Maybe you’re a student, on a low income, struggling with austerity cuts or you’re simply want to save money and can't resist the possibility of a cheap Mac? Whatever the case, the situation facing you is this: You’re on a budget, you need a new computer, but even with limited cash you’d rather not buy an inexpensive Windows-based PC—you’re an Apple fan and don’t want to switch. What to do?

Easy. Buy a refurbished Mac.

The Apple Online Store has a section where you can buy refurbished Macs, as well as refurbished iPads iPods, and other Apple products. (The refurbs are listed under the Special Deals section of the left column of the online store.) Apple’s line of refurbished Macs runs the gamut from laptop computers to Mac minis to iMacs with giant 27-inch monitors. Some of the machines are pre-owned, while others were returned to the company because of technical defects. But all of them share two characteristics in common: They’ve been buffed, restored, and repackaged to meet Apple’s exacting standards. And they’re cheaper—sometimes a lot cheaper—than buying new.

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about buying a refurbished Mac.

What is a refurbished Mac?

The category includes both pre-owned Macs and those returned for defects, although Apple says that only “some units” have been returned for technical issues. Before re-sale, Apple cleans the machine, replaces any defective or sub-standard parts, re-installs software that originally shipped with the unit, tests the Mac for quality-control issues, then repackages it with fresh cables and a user’s manual. The company even stamps the machine with a new serial number.

Apple says all refurbished Macs meet the company’s Finished Goods testing procedures—which means that the machine you buy should be up to the same technical snuff as the exact same unit purchased brand-new.

What is the selection like?

The inventory is ever-shifting, so you need to check back regularly, sometimes on a daily basis new stock is added. We checked the Mac section today and around a dozen options covering MacBooks and Mac Pros, but currently no iMacs are available. 

How does the pricing work? How much of a savings do you get?

Today Apple has savings from 15% to 27% off the original price. The most recent Mac available is the MacBook Air 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i5, released in June 2012 and is available today with a £150 saving or 15% off. The oldest Macs on offer date from August and October 2010 including a MacBook Air 2.13 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo for £969 and Mac Pro 2.8GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon for £1,489.

What kind of warranty comes with a refurb? Is AppleCare available?

All the refurbished Macs come with a one-year limited warranty from Apple. And AppleCare is available—for up to three years, same as with brand-new machines.

Are there other options for buying cheap, reliable Macs?

Sure. For one, Apple also offers clearance sales of new-but-older machines that were never sold or taken out of their box, but the selection here is much more limited than the inventory of refurbished machines, and as we have found, are hard to find. You can also occasionally find good deals on Macs at your local Apple Premium Resellers store and Apple provides a website to search for one local to you.

Why would you buy a refurb over a new machine?

Not everybody will want to buy a refurbished Mac: Many Apple fans want to have the absolute latest model of everything the company releases. In a few cases—particularly where professional video editors are concerned—those latest models have Thunderbolt technology that isn’t quite available in Apple’s store for refurbished machines.

Apple

For everybody else, though, refurbished machines offer a great advantage. My first iPod, for example, was actually a refurbished iPod nano purchased directly from Apple a few years back. It allowed me to try the technology at a lower cost than buying new, and proved to be the gateway that brought a host of other Apple products into my house. Refurbished machines offer the same reliability and ease-of-use as a brand-new Mac—with the same available protections—but with a lower price tag. What’s not to like?

“It’s a great way for somebody to purchase technology and not spend as much money,” said Everett Katzen of Springboard Media. “People shouldn’t be nervous about buying a pre-owned machine.”

[Joel Mathis is a freelance contributor to Macworld.]