20 Important Questions To Ask When Buying A Used Computer

Buying a used computer means finding a compromise between performance and price. Here are twenty points worth asking before purchase.

Computers have rapidly become essential pieces of equipment for many of us, but many computer experts estimate that an average machine stays current for only two or three years. This means that computer owners with an eye for the newest technology will routinely offer older but still useful systems for sale. But other owners of older computers may be trying to unload nearly-obsolete models before they lose their entire resale value. Potential buyers must know the right questions to ask sellers of used computer systems in order to get the best price for a system which suits their specific needs. Here are 20 important questions to ask before purchasing a used computer:

1. What is the average sale price of similar models? Ask a local computer outlet for advice on the resale value of various computer models. Look in classified ads for similar computers offered for private sale. Some used computer systems have maintained their value, so the sale price should be comparable. If a complete computer system is advertised for an extremely low price, chances are the technology is already obsolete.

2. What peripherals are included in the sale? Most computer buyers want a CPU (central processing unit), monitor and keyboard at a bare minimum. You'll need to know if you'll need to purchase a new monitor or additional speakers or a better printer. If the seller has additional hardware or other peripherals, ask for a package discount.

3. Have all personal files been removed? Once a sale is complete, many buyers would like to believe they have no more obligations to the seller. Make sure the seller has removed all personal files and licensed programs before the sale is completed. Failing to do so may result in repeated visits to the seller or even an unforeseen liability for the buyer if anything illegal is still contained on the hard drive.

4. Has the system been scanned for spyware, ad-ware and viruses recently? Some computer sellers may be selling the unit because of virus or spyware-related problems. Ask the seller if he or she had anti-virus and spyware protection programs installed on the computer and a recent scan has been performed. If the seller has never performed a virus or spyware scan, the buyer may need to have the computer professionally cleaned.

5. Has any major component been repaired or replaced? Buyers need to know if major parts such as the motherboard or hard drive have been replaced, because their failure may have been caused by an undiagnosed defect. Some parts may have been replaced because of excessive wear, but be careful if the same part has been repaired or replaced repeatedly.

6. Can the computer be upgraded to a newer operating system? If the used computer is running an older operating system such as Microsoft 3.x, it may require additional memory to handle even Win95. If your computer needs are simple- word processing, a few games, basic internet, etc., then you might not need to upgrade the current operating system at all. But if you want to run modern software or high-speed modems, you'll need the added support of Windows 2000 or higher. Ask the seller if the system can handle an upgrade without compromising memory space.

7. Why is this particular computer being sold? It may be helpful to know why the seller is offering the unit for sale, especially if the asking price seems extremely low. Some parents may be selling off their child's older computer after the child enters college. Others may be raising money in order to upgrade or purchase another computer. What you don't want is a system which has become a dust collector in the garage.

8. Can additional memory be purchased and installed by the owner? Some older computers have a fixed limit on memory capacity or the parts may no longer be available. Other computers have slots for additional memory chips, but only technicians can reach them safely. Ask the buyer if he or she has ever added memory boards and if the process was user-friendly.



9. Are there additional drivers installed for gaming, music or DVD usage? Many used computer sellers have not discovered the true capacity of their systems. The unit may be a stripped-down version of a high-capacity machine, with plenty of USB ports and drivers to handle modern games and entertainment software.

10. Will current software perform well on the current system? If you have specific programs in mind, such as word processing or home bookkeeping titles, ask the seller if the computer can handle the software. If the seller mentions similar titles already installed, then you should be able to uninstall them and replace them with your own programs.

11. Does the computer start up in a timely fashion or do certain programs 'hang' routinely? Start-up processes can tell a lot about the performance of a particular computer. Have the seller boot up the computer in your presence and watch for any problems. If there are programs which routinely hang during start-up, you may have to have the machine tested by a professional later. Some unwanted programs must be removed in a specific manner before the start-up process can be improved.

12. Has the computer ever been damaged by fluids or exposure to the elements? Ask the seller if the computer has ever been the victim of an accidental spill or prolonged exposure to heat or cold. If the machine was not professionally cleaned, it may continue to have performance problems or even become a breeding ground for mold or insects.

13. Have all users of the computer been responsible adults? It pays to know if children have been allowed to use the computer system without supervision. Some of the hardware may shown signs of damage or wear through overuse. Any computer used primarily for gaming may have a worn-out keyboard or mouse.

14. Are there additional USB ports available for hardware upgrades or modem changes? Those who are interested in adding hardware or peripherals will want to count the number of available USB ports. Splitters which can expand the number of accessories sharing one USB port are available, but you'll need to know if they might be necessary. Some computers have the capacity for additional USB ports, but a professional must install them and modify the tower surrounding them.

15. Is this particular model still in production or is it considered obsolete? An obsolete computer may still be perfectly usable for word processing or basic internet use, but not good for gaming or modern programs. Finding replacement parts may be nearly impossible if the model is obsolete. If the computer is still in production, local computer stores should still carry cables, peripherals and printer supplies for home repairs and upgrades.

16. Are there local repair services available for this particular model or will I have to ship it to the manufacturer? Ask the seller if he or she has ever had repairs performed at a local computer shop. If the local shop referred them to the manufacturer, then you'll most likely face the same difficulty. Independent computer repairmen may still be able to service your older computer, but the cost of parts and labor may be higher.

17. Will the seller be available for additional information or assistance? Some sellers would prefer to sell an item 'as is' and act done with it. Others will allow buyers to contact them for a specific amount of time should problems arise. However, most used computer sales are considered final and most likely without warranty. The time to pick a seller's brain is before the sale is completed.

18. Have all vital updates and patches been downloaded? Some computer owners are very conscientious about downloading all of the security patches and updates provided by their specific operating system. Others may not update their systems at all, or only download the most essential patches. You'll need to ask if the operating system has been kept current or if you'll need to download critical updates and patches.

19. Can additional hardware and software be found locally, or will they need to be ordered specially? Many older computers with the minimal hardware requirements can handle modern software, but some systems are very limited. You may have to order games and programs for older Apple II and Microsoft 3.x systems, for example. Because these systems are considered obsolete, available software is very difficult to find.

20. Have any unusual problems occurred which could not be repaired or explained? Sellers may not want to disclose ALL of the negative aspects of a used computer, but you'll want to hear enough to make an informed decision. If the seller has ever experienced mysterious problems such as unexpected system crashes or unexplained software glitches, you'll want to be aware of those problems. If you experience similar problems, it pays to know the history of a particular machine.

© High Speed Ventures 2011