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Author: James Fleming
Tuesday, October 12, 2021

How not to get ripped off buying a used computer or used parts




When purchasing a used computer for friends, I have unfortunately run into some scams or questionable deals in the past.  I want to share a few things I look for to ensure my investment is not a waste of time, energy, and money.

On average, a used computer should be 60% or less of the original purchase price, minus $100.00 per month from the date it was purchased new or was on the store shelf.

Now, let's break this down into sections so you can either price a used computer as a whole or part it out based on the information below.

How not to get ripped off buying a used computer or used parts

When first assessing a used computer, I start by researching the equipment on sale, such as what Central Processing Unit (CPU) and what Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) it has.  Typically speaking, these are the two highest-value parts a computer has.  By this concept along we can depict a picture of pricing on average.  By using the 60% rule, we can assess the actual value of a used PC.

((60 * PartCost) / 100) = CurrentSystemCost
(CurrentSystemCost * ((CurrentYear - SystemAge) * 15)) / 100 = TotalUsedCost

Part Name Current New Cost (60% of) Average Used Cost
Intel I7 7700

$494.48 

$297.00
NVIDIA 1070 TI

$999.99

$600.00
16 GB RAM $100.00 $60.00
Windows 10 OS $139.00 $84.00
500 MB SSD

$100.00

$60.00
1 TB HDD $80.00 $48.00
Generic Case $50.00 $30.00
 

CurrentSystemCost
TotalUsedCost

$1179.00
$707.40

The reason we use today's current price point is that the economy goes up and down.  Right now, we have Covid-19 2.0 causing problems, and these things inevitably cause the markets to shift.  So by using today's standards, we should be able to come up with a plan of action if you purchase it now.

Objective for Computer

Before you embark on a trip, you need to know what you are after.  Here is some main reason people own computers below.

  1. Gaming
    1. High Games (Call of Duty, Battlefield 2024)
    2. Middle Game (League of Legends, Smite)
    3. Low-End Games (Tetris, Poppers)
  2. Business 
  3. Social Media
  4. Informational
  5. Other 

To begin, pick the highest item above, and that is the level of which you should pursue to get a computer.  With any of this selection, you want to check the current requirement for the most taxing application.  So let's take, for example, a business application like Microsoft Office. When you look up the recommended requirements, you will get the list below.

Google Search "Microsoft office 2019 system requirements."

How not to get ripped off buying a used computer or used parts

With this, we can conclude that we want a 1.6 GHZ DUO CORE CPU and 4GB RAM.  So when looking at a computer, you can make sure we are getting a device that will fulfill our needs.

One more example would be a game.  Let go with Battlefield 2024, which right now has not come out yet.  But the system requirement is out, I'm sure, so let look.

How not to get ripped off buying a used computer or used parts

For this one, we would want a 5 gen AMD 3600, 8GB RAM, and GeForce RTX 2060.  As you go up, you might find issues with matching what each hardware piece is comparable to.  So let look at what that means from cross-referencing AMD to Intel and NVidia to Radeon.  

Let look at the CPU first AMD Ryzen 5th GEN 3600; if you Google "Intel Processor," you will find a site like below that will list CPU rating.  

Ryzen:

How not to get ripped off buying a used computer or used parts

Intel: List

How not to get ripped off buying a used computer or used parts

Which would be the exact thing for GPU.  

 

Computer Parts Cost

When it comes to the individual parts, some items hold value, and some don't.  The best thing to do if you get a "generic" object is to compare it to the average cost of the same quantity.  Now with that, you have to take it with a grain of salt. A straightforward example of this is if your RAM has a heatsink shield on it.  This feature would add value to that particular item vs. a non-heat seek one.  When doing this research, look for the basics first, so you have a starting point.

Here are some examples of the finding I base on the value of used parts based on current advertised items on Facebook Market Place.  The results work for any used parts/system listing such as Craigslist etc.

How not to get ripped off buying a used computer or used parts

Now, this advertising is asking for $800.00 from initially $900.00.  Let do our research and calculation to see if it falls in line with our pricing methodology.

Central Processor Unit (CPU): Cpu i5 6600k 3.5 Ghz

    CPU is 205.00 at 60% = $123.00

    How not to get ripped off buying a used computer or used parts

Graphics Processor Unit (GPU): GPU 2070

    GPU is $966.00 at 60% = $579.60

How not to get ripped off buying a used computer or used parts

Storage (HDD, SSD, M.2): 250 ssd

   SSD is $33.00 at 60% = $19.80

How not to get ripped off buying a used computer or used parts

Random Access Memory (RAM): 32 gb ram

    RAM is $146.00 at 60% = $87.60

How not to get ripped off buying a used computer or used parts

Operating System (OS): Not Listed 

   We are assuming this is a standard Microsoft Windows 10 home.

   OS is $130.00 at 60% = $78.00

How not to get ripped off buying a used computer or used parts

MotherBoard (MB): Not Listed

    Using generic MB.

    MB is $138.99 at 60% = $83.39

How not to get ripped off buying a used computer or used parts

Power Supply Unit (PSU): Not Listed

   So we go with generic PSU.

    PSU is $80.00 at 60% = $48.00

How not to get ripped off buying a used computer or used parts

CASE:  Not Listed

 So we go with generic CASE.

    CASE is $70.00 at 60% = $42.00

How not to get ripped off buying a used computer or used parts

MEDIA:  Not Listed

From the image, we can see one DVD player, possibly a burner.  We will go with a generic burner.

 Media is $22.00 at 60% = $13.20

How not to get ripped off buying a used computer or used parts

 

Now, if you take the listing and all its items, you get a system worth $1074.59.  The total cost given the parts in the list above is $1789.10 at 60% 1073.46

Complete System Cost

After compiling a list of the total cost of a used computer by part value assessment, we can now assets a complete system.  The advantage of purchase a system over purchase parts is that you get the OS key registered to the computer.  Every time I get a new computer, new or old, I put a fresh copy of the OS I plan on using.  Most people today would use windows 10/11.  Today value of an OS is USD 139.00, which in general, most people don't charge you the OS cost when pricing the computer.  Since the license key is registered to the computer already, you can download a copy of your OS and copy it to a bootable USB or burn it to a disk.  You can follow this article on how to install an OS on your computer.  

New System

Using the same computer as above, we can speculate that a new system built right now with the same parts would be $1789.10, which 60% of the total cost would be 1073.46.  However, these are obsolete parts by the time you go to purchase them for a new system. Typically, you can get better components for the exact cost, even if we talk about minor upgrades like another megabyte of cache on your CPU.  

Let talk about new computer cost you might not have considered yet.

  1. OS Cost
  2. Bloatware Software
  3. Cost-Effective

These items typically come with the computer with the sales guy trying to get you to buy services.  Most of the time, the store does not make very much money on the new system.  Most profits they accumulate come from the services they try to offer you on a new computer.  Best Buy Geek squad is for sure in this category.  These services are for another article.

Mostly, when people purchase a used computer, they don't want to shell out the money for a new computer.  The only rule of thumb I would say is that if you buy a new computer, it usually's suitable for the need you identified at the start of this for around 8 to 9 years if it's taken care of.  If you purchase an old computer, you might consider these numbers when buying new or old.

Normal Wear and Tear

Generally speaking, you want a computer that does not look like it went through World War 3 (WW3) because the abuse it takes would directly reflect the reliability of the hardware.  A laptop with liquid, food, hit or dropped could have a shock or electronic failure based on the actions affected by that part of the computer.  You will also want to check for cleanliness as well.  

Warrenty & Credibility

In general, most used items don't come with a warranty, so your best option is guesstimating if they seem reliable.  Some key take ways I have seen is if they are having you come to their resident.  Most scam artists would not allow you to know where they live for obvious reasons. Some others are clueless about your questions, and I would say another would be response time. It could be either too fast, as the person talks over you in a sales pitch type of way, or lags in response for more than two days.

Upgrading & Salvaging

Knowing if you should keep your system rather than replace it comes down to your need and if your current os can help you achieve your goals.   Taking your objective at the start of this article, determine what your computer does not do.  Listed below are some of the reasons why people upgrade:   

  1. Performance w/Slow Internet
  2. Performance w/Games
  3. A new application will not run or install correctly
  4. The computer will not operate normally as in keyboard/mouse issues or maybe not even turning on

Parting It Out vs Sale Whole System

When getting rid of your old computer, selling it as a whole system or parting it out so you can try to get a return on investment (ROI) on your new/used computer is a choice you will need to make.  Many people don't even care if they can recoup the loss.  If, however, you want to try to take as little of a loss as possible, you should price compare your current system.  

First, start by looking online at Craigslist or Facebook marketplace to see what system is going for.  If you can find one that is similar, then that is great.  However, sometimes it is hard to tell.  If you can find yours or you are not sure, take 60% off the cost of your computer when it is new and then another $100.00 for every year after.  An example would be if I had a Dell Inspiron 3650, this new computer was around $675.00 would be $405.00, and it is less than one year old.  So we started high and said a week, and if you don't get any takes, lower it to $100.00.  After three weeks, if you still have no takes, lower again $100.00.  I find it best to continue this until you are tired of it, can no longer discount it, or write it off if no one is interested.  

How not to get ripped off buying a used computer or used parts

Customizing & Modding of Computer

When it comes to buying a customized or modded computer, you must take caution not to inherit their problems unknowingly.  If the system can to do whatever they did, it would not be a customized job.  You can have a look at this one below, which I went and reviewed personally.  You will notice that it is missing its guards for the MB and PCI slots.  The second thing you would have noticed if you went there is the extra fan in the zip-tied case and screed in.  This computer also had an issue where you had to hit the power button three times to start it.  So even if you look at the back, you can tell the owner of this PC did some Frankenstein testing/modding/customizing. 

How not to get ripped off buying a used computer or used parts

Story Time "A deal gone wrong" Hunter

Let's Talk Story Time "A deal gone wrong."  

As a friend of mine was looking for a computer, he enlisted me to help him search and make what he bought not a total waste of money.  Given he has little to no computer experience, this was a new adventure for him to travel down, and I was glad to help. 

Before we went shopping, we needed to define his needs.  Given he was a gamer on a console (PS4), he was looking to get into the gaming community on a PC.  His need was simply a computer good enough to play games but not a "best of the best of best sir" mentality. Something that he could upgrade either in the future to allow for 3 to 5 years of use.

We started by surfing Facebook and Craiglist to see what items could handle this.  We reviewed about 3 of them and sent messages asking if the computer was available.  Below was the first item that came back as open and ready for sale.

How not to get ripped off buying a used computer or used parts

So we did an analysis of the hardware cost. 

$214.00 : CPU Intel i7
  $60.00 : RAM 16 GB
$141.00 : GPU GTX 1650 4GB
  $36.00 : 550w PSU
  $24.00 : SSD 240 GB
    $7.00 : HDD 500 GB
  $73.00 : OS Windows
  $18.00 : CASE Default
-----------------------------------
$537.00

So we shot him a price offer text, asking if he would take $560.00. He agreed, and we set up a time to meet.  Now the advertising does not specify a few things which we will get to in a bit.  At surface level, this seems like an awesome deal for a starter computer.  So we enter the GPS address the sale has given. We were not paying attention to it to start with as it's local.  We assumed it was a house/apt we were heading to.  After we got to the address, we realized he had given us a shopping center parking lot.  He was also late to the discussed time and showed up 5 - 10 minutes later. Once he did show, he texted us the car he was driving, make, and model, and we found each other.  He pops his trunk and asks if we know anything about computers.  I told him we learned a bit, and he started in on what the computer specification was

I explained that I would like to see the computer running before we purchase it.  He replied that he does live nearby but does not do business at his place for safety reasons.  He then added he would have sent us a video of the computer working if they knew we needed proof of it being defective and explained he runs a business doing this, implying he knows what he is doing.  I took it at face value and moved on with reviewing what he had.

Upon review, I noticed a few things.  First off, they put a customized fan in the front of the case after he drilled a hole at the front to mount a 120mm fan.  So the computer now had a CPU fan, PSU fan, GPU Fan, Back case Fan, and now a modified case front fan.  I also took note that the PSU was 400 watts.  

As I reviewed the intercase hardware, I noticed the CPU and MB look old, like really outdated hardware. I inquired about the MB and said this looks outdated, and he says it has an intel i7-2600 3.4 GHz MB & CPU, which was not what I thought when I first reviewed the advertisement.

In summary, while looking at this, I concluded the following while standing there, and my friend was chatting him up, which let me focus for a second on value and if it fits our goal.  At this time, I started to figure in cost first mentally.

  $97.00 : CPU Intel i7
  $60.00 : RAM 16 GB
$141.00 : GPU GTX 1650 4GB
  $36.00 : 550w PSU
  $24.00 : SSD 240 GB
    $7.00 : HDD 500 GB
  $73.00 : OS Windows
  $18.00 : CASE Default
-----------------------------------
$350.00

After a few minutes, I told him that I did not think the computer was worth the $560.00, the seller immediately went into defensive mode, saying the video card was 300.00 dollars, and that was where the cost of the system came from.  I tried to explain to him briefly that putting a high-end card in a low-end system or an outdated system does not make it a good deal.  In my professional opinion, the two will not balance out to play AAA games.  For example, newer computers have a lot higher bus rate for RAM than they did back in those days.  So trying to sell a high-end video card to someone saying it plays AAA will probably not work out well for them. 

Because this is a numbers game, I will show you what I'm talking about.  In 2011 the i7-2600 was released, and its bus speed for the average motherboard (Socket 1155) was 1600/1333 DDR3. Today, the 2021 motherboard (Socket 1200) is DDR4 2933 / 2666 / 2400 / 2133 DDR4. This motherboard is cheap, $100.00.  To me, this is just a bad idea.

Next, the customizing to add another fan into the mix was odd, and it looks like they stripped it down to the case and built it back up.  The question is, why does it need this extra fan, to begin with. Typically speaking, I like to buy things that fit the application I need them for and leave them default without modding.  This kind of goes with a car analogy. If you buy a new car and put a body kit, stereo, alarm system, etc., you will never get your money back, or the labor cost whether you do it or hire it out, or at least it is rare.  As a consumer asking yourself and them why you had to do this is usually a good idea, and I hope their response is honest as they are selling you a bag of goods, which might hinder their response a bit. 

In the end, and we did not get to ask inquiries to see if I could use it myself for a Linux server or other computer function I do myself.  His demeanor turned to a defensive attitude and even continued after we said no thank you and started to leave. I was even sending messages after we left for about an hour and then blocked me.  I did not even respond to him as no since and benefited no one.  But I was going to flag his post as a cost issue on Facebook, but I guess since he blocked me, it stops me from even seeing the sale advertising again. 

Story Time "Did buy"

This one was pretty easy because we knew it was a good deal to start with after doing the price comparison.  Our destination was about 30 minutes north of us.  The sale kept in contact with us twice as we left for him, and we checked in said we would be there in less than 10 minutes, which he acknowledged.  When we got there, we were ready with the computer in his APT.  We got to see it turn on, restart, and I mess with the OS for a bit.  You could tell he had a basic understanding of how to play games on a computer.  But as far as a deep understanding of what makes them work, he was a bit lost—the majority of the time, you want to look and try to pay attention to hardware issues only.  The OS can be replaced without too much trouble.  Listen for odd sounds, watch for Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD), and watch the monitor for any strange things that happen, such as color changes.

Cost Analyist

  $75.00 : 8 GB RAM
  $25.00 : 250 GB SSD
  $14.00 : 1TB HDD
$342.00 : 8GB RX 570
$150.00 : Intel 6 Core Processor 
  $18.00 : Case
  $74.00 : OS Windows
--------------------------------
$698.00

How not to get ripped off buying a used computer or used parts

Parts List

How not to get ripped off buying a used computer or used parts

We paid $600.00 for this system with the keyboard, mouse, and monitor included.  My friend to this day has still not laid League of Legend (LoL) with me as promised for helping :( 

Conclusion

In closing, I think the best thing to do is to use the formula I presented at the beginning as a starting point.  You can work from there the details as you see fit, and don't be afraid to improvise as this article is only a guideline for how I value computer equipment from an IT professional viewpoint.

While this is a good baseline if you see any issue with the hardware that is where negotiation start.  Oh, the case has a dent in it you did not report in your advertising, that $25.00 off the price, etc.  In the end, it depends on what your needs are, and if the cost is worth it, based on your research.

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