Apple makes great computers, but they're not cheap. Even if you are happy to pay the entry-price for a new iMac or MacBook Pro, you may be painfully aware that for just a few hundred pounds or dollars more you could get a much more powerful model. But can you justify the extra spend?
Luckily you don't have to, because often you can find a previous generation model still on sale with better specs than the cheapest new model, and you might even be able to pick it up for less. Especially now that Apple has released its new Silicon range MacBooks and Mac mini, you can be sure to find plenty of discounts on previous models.
If you're considering buying a Mac, especially if you are on a budget, we would recommend buying from the Apple Refurbished Store or another seller of reconditioned Macs, rather than pay full price. Here, we explain what the Apple Refurbished Store is, what price you can expect to pay for a refurbished Mac or MacBook, and other ways to buy a cheap Mac.
Should you buy a refurbished Mac?
We have an article dedicated to this question here: Why you should buy a refurbished Mac.
But to summarise, there are lots of reasons why buying a Mac from the Apple Refurbished Store is a good idea.
The refurbished store is a section on Apple's website where you can buy refurbished Macs and MacBooks, as well as other Apple products including the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, HomePod, and Apple TV.
These refurbished Macs could be models from a previous year, or they could be current models. A reconditioned Mac could be an ex-demonstration model used during Apple teaching programmes, or it could be a unit sold to a customer who decided to return it under the standard sale-and-returns procedure. (Apple allows any customer to return a Mac bought from the Apple Store within 14 days for a refund - see Standard Returns Policy).
It's also possible the customer returned the Mac due to a fault, but that fault would have been rectified by Apple before the Mac could be resold. In fact, Apple states that: "Every Apple Certified Refurbished product completes a rigorous refurbishment process that includes full testing that meets the same functional standards as new Apple products. Your refurbished device is truly 'like new'".
In addition, each Mac:
- Will be thoroughly cleaned and inspected
- Includes Apple's standard one-year limited warranty
- And up to 90 days of complimentary technical support
- Comes with all accessories, cables and operating systems
- Is packaged in a brand-new white box
- Is dispatched with free shipping and returns
- Can be purchased via financing options
- And can be delivered next day
The important thing to note is that Macs bought from the Apple Refurbished Store are not discernibly different from new ones bought directly from the Apple Store. All Macs bought from the Apple Refurbished Store are cleaned, checked, tested, and visually indistinguishable from brand-new models.
As you can see there are plenty of good reasons to buy a refurbished Mac from Apple. Are there any disadvantages?
We'd say that the main disadvantage is that the discounts aren't always as good as you would get if you bought the same model from someone else.
Amazon, for example, often discounts previous generation Mac models, so you could buy last year's model at a discount. The difference is that while Apple could be selling a model that had been returned due to a fault (which has been repaired), the other reseller could be selling an identical Mac that's never been used.
If you want to spot a deal, simply compare Amazon, Currys PC World, John Lewis's, or anyone else's offer on an older model to the price at Apple's refurbished store – though ensure they are also offering the one-year warranty (they should be).
Read about this excellent Apple Refurbished Store deal on the M1 MacBook Pro here: Apple's selling M1 MacBook Pros with £230 off!
How much cheaper are refurbished Macs and MacBooks?
The price for reconditioned Macs on Apple's Refurbished Store changes frequently but is typically 15 percent less than the original price. With Macs commanding a high retail price this can be quite a significant difference.
A 13in, 2.4GHz quad-core (2019) MacBook Pro wth Retina display can be found on the Apple UK Refurbished Store for £1,359. That's a £240 saving on the original price.
You could pick up a refurbished 13in 1.1Ghz dual-core (2019) MacBook Air with Retina and True Tone for £809, which slashes £140 off the original price.
Meanwhile a refurbished 3.6Ghz quad-core Mac mini has £120 off the original price, now at £679
If you really want to take advantage of these discounts, then aim high: you could get an amazing £680 off a Refurbished 27in 3.2Ghz 8-core iMac Pro with a 5K display. The pro iMac would normally set you back £4,499 but you can get it from the Apple Refurbished Store for £3,819.
Just keep in mind that stock is limited on refurbished models from Apple, and you're unlikely to find every style of Mac at all times. Other reconditioned Mac resellers (such as those listed above) might offer even lower prices than the Apple Refurbished Store, so it's worth shopping around – particularly during sales events like Black Friday, Cyber Monday or Boxing Day.
What's the oldest MacBook I should buy in 2020/2021?
With the arrival of the new MacBook Pro and MacBook Air with M1, there are even more options on the market for refurbished Macs. If you're buying an old Mac, we'd recommend sticking to models released after 2012, preferably 2015. Apple generally supports its devices for about ten years, so you don't want to swing too far back, lest you're prepared to upgrade again in a couple of years.
Plus, if you want to buy a refurbished Mac and upgrade to Big Sur, which is the latest OS, you can really go as far back as early 2015.
Here's an overview of the Macs that will run Big Sur:
- MacBook models from early 2015 or later
- MacBook Air models from 2013 or later
- MacBook Pro models from 2013 or later
- Mac mini models from 2014 or later
- iMac models from 2014 or later
- iMac Pro (all models)
- Mac Pro models from 2013 or later
As for specs and components, you want a device with a solid state drive, or SSD, which is much faster and quieter than an HDD, or hard disk drive. Also opt for a quad-core device with a Core i5 or Core i7 processor – this should allow a nimble performance despite the age.
What if I have a problem with a refurbished Mac?
Apple states: "All Refurbished Mac models include full functional testing, genuine Apple part replacements (if necessary), a thorough cleaning, the original Operating System or a more recent version, a brand new box with all accessories and cables."
More importantly, a reconditioned Mac or MacBook comes with a one-year warranty (extendable to three years with AppleCare protection). You also get the same sales and return procedure with Apple as you would with any new model, so you can return a Mac bought from the Refurbished Store within 14 days if you're not happy with it. (But note you'll have to post it back, as Apple will not accept returns to a physical Apple Store on refurbished products).
Not that we think you will need to return your Mac. We have plenty of experience buying from Apple's Refurbished Store and have yet to pick up a Mac from the Refurbished Store and find it wanting.
Where to buy refurbished Macs
Apple isn't the only company to resell second-hand, refurbished Macs. You could also pick up a refurbished and reconditioned Mac from resellers, including Amazon, Laptops Direct and various Mac resellers listed below:
- Amazon's Certified Refurbished Store - Beware that many of the Macs being sold in the Amazon Refurbished, Pre-Owned and OpenBox Store are VERY old.
- Laptops Direct
- Hoxton Macs.
- Mac 4 Sale
- Music Magpie.
- In the US you can buy Refurbished Macs from DeCluttr here
Buying refurbished should mean that the Mac has been inspected by an authorised Apple technician and, if necessary, faulty parts replaced. Buying the same Mac secondhand for less might look attractive but it's not guaranteed to work. It's worth paying a little extra for peace of mind.
Buying a new Mac at a discount
As we said above, you may be able to get a good discount on a new Mac that's not been returned due to a fault, and we'd always recommend thatas the best option.
We advise that you seek out a certified Apple Premium Reseller. These are dealers and service providers certified by Apple for their expertise and quality. These can be found all over the world. If you're looking by address, UK readers can find their nearest Apple Premium Reseller via Apple directly, while readers from the Republic of Ireland can see the listings here.
These resellers will try to meet or exceed the service you'd get at an Apple Store - and prices may be cheaper then buying from Apple. We've often spotted Apple Premium Reseller stores having special events and discounts, normally when stores open for the first time in a new location.
Some resellers may offer discounts on older Mac models shortly after a new one launches, so look out for bargains!
Other online resellers include Laptops Direct, which offers iMacs as well as MacBooks, despite the name; and even big high street retailers like Currys PC World, which occasionally stocks refurbished Macs.
If you prefer shopping with a retailer that you're familiar with, then John Lewis offers a two-year warranty on all Apple products as standard, which is twice as long as the standard one year offered by Apple, and occasionally stocks refurbished models too.
Buying a second-hand Mac
Second-hand sites are also worth considering, although where possible we'd recommend you opt for new, discounted Macs.
The following places buy and sell second-hand Macs:
Buying a second-hand Mac on a site like eBay is a riskier business. It can be fraught with problems, but this is particularly true with high-value products such as computers. The old adage runs 'buyer beware', but sellers need to take precautions as well.
eBay requires a little caution and care, then, but you may find some bargains. For example, take a look at eBay's dedicated Refurbished MacBook and Refurbished iMac sections to see if there are any deals around.