Maybe you’re a student looking to save money. Maybe you’re a parent, trying to find a machine for your kids. Or maybe you’re a small business owner, who’s looking for a way to outfit a fleet of laptops at little or no cost. If so, read on, ’cause I’ve got some ideas that might help. First off, a bit of perspective — you know that today’s computers are way too powerful. And you know that unless you’re a gamer, a video editor or a graphic designer, you’re probably not going to need all the power that today’s computers have. (You may not even need a “computer” at all … I’m typing this up on my phone!) Odds are 9 out of 10 that all you want your computer for is to surf the web, send email and write things in Microsoft Word, and you don’t really care how you get there. So don’t talk to the salespeople; they’re only there to make you buy things you don’t need. Don’t look at the ads; they’re only there to sell you things you don’t need. Instead, read on, and find out how you can get just what you need in a laptop without having to spend very much … maybe not even anything at all.
Do you know any tech-savvy friends who are always upgrading their hardware? Those old machines have to go somewhere. Next time you see those friends of yours, ask them what they’re doing with their older machines. And if they don’t have any particular plans for them, or are just thinking of throwing them away or recycling them, ask if you can take them instead.
Some of you may feel shy about doing so. Don’t be! Old computers just clutter the house. (Believe me, I know.) They’re bulky and heavy to take to the landfill … and it’s not environmentally friendly to just throw them away, but recycling an old computer can cost money. Seriously! By offering to take the old laptop off of your friend’s hands, you’ll actually be saving her time and money. So don’t be shy about speaking up. Just don’t keep pressing the issue if she says no.
If you go to school or work outside the home, or one of your friends or family members does, you could ask at the school or workplace, or have them do so for you if needed. Anyplace big enough to have lots of computers has probably had them for a long time, which means that some of them are probably old and no longer in use. So why not ask? There might be a neglected laptop in the basement somewhere, that’s waiting to have a good home.
Buying used / refurbished
This is a popular way to get a cheap old laptop, and it’s likely the first one that most of you thought of. It’s not insanely cheap, though, so I didn’t mention it first. A used laptop will normally run you several hundred dollars at least.
There are also practical concerns. The laptop you end up with might have dents and scratches, or “dead pixels” on its display, or keys that come off within a few weeks of using it. It might have a dead battery, or a hard drive that’s broken. And it might not come with restore discs or a rescue partition, so if something goes wrong with it you might be stuck.
These are all problems you’d face with used laptops from anywhere, it’s true! But this way, you’re paying money to possibly have those problems. And if something goes wrong, your warranty might not cover it, and you might not be able to return your laptop (or you might have to pay a “restocking” fee, if you can). If you insist on going this route, try to examine the laptop in person before buying it, preferably with a computer-savvy friend or relative along to help. And examine the fine print, to see just what the warranty covers and whether or not you’ll be able to return the laptop.
Refurbish your own old laptop
Saving the best for last … this is probably the best way to get an insanely cheap laptop. Do you already have one that you were using earlier, but never got rid of? Bring it back to operational status and use it or give it away! And maybe it’d take some doing, but would you really rather pay a few hundred dollars for a machine that might be just as broken?
So maybe it’s got a bad keyboard, or a bad CD-ROM drive, or a dead or defective battery. So what? You can buy new parts on eBay! If you’re not sure which parts you need or how to install them, there are places online where you can look things up and ask questions. Or you can ask your tech-savvy friends or family members for advice. Just be sure to bake them some cookies or something in return, especially if they offer to help! (And make sure that what you do for them in return is something they’d appreciate … no baking cookies for people who are on a vegan or low-sugar diet, or have food allergies or weird food preferences, unless you know how to accommodate them.)
There are ways you can make an old laptop fully-operational again, even if you don’t have the restore disc. And if your old Windows laptop is slow or flooded with spyware, there are ways to get around that, too! Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar installed a free operating system called Ubuntu on his old Vista laptop, and the laptop worked a lot better afterwards. And if your laptop’s really old, there’s always Puppy Linux. Click here to find out more!
There are people who shouldn’t be reading this article. You know who you are … video editors, graphic designers, and professional gamers (yes, they do exist). If your livelihood depends on your desktop computer or laptop, then you don’t want to take any chances. Get a laptop from someone you trust, and spend what you have to in order to make sure it works.
But for everyone else, an “insanely cheap” laptop may do everything you need and then some. So why not find out? It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask!