If you're considering buying a Mac, we would strongly recommend considering buying from the Apple Refurbished Store or another second-hand seller before you 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.
Apple makes great computers, but they're not always the cheapest to buy - a brand-new Mac can be a quick way to empty your bank account. Many Mac buyers therefore look at second-hand options. You can get a great deal by buying a refurbished Apple Mac computer from the Apple Refurbished Store, or by picking up a second-hand Mac from eBay or an official Apple reseller.
Should you buy a refurbished Mac?
One great trick that every Apple fan should know is how to pick up kit from the Apple Refurbished Store. You can buy refurbished Apple Macs and MacBooks, as well as other Apple products, from this special section of the online store, or from a variety of certified resellers.
Refurbished Macs are likely to be returned models (if it is from a previous year), or reconditioned current models. A reconditioned Mac could be an ex-demonstration model used during Apple teaching programmes, or a unit sold to a customer who decided to return it.
The returned unit may have been faulty (and fixed) or may simply have been returned 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).
Macs and MacBooks sold through the Apple Refurbished Store are not necessarily old models that have not been sold. Tim Cook has made Apple's production so tight that the company is rumoured to turn over its entire inventory every five days (only McDonald's has a faster turnover!). So Apple does not need to stockpile its products and Macs sold on the refurb store are in fact second-hand.
The important thing to note is that Macs bought from the Apple Refurbished Store are not discernibly different from new ones bought direct from the Apple Store. All Macs bought from the Apple Refurbished Store are cleaned, checked, tested, and visually indistinguishable from brand new models.
How much cheaper are refurbished Macs and MacBooks?
The price for reconditioned Macs changes frequently but is typically 10 to 20 percent less than the original price. With Macs commanding a high retail price this can be quite a difference.
For example, a 13.3-inch MacBook Pro can be found on the Refurbished Store from £1,059, a £190 saving on the price you'd pay for the exact same model on the Apple Store.
Savings can be even greater though - right now you can get as much as £470 off a top-spec 15.4-inch MacBook Pro, or £390 off a 27-inch iMac.
Other resellers often offer even lower prices than the Apple Refurbished Store though, so it's worth shopping around - especially during sales events like Boxing Day or Black Friday, when prices drop even lower everywhere but Apple.
What is the warranty and returns procedure on a refurbished Mac?
Apple states: "Before we put a refurbished Mac, iPod, iPad or Apple TV up for sale in Special Deals, it undergoes a rigorous refurbishment process to make sure it's up to Apple's tough quality standards." (iPhones are not currently sold through the Refurbished Store in the UK - though they are if you're in the US.)
More importantly, a reconditioned Mac or MacBook comes with the same one-year warranty (extendable to three years with AppleCare protection.) You also get the same sales and return procedure with Apple, and 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.
The only noticeable difference from our experience is that any refurbished Mac will be packaged in a brown box rather than the white retail box they normally arrive in. Aside from that we have yet to pick up a Mac from the Refurbished Store and find it wanting.
Check the specifications carefully
Because many Macs on the refurb store are previous years' models you should check the specifications carefully. It's worth noting that most new Macs contain the very latest high-end components, so even an older model from the Apple Refurbished Store should still offer great performance.
That means it's also worth taking a look at the Refurbished Store if you deliberately want to pick up an older model. Apple is often quick off the mark to phase out features it deems no longer necessary, such as optical drives, FireWire sockets, replaceable hard drives and so on. So some people may genuinely prefer an earlier model with a feature they don't quite want to live without just yet.
Apple isn't the only place to buy second-hand or refurbished Macs, so it's worth shopping around a bit before you commit to a purchase.
If you're going to buy from used or independent shops, your best bet is to 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 up and down the UK and Republic of Ireland. (You can find your nearest Apple Premium Reseller here and in the Republic of Ireland here.)
These 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! KRCS, for example, always has offers on Macs that you can order online, even configure-to-order models.
Other online resellers include mResell, which buys and sells a range of second-hand refurbished Apple products; Laptops Direct, which offers iMacs as well as MacBooks, despite the name; and even big high street retailers like Currys, 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 from eBay
Second-hand sites like eBay are also worth considering, although where possible we'd recommend you opt for new, discounted Macs. Buying a second-hand Mac on eBay is a riskier business.
Buying and selling anything on sites like eBay 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 to be had.
For more Mac buying options, visit our one-stop guide to the best place to buy any Mac, either refurbished or new.