Certified Refurbished Macs One Way to Help Weather the Economic Storm


Apple (s aapl) is taking a lot of stick (even more than usual) about hanging tough with premium pricing despite the global financial meltdown, and it almost never offers discounts or sales. So how can budget-constrained Macheads economize on system upgrades? One solution is to buy a less-expensive model than the one you would have perhaps preferred. Another is get an Apple Certified Refurbished machine instead of going new.

If you’re not familiar with Apple Certified Refurbished (ACR) products, here are the broad strokes: ACR units are pre-owned (or in some instances, such as store demos, never-sold) Apple products that undergo Apple’s stringent refurbishment process prior to being offered for sale. Most of these units have been returned under Apple’s Return and Refund Policies, but according to Apple, only some of them are returned due to technical issues. In any event, all ACR units undergo Apple’s quality refurbishment process.

  • Full functionality testing (including burn-in testing).
  • Refurbishing with replacement parts and components for any defective modules identified in testing.
  • Thoroughly cleaned and inspected.
  • Complete repackaging by Apple, including appropriate manuals, cables, etc. (albeit in a brown cardboard carton rather than one with full color lithographs on the box)
  • Operating software that originally shipped with the unit and any custom software offered with that system.
  • A new refurbished part number and serial number.
  • A final QA inspection.
  • Quality testing follows the same basic technical guidelines as Apple’s Finished Goods testing procedures.

A really cool thing is that Apple Certified Refurbished Products are covered by the same One-Year Limited Warranty as Apple’s new systems. Apple ACR product purchasers are also eligible for the option of purchasing the AppleCare Protection Plan that extends the basic warranty coverage on your Apple Certified Refurbished Product to up to three years.

My own experiences with purchasing Apple Certified Refurbished products, including a 17″ PowerBook, and iPods for my daughter and wife, have all been very positive. While it’s a small sampling, all three of these units arrived flawless both functionally and cosmetically, a track record that convinced me to go with the ACR unibody MacBook 2.0 I ordered last week (which I’m awaiting arrival of at this writing).

My current workhorse, the ACR 1.33 GHz 17-inch PowerBook, was issued its new refurbished serial number on July 17, 2005, and appeared to have been a hardly used if at all, with no cosmetic damage or evidence of wear on the keys, trackpad, or palm-rests. It came packaged in a brown Apple carton, with all the the cables, peripherals, manuals, and software CDs packaged as new.

Buying any computer — new or refurbished — is always a bit of a dice-roll, but it seems plausible to me that a lightly-used refurbished machine could actually be a statistically better prospect for avoiding new-machine problems, since it has presumably been double-checked out and given a clean bill of health by Apple technicians. That said, a friend of mine did get a DOA Apple Certified Refurbished iBook a couple of years back. He received a prompt refund, but opted to replace it with a new iBook rather than another ACR machine.

Your mileage may vary, but my deduction is that with an Apple Certified Refurbished unit increased risk of problems, if any, would be minimal and the savings realized can be substantial.

The ACR MacBook I just ordered will cost me CAN $1199, or CAN $200 (14%) off the list price for that model, a difference nicely covering the cost of a USB modem and a third-party upgrade to 4GB RAM with change left over. It was also only CAN $50 more than the new price of the recently upgraded white MacBook.

ACR model availability is constantly in flux, sometimes from hour to hour, on the Apple Store’s refurbished pages, but when in stock, unibody 15″ MacBook Pro 2.4GHz units are currently going for $1,699.00 ($300.00 or 15% off list) at the U.S. store. On older models the saving off original list prices are commensurately greater. For example, a 17″ MacBook Pro 2.5GHz at $1,899.00 ($600.00 or 24% off original list).

Also, if your fancy is a fairly recent discontinued model (for example, a black MacBook), they crop up frequently on the ACR site. The trick is to keep checking. (Hint: I’ve unscientifically observed that mid to late in the week seems to turn up the best selection.)

What do you think? Better to play it safe and buy new or be a bit adventurous and save money with a Certified Refurbished unit?