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Certified Refurbished Macs One Way to Help Weather the Economic Storm

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Apple (s aapl) is taking a lot of stick (even more than usual) about hanging tough with premium pricing despite the global financial meltdown, and it almost never offers discounts or sales. So how can budget-constrained Macheads economize on system upgrades? One solution is to buy a less-expensive model than the one you would have perhaps preferred. Another is get an Apple Certified Refurbished machine instead of going new.

If you’re not familiar with Apple Certified Refurbished (ACR) products, here are the broad strokes: ACR units are pre-owned (or in some instances, such as store demos, never-sold) Apple products that undergo Apple’s stringent refurbishment process prior to being offered for sale. Most of these units have been returned under Apple’s Return and Refund Policies, but according to Apple, only some of them are returned due to technical issues. In any event, all ACR units undergo Apple’s quality refurbishment process.

  • Full functionality testing (including burn-in testing).
  • Refurbishing with replacement parts and components for any defective modules identified in testing.
  • Thoroughly cleaned and inspected.
  • Complete repackaging by Apple, including appropriate manuals, cables, etc. (albeit in a brown cardboard carton rather than one with full color lithographs on the box)
  • Operating software that originally shipped with the unit and any custom software offered with that system.
  • A new refurbished part number and serial number.
  • A final QA inspection.
  • Quality testing follows the same basic technical guidelines as Apple’s Finished Goods testing procedures.

A really cool thing is that Apple Certified Refurbished Products are covered by the same One-Year Limited Warranty as Apple’s new systems. Apple ACR product purchasers are also eligible for the option of purchasing the AppleCare Protection Plan that extends the basic warranty coverage on your Apple Certified Refurbished Product to up to three years.

My own experiences with purchasing Apple Certified Refurbished products, including a 17″ PowerBook, and iPods for my daughter and wife, have all been very positive. While it’s a small sampling, all three of these units arrived flawless both functionally and cosmetically, a track record that convinced me to go with the ACR unibody MacBook 2.0 I ordered last week (which I’m awaiting arrival of at this writing).

My current workhorse, the ACR 1.33 GHz 17-inch PowerBook, was issued its new refurbished serial number on July 17, 2005, and appeared to have been a hardly used if at all, with no cosmetic damage or evidence of wear on the keys, trackpad, or palm-rests. It came packaged in a brown Apple carton, with all the the cables, peripherals, manuals, and software CDs packaged as new.

Buying any computer — new or refurbished — is always a bit of a dice-roll, but it seems plausible to me that a lightly-used refurbished machine could actually be a statistically better prospect for avoiding new-machine problems, since it has presumably been double-checked out and given a clean bill of health by Apple technicians. That said, a friend of mine did get a DOA Apple Certified Refurbished iBook a couple of years back. He received a prompt refund, but opted to replace it with a new iBook rather than another ACR machine.

Your mileage may vary, but my deduction is that with an Apple Certified Refurbished unit increased risk of problems, if any, would be minimal and the savings realized can be substantial.

The ACR MacBook I just ordered will cost me CAN $1199, or CAN $200 (14%) off the list price for that model, a difference nicely covering the cost of a USB modem and a third-party upgrade to 4GB RAM with change left over. It was also only CAN $50 more than the new price of the recently upgraded white MacBook.

ACR model availability is constantly in flux, sometimes from hour to hour, on the Apple Store’s refurbished pages, but when in stock, unibody 15″ MacBook Pro 2.4GHz units are currently going for $1,699.00 ($300.00 or 15% off list) at the U.S. store. On older models the saving off original list prices are commensurately greater. For example, a 17″ MacBook Pro 2.5GHz at $1,899.00 ($600.00 or 24% off original list).

Also, if your fancy is a fairly recent discontinued model (for example, a black MacBook), they crop up frequently on the ACR site. The trick is to keep checking. (Hint: I’ve unscientifically observed that mid to late in the week seems to turn up the best selection.)

What do you think? Better to play it safe and buy new or be a bit adventurous and save money with a Certified Refurbished unit?

14 Responses to “Certified Refurbished Macs One Way to Help Weather the Economic Storm”

  1. Refurbished laptops in general have to be tested thoroughly and the tests and checks are done manually. So it makes sense that a refurbished laptop would last and not break or play up. Also i think Apple have excellent customer service and excellent warranties should anything go wrong. so going refurbished is the way to go.

  2. Charles

    I bought an ACR iMac 20″ 6 months ago and it has worked perfectly. Just purchased an ACR Macbook Pro 15.4″ notebook and after a week, so far it too has been flawless in performance and appearance. Both of these refurbs were purchased from the Apple Store online, and both were shipped via FedEx. I paid extra for the 2 day shipping for the Macbook and it arrived in exactly 2 days from date of order.

  3. Great Article! It just made me decide on a purchase on the Apple Refurbished Store… I wasn’t sure at first but I got myself a New 17 MacBook Pro.

    From what I just red, it seems like I took a good decision!

  4. Good to see the mostly positive comments regarding refurbished laptops. Having run the return operations of a large computer reseller I can tell you that many product returns that ultimately become “refurbished” units are actually new products that are ‘open box” and have never had power applied. Buying refurbished products from a trusted source can be a money saving way to aquire a product with features you wouldn’t normall be able to justify.

  5. I never trust low prices. I prefer to pay more but get a guarantee that the thing I buy is the best possible and it’s quality is the highest.
    Refurbs are for those who have a good understanding and able to take risks. Not for common consumers.

  6. I always buy Apple refurbs. Right now, there’s that MBA for $999 that is extremely tempting. I’ve got a 64GB SSD PATA drive that would fit. Essentially, what cost $3000 a year ago, can be had now for $1150, as a refurb.

  7. I’m on a ACR black MacBook that is now 2 years old and has never given me a problem. It was my first ACR purchase. From there I bought a ACR white 1gen nano for the wife and an ACR Apple TV. When the Apple TV gave me a problem(wouldn’t update past 2.0) Apple replaced it no problem. I definitely recommend Apple ACR. I mean it’s the same warranty as brand new, so what have you got to lose?

  8. I must say that the two 20″ Intel iMac’s and one Intel 17″ MBP I have helped friends and family purchase are all doing quite well to this day. All units arrived in such pristine condition I can’t possibly believe they were ever sold. If there’s any better way to get quality Apple hardware at a reasonable price, I’d certainly like to know.

  9. I must have bought at least 3 macpros, 7 aluminium imacs, 3 airports, 4 apple tvs, 10 ipods, 2 macbooks, as well as older models and have only had 2 problems out of 40 or so purchases. My macpro’s fan would not stop running so they gave me a brand new one from the local apple store. One imac came with a russian keyboard and they overnighted me a brand new one the next day. I recommend acr to everyone and plan to buy a new macbook that way shortly. Just waiting for a 2nd generation macbook air at the right price.

    I once bought pcs refurbished from HP and the keyboards were so gross and disgusting that I would never buy from them again. Now that macs can run windows, no reason to ever buy hp unless it is a new printer.

  10. An additional – often frugal – means of acquiring newer Macs comes from dealing with an Apple retailer who takes trade-ins.

    I’m not posting to plug the folks I always deal with; but, one of the reasons they’ve acquired my loyalty and a significant chunk of our family’s Apple business is that we’ve always gotten a very fair sum for the gear traded-in on new product.

    I went from a 20″ iMac to a 24″ iMac almost a year after the original purchase for only a quite low 3-figure$ upgrade. Good enough for me.

  11. I’ve actually purchased a black 2.2 C2D macbook which came in perfect condition for £660 instead of £950 for a black 2.4 C2D macbook. Excellent condition and no cosmetic damage at all. No problems. Feel brand new. My sister also bought a white macbook for i believe £520… Absolute bargain for any macbook by my book. Again no problems. I always recommend the refurbished apple items if you want a slightly cheaper alternative to the normal apple store.

  12. Gazoobee

    I have only purchased one refurbished product from Apple, and while I don’t feel I was completely ripped off, I was severely disappointed both with the product and the service. It was a 23″ ACD that I bought and it arrived with a stuck pixel which (on reflection) was probably a likely thing to expect since anyone with any “pull” with Apple would return such a beast in a heartbeat. I suspect that a lot of Apple’s refurbished screens are perfectly good screens that have been returned due to the unavoidable pixel problems that all screens have.

    The really bad part though was the shipping and packaging. They insisted on UPS, which is one of the worst ways to ship anything outside of the USA. I had to take a day off work to stay home and wait for it, and when it arrived it was in a plain cardboard box as mentioned in the article. I don’t know if they changed it, but at the time I ordered it the website gave the definite *impression* (even if technically it stayed mute on the subject), that original packaging would be used.

    The box was half crushed, with ripped corners and the screen and associated parts just jumbled inside amidst a bunch of dark grey foam blocks arrayed in no particular order. scratches on the metal body, deep, deep scratches on the power supply, and some kind of sticky blue junk smeared on the side of the power adapter.

    Sure I got a deal, but in the end it was maybe 10% cheaper but then again I lost a days pay waiting for it and have to stare at that broken pixel. Never again.