Blog Post

Money tight? Refurbished computers to the rescue

This November, my school was able to purchase 20 name-brand desktop computers for approximately $2,000. This included new keyboards, mice, and a valid Windows 7 operating system license key. How did we do it?

When the current academic year began, I was given my first co-teaching assignment in my school’s robotics program. An array of old laptops and all-in-one desktops had been in service for many years in the robotics lab. The combination of advanced age and normal wear and tear had left the lab seriously short of systems. Most of the laptops were still running Windows XP and upgrades to a new operating system would not have been a sound option.

Our district is dealing with serious budgetary constraints so any expenditures for equipment would have to be limited. The standard Macintosh computers that are in our school library and classrooms easily cost over $1,000 each. A grant paid for brand-new Windows desktops in the programming classroom, but these fine systems were $1,500 each.

We were given a limit of $2,000 to address our pressing hardware issues. Initially, I explored the option of building systems with my students. But even with careful attention to configurations, I could probably only build seven or eight computers. There was also the cost of obtaining the Windows operating system licenses. While Linux would serve most of our needs, the Parallax robot software platform that we we rely on is only available natively on Windows. Our robots also use a serial connection for downloading code, so we did not want to incur any additional expenses for having to purchase adapters for Macintosh systems.

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One of our “new” refurbished computers.

Refurbished Computers

Our solution was refurbished computers, which s can come from a variety of sources. Companies may lease systems en masse for a particular purpose and return them to the vendor once the lease is over. Sometimes a company may be upgrading hundreds of computers and the vendor will issue a credit for the old systems. Or, computers may be damaged in transit or returned to the store where they were purchased. Since they cannot be sold as new, they join a pool of hardware that is destined to be refurbished.

Systems that are being sold as refurbished need to go through a series of steps to make them ready for market. Functional tests verify that all the components are working properly. Existing hard drives are wiped of all data and operating systems are freshly installed. There may be minor cosmetic damage to the product,but the function will match that of a brand new computer. You can typically purchase an extended warranty, if desired.

Not Just Computers

Stores have anything from networking hardware to displays and printers. I recently was able to purchase a Hewlett-Packard LaserJet with wired Ethernet port, duplex printing and Postscript support for $40, and that included shipping.

Where to Buy Refurbished

Products Many online retailers such as TigerDirect and NewEgg offer refurbished hardware.

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You can also select products from a particular vendor's website. Dell, Apple, and others will also typically cover their equipment with a warranty that can rival brand new equipment.

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Our purchasing process was very easy. We requested quotes from several sources using a minimal set of specifications: Our systems needed to have at least a 500 MB hard drive, Core i5 processor, Windows license, and a serial port. Since we already had plenty of working monitors, we just needed a small tower or desktop-style computer. There were plenty of models and varying price points to choose from.

How does your school acquire new equipment?

What money saving tips can you share?


Neil Plotnick ( and Twitter @NeilPlotnick) works at Everett High School, an urban district located just north of Boston. In 2015, he was a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence for Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST). He has taught Exploring Computer Science and AP Computer Science Principles.