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As Apple continues to expand and upgrade its entire Mac lineup, early adopters are trading in their older, but still usable Intel-powered Macs — and even some more recent Apple M1-powered models. The changeover can be beneficial for Mac users who are looking for a great deal and aren’t worried about having the absolute newest and most powerful MacBooks out there.
If you’re looking to save yourself some cash on a new-to-you Mac, you have plenty of options to buy a used or refurbished Apple computer — including our current best Apple laptop pick in the M1 MacBook Air. And regardless of whether you’re looking to upgrade from a sluggish Mac or PC, or your MacBook has finally failed after the fourth cup of coffee was spilled across the keyboard, buying a new Mac doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor.
Before we dive into your shopping options, it’s important to note the difference between a used Mac and a refurbished Mac.
Used versus refurbished Macs
When shopping for any gadget in a secondhand store, you’ll commonly see these two terms mentioned — often without much explanation of what each term means.
A used Mac, be it a Mac Mini or MacBook Pro, has had an owner who is most often selling it themselves. The device may or may not have a remaining warranty or AppleCare package attached to it. There’s no guarantee outside of the seller’s word that the device works properly; you have to trust what’s said in the listing. It’s not uncommon for used devices to have scratches or blemishes, pictures of which should always be included in an item’s listing. If a picture isn’t clear, ask for better photos before completing the checkout process. If the seller doesn’t want to take more photos, keep shopping. Used devices are typically sold on an as-is basis.
A refurbished Mac goes one step further. Most often a used Mac is traded in or returned to a company like Apple or Amazon. The company then goes through the Mac looking for any issues or blemishes, replacing the display or housing to make the item look brand-new. And if there are any issues with internal components, the computer is repaired to a like-new state. Most companies offer some form of warranty to guarantee their work.
Know what you’re getting
Apple’s Mac lineup has changed quite a bit over the past few years. Some Macs still use Intel processors, while the majority of newer models use Apple’s M1, M1 Pro and M1 Max processors which offer better performance.
It’s important to make note of what kind of processor is inside the Mac you’re looking to buy. Intel Macs can span years of use or be fairly new. We recommend looking for the model number or asking for a screenshot of the “About This Mac” screen to show you the model number and the year the Mac was released.
For example, someone selling a used Intel iMac could have the latest model available or an iMac that’s over 10 years old. The easiest way to identify which year it was released, and by extension how long it’s going to last for you, is to ask for the model number (which you can then Google to find its release date).
Other notable items to look for in addition to the processor are the amount of storage and memory the Mac has. When buying a MacBook of any type or an iMac, you’ll also want to make note of the display size. It’s also worth noting that older, previously used devices may not have the same battery life as they did out of the box.
As we mentioned in the previous section, the best thing you can do when shopping — especially for a used Mac — is ask a lot of questions and photos.
With the gist of what you need to look for covered, let’s dive into where you can go shopping.
Apple’s refurbished store
Apple has an online refurbished store that fills up with like-new gear throughout the year, sells out, and then eventually more devices trickle in. The point is, you never really know what’s going to be available at a specific time, so if you’re not in a hurry to make a new purchase, periodically check the store. Right now Apple has a long list of Macs in the store, including an M1-powered MacBook Air for $849 ($150 off) and the latest 13-inch M1 MacBook pro for $1,099 ($200 off). Just don’t expect to see newer M1 Macs such as the 14-inch MacBook Pro and Mac Studio here just yet.
The best part of Apple’s Certified Refurbished store is that each Mac is fully tested, repaired and cleaned. You also get Apple’s full one-year warranty with any purchase from its refurbished store, adding peace of mind to your purchase.
Another option is Decluttr. You can buy or sell various tech items on the site, including Macs. All of the Macs listed on Decluttr are refurbished and come with a 12-month limited warranty to help with peace of mind and protect your investment should anything go wrong.
Each product listing includes the year of the particular model you’re looking at, giving you an easy gauge to see how old the computer is. For instance, this 2020 M1 MacBook Air is listed at $784.99. It’s been completely refurbished and comes with a 12-month warranty and a 14-day worry-free return policy.
One thing to look out for on Decluttr is the refurbished ratings. That same M1 MacBook Air is classified as Refurbished Pristine, meaning it’s nearly as good as new. Other devices will be classified as Refurbished Very Good (some light signs of use) or Refurbished Good which has “moderate signs of wear and tear.”
Amazon sells Renewed products, which includes older Macs. According to Amazon, Renewed products have all been tested and proven to work and look new. There can be occasional scratches on the products, but nothing that takes away from the core functionality of the device.
As for a warranty, Amazon offers a 90-day satisfaction guarantee for any Renewed purchases. During that time, you can return the product for a full refund or exchange.
Most of the Macs on Amazon’s site are older, with some more current models sprinkled in. For instance, there’s a renewed 2015 13-inch MacBook Air with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory and 128GB of storage for $264. Or there’s a 2020 Intel Core i3 MacBook Air with 8GB of memory, 256GB of storage and a Retina display for $699.
Amazon, arguably, offers the most options for the widest range of budgets — you just have to be comfortable with possibly getting a device that’s fairly old.
Swappa started off as a place for people to sell or buy used phones. It’s expanded in recent years to include pretty much any gadget you can think of, including computers. There are several Mac products currently available to buy from fellow Swappa users.
When it comes to Swappa, remember you’re buying a used — not refurbished — product. Swappa policies require several pictures with the product listing number be posted for each listing, and Swappa staff are always close by if you run into any issues with a seller dodging questions or being rude.
It’s one of the few trade-in websites where we’ve spotted the new 2021 MacBook Pros, with the 14-inch MacBook Pro currently starting at $1,550 (normally $1,999) and the 16-inch model going for $1,929 (normally $2,499).
Lastly, don’t be afraid to make an offer in a listings comment. Most sellers are willing to negotiate and deal, especially if they’re motivated to get rid of a device to help fund the purchase of something new.
What about trade-ins?
You can always trade in your current Mac to help offset the cost of a new computer, if that’s a route you’d rather go. Apple accepts trade-ins directly on its site or in stores, giving you an instant discount on the purchase price of your computer. You’ll need to answer a few questions about the condition and which accessories you plan on turning in with it (such as a charger).
Though for those who are buying one elsewhere or — let’s be real — if you just want cash, we’d recommend trading in through a site like Decluttr. Essentially you’ll describe your Mac and its condition, they’ll offer an estimated value and you’ll ship the device to them for inspection. Decluttr even provides a shipping label, and once they inspect, you can accept the final offer value or decline it.