Buying Used Computers

By Andrea Yust
Copyright 2011 Homeschool Programming, Inc.

From Homeschool Programming, Inc.'s July, 2011 Newsletter

Your Student's Back-to-School Computer!

It’s almost time for school and for many students that means one thing – a new computer! Of course, new computers can be expensive; so many parents may be looking toward a cheaper used computer instead.

It is very important to check a used computer thoroughly before buying so that you can avoid trouble in the future. Let’s take a look at the possible issues that you should consider while purchasing a used computer.

How Old is Too Old?

How old is the used computer? A computer’s age is important for many reasons. Computer parts will wear down over time, causing hard drive failures and memory problems. When you are checking out a used computer, make sure to power it down and then turn it back on. Listen to the sounds that the computer makes as it start up. Does it hum along quietly, or are there clicking or beeping noises? Any clicking, clacking or beeping noises could be a sign of age on important parts like the hard drive and power supply.

The age of the computer can also indicate its power and relevance. An older computer will be slower and less-capable of running today’s software than a brand-new computer. Whether or not this matters depends on your student’s needs. Take a look at the software that your student will need to run. A piece of software written in 2001 will easily run on a computer from 2001, but a piece of software written in 2010 will have trouble running on a computer built in 2001!

What Can You Upgrade?

Some parts of a computer are easier to upgrade than others. When buying a used computer you should concentrate on getting the best components that are hardest to upgrade, but don't worry as much about other pieces that you can improve on later.

For instance, it's pretty difficult to upgrade a CPU since a modern CPU might not even work on your older motherboard. So buy a computer with the best CPU you can afford! On the other hand, you can usually swap in a new DVD drive or add another hard disk drive pretty easily. Check your motherboard to see how many unused RAM slots you have -- this will let you know if you can expand the memory to keep up with today's more powerful applications.

Is the Monitor in Good Shape?

A monitor is a crucial piece of hardware on a computer. LCD monitors are space-saving and efficient, but can be problematic. Make sure the monitor powers on and does not contain any “dead pixels” or black dots on the screen. These dead pixels represent faulty lights on the monitor and are not repairable!

A Special Note About Laptops

Many students will choose a laptop computer for school. Being able to carry the laptop to class and study areas is very attractive. Just be aware that laptops in general are harder to upgrade than desktop computers, so you shouldn't plan on doing that much component swapping unless you are sure you can. The LCD monitors in particular cannot upgraded or swapped out.

The one thing you generally can and should upgrade is your laptop's battery! A used laptop battery will often be on its last legs, so make sure you can order a replacement batter online for the particular model you are choosing.

What Software Will You Have?

What software is included with the computer? Make sure that any included software is licensed and properly installed. If you are going to need to install Windows or some other operating system yourself, be aware of that extra expense. It’s a good idea to get any install discs or manuals for the pre-installed software. These will be essential if you need to make changes to the software or re-install anything later on. Also, make sure that you get any logins and passwords you need to manage the machine as an administrator!

Meeting Your Student Needs

Finally, make sure the computer will meet the needs of your student. Will they need to access the Internet? Then make sure the computer has network or wireless capability! Will they need to run complicated software? Then make sure the computer has enough computing power and RAM! Will they need to write papers? Develop software? Design floorplans? Make sure they have the right software installed!

Homeschool Programming, Inc. offers KidCoder and TeenCoder curriculum for middle and high school students. We teach industry-standard Visual Basic and C# programming languages in a fun, hands-on, self-study format. Students can create their own Windows and Games while learning from software engineers with a combined 17+ years of professional programming experience. Skills developed in these courses will form a lasting building block for your student's technical pursuits!

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