We’ve all had the experience of buying something expensive, getting it home, taking it out of the box, and finding that something just isn’t right. Maybe it’s marked or dented. Maybe it lacks a feature you badly wanted. Maybe the product in question just doesn’t work properly. And in all of these cases, the natural thing to do is return it.

So what happens to it then?

When it comes to technology products like desktop and laptop PCs—even printers, phones, and more—unless they are beyond repair, the chances are that what you send back will ultimately end up going back on the shelves. And, it’s likely you’ll see it at a much better price.

That’s not to say these for-sale-again products are in bad shape. Most manufacturers go out of their way to make sure they work like new, even if they’re not. Of course, you need to be careful. After all, there’s no agreed-upon definition for refurbished, remanufactured, reconditioned, pre-owned, or even used when it comes to computer equipment. But with common-sense shopping, you can probably find a powerful system in “like-new” condition that will save you big bucks this holiday season, or any other time of year.

Reconditioning a PC

When you sell a car, it’s pretty much “what you see is what you get.” Sure, you can change the tyres and swap out some parts, but fundamentally, the wear and tear is there to stay. That’s why you can’t turn back the odometer. The same is true for a PC, (minus the odometer…and wouldn’t that be convenient?).

If you return a car or PC within a month of purchase, it would likely be difficult to find out what’s gone on with either. Thankfully, the PC is a lot easier to get back to a state of ‘almost-new.’ After all, who knows what’s gone on physically and where it’s gone on the Internet?

Retailers will put it through tests to make sure that whatever the returnee didn’t like is the only problem, and then they’ll do what they must to fix the system. Hard drives are wiped clean and the operating system is freshly installed. If it’s a desktop, it’ll probably get a new mouse and a keyboard. Then the system gets tested and verified again, just like it did before it went out in the first place. It goes into a fresh box and is put out for sale. Legally, it can’t be called brand-new, and that means it typically sells at a lower price, even though, for all intents and purposes, it is new. Some refurbished PCs are actually new because they never came out of the box (maybe the order was cancelled, for example). Such “open box” deals may be the best deals you’ll find.

This is nothing like buying direct from a previous owner—the kind of scenario you’d get with eBay. Generally, this is a bargain you can trust. Why? If it comes from the manufacturer, it’ll once again have a guarantee—at least, for a while. So if something goes wrong—and that usually happens early—you’re covered. (If it doesn’t come with a warranty, skip it.)

We suggest getting a refurb directly from the manufacturer or MH Computers who are a Microsoft Registered Refurbisher, if you can. That way, the components replaced during reconditioning should be the same. A third-party refurbisher may use something different. In the end, go with someone you trust. Make sure you triple-check the return policy either way, so you don’t get stuck with someone else’s rubbish just because you had some blind faith.