Most of what you hear about buying a used laptop is a lie. Yes, you can end up with an expensive paper weight. But knowing what you’re doing during the purchasing process helps mitigate risk. All the laptops we had in college were used. And buying used helped us maximize our budget. Buying used is not only economically savvy, It’s also environmentally friendly. And you get what you need at a fraction of the cost. While there are risks in buying anything. They’re admittedly magnified when buying used. Once you’ve settled on a laptop, this is how to properly perform a laptop health test before finalizing your purchase.
1. Inspect the Chassis
If you can look at the laptop in person, take advantage of the opportunity to search for any physical signs of damage. As you’re thoroughly inspecting the chassis keep in mind that hairline cracks can be difficult to see, so take your time. Hairline cracks could be a sign that the laptop took a nasty tumble.
You’ll also want to check for irregularities like missing screws as this could be a sign that the laptop has been operated on. Even if the laptop looks fine. If it’s been dropped you have no way of knowing the severity of the internal damage, which will shorten the lifespan of your investment. In general, if the laptop doesn’t appear cared for. It’s a good sign to walk away.
2. What’s the Condition of the Display
As you open the laptop to consider the condition of the display, feel for loose hinges. Open and close the lid to make sure the movement is smooth and that you don’t hear any noise through the motion. The display should be stable without any sign of wobbling.
Now inspect the screen carefully for any scratches that will mar your viewing experience. Then when you turn on the laptop check for flickering and colors that look way off on the display. The screen should also be bright enough to see what you’re viewing clearly.
IPS (In-Plane Switching) is a computer screen technology that helps you see what you’re looking at on the display clearly no matter what angle you’re viewing it from. This is especially useful when you’re collaborating with two or more people that also need to see what’s on the display clearly no matter what angle they’re sitting relative to the laptop.
You can find out if the viewing angles are good by opening a window to play a video. Then try watching the video off-center.
Bad or Dead Pixels
This one is pretty easy. A computer screen uses blue, green and red to create images on the display. All you’re looking for are dead pixels: they won’t emit any colors and in fact look black. Inversely, bad pixels will stay on even when they shouldn’t be.
Depending on where these pixels are located on the screen, however, a bad or dead pixel may not be a deal-breaker. Especially if you’re getting the laptop super cheap. CheckPixels and Dead Pixels Test are two online tools that can help you find dead pixels.
NOTE: Don’t forget to enter full-screen mode by pressing F11 when you’re testing for dead pixels.
3. Try the Keyboard and Touchpad
Unless the laptop you’re considering has a touchscreen, the keyboard and touchpad are the main point of interface between you and the laptop. As such it’s crucial to make sure both work the way they should.
The first thing you want to do is check for broken keys as this is an obvious sign that you’ll either need to purchase an external keyboard or replace the faulty one. Faulty keys won’t perform their function when you depress them.
You’ll also want to pay attention to key travel as this relates to how comfortable the keyboard will be to use on a daily basis. Strokes should be deep enough so you don’t feel fatigued during long typing sessions with enough spacing between keys so you don’t feel cramped.
Check to see if the touchpad supports Windows 10 gestures like pinch-to-zoom, two-finger scrolling and three-finger swipes. Operations should be smooth, and cursor movement shouldn’t be jumpy. Don’t forget to try out the mouse buttons to ensure they’re able to execute the functions for which they were designed. If they don’t work, this is not a deal breaker as an external mouse is relatively inexpensive.
Online tools like Keyboard Tester are wonderful for helping to evaluate the health status of the keyboard. All the keys should work normally, even keys you may not use often like Print Screen, F6 and the Power key.
4. Check Battery Health
Completing a comprehensive battery check as you test drive your potential laptop isn’t always possible. A great way to quickly check battery health is by playing a YouTube video in full screen for at least 5 minutes. If the battery percentage drops rapidly, you’ll need a replacement.
You can also go into the Power Management settings of the installed operating system for a good idea of how long the battery should last. It’ll also tell you how much of a charge the battery can hold. And the battery’s health status.
The battery should also be able to charge properly; a new one should hold a charge for at least 5 hours. If the one you’re testing drains too quickly you can use it as a way to negotiate a cheaper price.
5. Get a Feel for Performance
Play around with the laptop doing the things you intend for the device for at least 20-minutes. This will also help get it up to good operating temperature where you can pick up on any hardware malfunctions which you wouldn’t get from only a few minutes of the laptop being on. Specifically, check for sudden rebooting or freezing.
6. What’s the Amount of Available RAM
A good way to find out how much RAM the laptop comes with is to type ‘msinfo32’ (just like the example) into the run box. Then press Enter. This will give you all the laptop’s hardware specifications.
The performance of any computing device is highly dependent on RAM. Looking into the health of the system memory will prevent issues in the future. Issues with RAM often result in boot errors and the blue screen of death (BSoD).
7. Find Out About the Health of the Storage Drive
Storage drives aren’t too difficult to replace. If the storage drive in the laptop you want to purchase is more than 4 years old, you should consider a replacement to avoid future data loss. Download CyrstalDiskInfo for more information about the hard drive.
A storage drive can be either a mechanical hard drive (MHD) , a solid-state drive (SSD) or a hybrid of both. Permanent storage functions as a mass storage drive and data reader/writer – it maintains your data even when the laptop is off.
Once you power up the laptop listen for noises the hard drive is making (this is easier if the laptop comes with a mechanical hard drive).
If it sounds like its grinding or making clicking noises, you’ll likely need to replace it or risk losing your information once you migrate to your new laptop.
Use an app like SSDlife, to check the health of the SSD. If the laptop you’re considering comes with an MHD, use HDSentinel to evaluate its health. If these programs detect too many bad sectors, you might want to bail on that laptop.
8. Listen for Fans
This would be a good time to listen for the fans – One of a computer system’s greatest enemies is heat. The intake passages should look clean. Otherwise, this is a sign that the laptop could have experienced heating issues in the past which could have caused damage to other components.
After using the laptop for a few minutes, the fans should come on. If not, you can trigger the fans by playing a high-resolution video for a few minutes. If you still can’t hear the fans, there’s a good chance the laptop has already experienced some overheating – This is a deal breaker.
9. Confirm That the OS is Genuine
The first piece of software you should investigate is the operating system OS. Ensure that it’s genuine. You’ll also want to ask for the product key. Otherwise, if you ever need to reinstall the OS you’ll need to pay for a new copy. Also, if the software isn’t licensed, you’ll open yourself up to bugs, viruses and data leakage.
NOTE: The older an operating system is, the less support there is behind it. Even if you’re buying a laptop with an older OS, you still want to check that it’s legitimate.
10.   Evaluate the Other On-Board Software
The same goes for all the software that comes with the laptop as it relates to the product key; this will save you money. If the product key for a program like Adobe Photoshop is not made available to you during the time of purchase. You’ll have to buy your own copy should you need to do a reinstall.
Check the licenses of all other software included with the laptop. Make sure that all the product keys are made available to you. If possible, ask for the original software CDs, recovery CD, drivers and backup media that came with the original packaging of the laptop.
By contrast, having up-to-date virus protection is not that important during the time of purchase. We recommend getting antivirus software that you know best.
11.   Observe the CPU and Graphics Card
If either of these are more than 5 years old, you’ll want to replace them or look at a different laptop. Older hardware will have a difficult time running with a modern operating system like Windows 10.
In the Task Manager, open Performance Monitor. This can tell you a lot about the CPU’s utilization. If its high, there could be a virus or malware infection, which would require antivirus software to clean out.
If the laptop comes with an Intel processor you can test the CPU by downloading the Intel Processor Diagnostic Tool. You can find out if you have an Intel CPU by going to the Performance tab in Task Manager. Select the CPU graph and look at the top right corner.
Similarly, if the laptop comes with a dedicated graphics card, you’ll want to give it a test while the laptop is on. Open a few apps and even play some games. If you see screen distortions or flickers, you’ll know that the graphics card has some problems.
12.   Test the Webcam
Most webcams are of the 720-pixel variety. They often result in grainy pictures. But they’re super useful for video calls and conferences, especially if you’ll be using the laptop for business. Check that the webcam has camera apps.
13.   Test the Ports
Try out all the USB ports. This includes the power and headphone jacks, Ethernet port, HDMI, and SD card slot. It’s important to make sure they work properly when evaluating if a used laptop is a good buy since they’re often attached to the motherboard, which is expensive to replace. If it comes with an optical drive, throw in a CD or DVD to make sure it works. Neglecting to do so will diminish the functionality of your purchase.
NOTE: A clean flash drive and headphones are great for trying out the usefulness of ports.
14.   Try Out the Speakers
Speaking of headphones, if you’re like us, you likely don’t use laptop speakers much. However, there could be instances where you’ll need sound to project from your laptop’s speakers. To ensure that the speakers are in good working condition, get a few songs with good range and play them on the laptop. Audiophiles know the music shouldn’t sound muffled, and it should be free of distortion.
15.   Check Wireless Connectivity
Finally, one of the greatest things about laptops is the portability. A Wi-fi connection gives a laptop the mobility to move around with you wherever you go without losing connection to the Internet. Make sure you can get a stable Wifi connection. And this would be a good time to check that you can establish a Bluetooth connection as well if the laptop comes with this feature.
Seriously, that’s the whole process. There are many reasons why buying a used laptop makes sense. Just because it’s used doesn’t make it a bad purchase. Yes, some of these processes can be a little more involved than others. But like buying a used car the more research and analysis you do before handing over your hard-earned money. The more confident you’ll feel about the machine. And just like when buying a used car, ask lots of questions. Be cautious and be patient and you’ll find a dependable laptop to fit your budget.