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Secondhand computers aren’t all the same, neither are the dealers who sell them.

A sweetheart deal may turn out to be less of a bargain if you end up paying a lot of unexpected costs down the line.

To help make sense of the market, here’s an insider’s guide on used computer standards:

? As-is—What you see is what you get. Buyers have no opportunity to test if equipment is functioning, and warranties or customer support are rarely offered. Typical failure rate in the first year: 20%-50%.

? Used—Units are presumed to be in working order, and buyers can usually power up equipment to check hardware. Warranties are limited to 90 days or less. Typical failure rate: 15%-35%.

? Refurbished—Computers have been cleaned and tested to some degree to ensure adequate performance. Buyers can usually boot up the unit to make sure the operating system is working correctly. Typical failure rate: Around 10%.

? Certified—The most reputable vendors offer a certification process. Saar Pikar, general manager of CDI Computers, a Toronto firm that certifies all its refurbished computers, says buyers should demand that units undergo a rigorous process of dust removal, surface repair, wiping of hard drives and fresh installation of licensed software. These steps typically ensure failure rates of under 3%.