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Exactly where do refurbished computers come from?

What's your refurbished computer’s pedigree? Knowing where it came from can help determine how well it may perform, and for how long.

At the top of the pyramid are “open box” units from large retail chains such as Best Buy. When retailers stock newly launched computer lines, they often get rid of older models to avoid undercutting the new product. These older units are typically unused, but are classified as “open box” to speed their liquidation.

The most reliable source of secondhand equipment is corporate lease returns. Fortune 500 companies typically lease their computers for one to three years, then turn them in for newer systems. Off-lease computers have two big advantages: Corporate models tend to be made better than consumer versions sold by the same manufacturer, and office workers tend to be gentle users of equipment.

Things get murkier when it comes to “takeout” or “as-is” systems sold in large lots. A buyer oft en doesn’t know who the original owner was, or how skillfully the units were refurbished—if at all.