studio production, you’re better off buying newest and top of the line. Most editing software is built with the assumption that you’re fully updated with the top hardware and operating system patches from the start. And having a machine capable of handling the high memory demands of studio-quality multimedia production will save a lot of headaches.
Now in all these other scenarios, you’re in luck; you can easily shave a few dollars off the budget to afford a cheaper PC, and possibly even get away with a rock-bottom used option:
* Standard office work. Most office applications can run on older machines. Spreadsheets and word processors don’t have nearly as high demands on the system.
* Student use. As college PC buying guides like West Virginia U’s guide shows, students and budget PCs are a great match. Unless you’re studying something related to high-end multimedia development, you can get through college with any old toaster. Students who want a gaming experience can still buy a high end gaming PC for the desktop, and get through college homework with a second-hand laptop.
* Home or light business use. For the average user who just wants a laptop for facebook and email, with the occasional dabble in poetry written in coffee shops or managing an eBay store, budget PCs and laptops are the perfect route.
When at all possible, you should consider a repurposed PC, if for no other reason than the environmental impact. According to the EPA, “Recycling one million laptops saves the energy equivalent to the electricity used by more than 3,500 US homes in a year.”
Your best bet for a used desktop or laptop is either a general appliance store, a second-hand thrift shop, or watching your local papers and Craigslist for cheap or even free units. That’s right, people and even businesses frequently give away used electronics on Craigslist for free! Monitors, especially, are good to acquire this way, as disposing of a used monitor makes a heavy impact on the environment.
If your needs are really low on the scale and you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, you might also consider using the Linux operating system. Linux is a free, open source operating system and software platform that is easily customized to older PCs and far less demanding on resources. Sticking with a mainstream Linux distro, such as an Ubuntu variant, is dead easy to install and maintain. While there’s some crucial differences between Linux and Windows or Apple, Linux can still run basic apps like Firefox just fine.
Building your own PC from spare parts is also a possibility. Frequently you’ll find an old box at a yard sale or thrift store that just needs a part replaced. Desktop PCs are very simple to work on with just a screwdriver and a little know-how.
Shop smart, and you’ll never have to pay for more computer than you need.