Several weeks ago I conducted an experiment. I wanted to see if it was possible to buy a used notebook computer that was comparable or better than the current netbooks on the market. It is possible to buy a netbook, an ultraportable laptop computer that is designed primarily for light functions and web browsing, for $399 or less. With only $299, my hypothesis was that I could buy a better or comparable notebook. I decided to use eBay as my testing ground.
The first computer I was able to snag was an older iBook with a G4 800 mhz processor, 640 mb ram, and a 30gb hard drive for around $260. I was drawn to the iBook as a portable device because of its cheaper price, internal DVD/CDRW, long battery life, Wi-Fi, and OS X. Although it was the older G4 processor, the iBook was known for being a durable computer with great mobility. Weighing in at 4.9 pounds, it was a little on the heavy side as most netbooks weigh less than 3 lbs.
The second computer that I purchased was an older Dell C400 notebook. The C400 was introduced in 2001 by Dell, and provided a lot for the price. I’ve found many auctions on eBay for similar units as it appears many of these are being sold as companies update their machines. The C400 I purchased came with a Pentium III Mobile Processor clocking in at 1.2ghz, 512 mb ram, 20gb hard drive, Wi-Fi, and Windows 2000. The C400 is a very slim notebook with a full keyboard and nice, bright screen.
The overall performance between the machines I purchased on eBay and current netbooks wouldn’t be noticeable to most users. Netbooks are not marketed as high-performance computers, rather they are marketed to people who need a ultraportable machine that can perform ordinary tasks. The iBook’s G4 processor was a little sluggish when running heavy applications, while the C400 crunched numbers smoothly. Both computers provided similar usability experience.
The machines I purchased from eBay were used. I read the item descriptions closely and magnified pictures to see their condition. Both items were being sold as fully functional computers with “some” signs of cosmetic wear. Little did I know that the Dell C400 would arrive with two hairline cracks in the palm-rest, letters worn off on the keyboard, and scratches deep as the Grand Canyon. The iBook also showed signs of wear, but it clearly had an easier previous life. Aside from a few scuffs on the outer case, the iBook had a few engraved numbers on the bottom of its case. I was very disappointed in the condition of the C400 and decided to return it. It was completely worn out and advertised to be in a much better condition.
Battery life was a major consideration with the computers I had purchased on eBay. When buying a used computer, it is important to remember that batteries deteriorate with time and numerous charges. The C400 I purchased would barely hold a charge. Being mobile with the C400 meant carrying the power adapter with me every place I went. The iBook was sold with a new battery because of Apple’s battery recall program, so I lucked out. Always make sure to inquire about the condition of the battery as many used computers will need a replacement.
Be cautious of what you buy on eBay. Many of the computers sold on eBay originally had hard and abused lives as workhorses for a company. When a corporation decides to update their computers, the old often find their way to eBay en masse. Although I was able to buy a notebook for for a little less than the current netbooks, they were in a worse condition, had no warranties, and offered generally less performance. My recommendation if you’re looking for a well built yet cheap notebook is to do a little research and select the netbook that is right for you. A used computer with scratches, worn keys, and a dead battery can’t compare to a fresh, out of the box unit.
Photo: Nic (flickr cc)