Stop buying shitty laptops.

Excuse the expletive in the title, but this is something that I tell people often enough that I feel the need to commit some pixels on a blogpost about it.

First, Steve/Mac84 made an excellent video about buying used Macs and also swatting down some FUD from Macworld saying you shouldn’t bother. It’s an excellent watch, highly recommend.

This video made me want to talk about the PC side of things, however, because on the PC side, things are…better? But also worse. If you’re on the lower end of the spectrum and only have $200 to give for a PC, you CAN find them. They’re out there, occupying the brightly lit aisles of Walmart, Best Buy, and the like.

The problem is, generally, all of these PCs are hot garbage. 

They’re generally built with very tightly integrated components (in a bad way). Soldered RAM, possibly proprietary SSD, horrible build quality that’s borderline impossible to service sometimes? It’s all there. These machines suck arse and are built to last the warranty period and not a whole lot longer.

Heck, I know some out there theorize that this is why Windows 11 (oh you sweet blessing, we’ll come back to you) ramped the system requirements so much: Because Microsoft got tired of people buying these laptops and having a horribly substandard Windows experience and laying the blame on the operating system rather than the hardware on which Windows is installed.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and talk smack about these laptops without offering a solution. That wouldn’t be very cash money of me, would it? This is, however, going to require a bit of effort for some of you: You need to get over your fear of used things.

I know some people who swear on their lives they’d never, ever buy a used laptop, phone, or what have you. Sorry bub, but if you want to not have to deal with garbage hardware, beggars can’t be choosers. Let that notion that used hardware is somehow inferior to the $200 bit of plastic fantastic at Walmart. Just…do it. Let it go. And resist the urge to sing. You know who you are.

Are you done? Good.

The secret to getting good laptops at cut rate prices is used business-grade machines.

“But wait, xo,” I hear you say. “Aren’t business grade things more upper crust? And thus more expensive?”

That’s the thing! These machines are meant for businesses. They’re built for zero BS, built to last, and built to be easy to work on. And because businesses are incredibly wasteful, you can find these laptops for pennies on the dollar on eBay. Usually from some business liquidator in Texas.  

My go-to for years was the Dell Latitude E7240. Small, sleek laptop with decent battery life, really good portability, and stupid easy to work on with a user accessible battery. Two screws and there’s your RAM and SSD. Made in 2013-2014 or so (4th gen Intel CPUs). And because Intel forgot what innovation was after the 4th gen CPUs (but hey, Alder Lake’s actually good) and plateaued hard, these machines had a pep in their step for many years. Hell, I’d argue they’re still good even today even if they’re getting a bit outmoded by the modern web.

These days I’d recommend something a touch newer, like the Latitude E7470 (which is 6th/7th gen Intel, which again, due to Intel having hit a plateau for a number of years after 4th gen, are still quite viable). Solid laptop, still easy to work on (albeit the battery is now internal and you need to remove a number of captive screws to get the bottom panel out, but the socketed RAM is still there, as is the SSD!)

These machines are all meant for hard hours of office work, and that means typing things out and the like, so these machines have excellent keyboards, excellent pointing devices, and again are generally built to be thrown around and abused.

Let’s circle back around to Windows 11, however, because man oh man did Microsoft kind of do us a favor. When they massively ramped the system requirements, they pretty much ensured a good number of systems prior to 2018 won’t get Windows 11. While Windows 10 will still see support for quite some time, I’m sure this–at the same time–has caused some people to feel the need to upgrade their laptop. So they’ll dump an otherwise completely good machine on eBay to fund said upgrade. 

The best part? Those system requirements might as well be a suggestion because they’re easily bypassed. I use Windows 11 on my own Latitude E7470, and it runs great. I ran it on my Precision 7720 (I know, I know, Dell fanboy in the house. I really like their hardware, okay) when I had it and it blew the doors off Windows 10 in speed.

Neither machine (being 6th gen Intel) are supported. And yet…11 is fine. No explosions, fires, or what have you.

Of course, Microsoft could drop the hammer at some point in the future, detect these unofficial installs and put their collective feet down, but I don’t see them doing that anytime soon, at least.

(An aside: Because, again, business-class machines, a lot of these machines are also licensed for Windows 10 Pro, which is a nice thing to have. This also entitles you to a license for Windows 11 Pro, so you don’t have to worry about providing your own copy of Windows, too. And you get all the Pro goodies! If you need them, that is.)

Back to the hardware side of things: Now, obviously if you’re just the average layman you’re going to want a complete machine that just works from the moment you get it out of the box. If you’re a bit handy with tools, however, you stand to potentially save some money on shucked units.

Because again, businesses are incredibly wasteful, they’ll mandate that the SSD from some machines is removed and destroyed, and some of those business liquidators on eBay will just toss the machine on eBay with no SSD installed, usually at a bit of a discount. If you weigh the options and figure that getting your own SSD will still bring you in at lower than the going rate for such a machine, again, you stand to save a bit of cash.

Same goes for RAM, too. Sometimes these places rip the RAM out. Same principle applies.

If you don’t feel like dealing with all that, again, absolutely no shame in just getting a machine built up and ready to go from a reputable seller. (Check their feedback!)

Armed with this knowledge, yes, you may end up with a machine that’s a few years older than, say, the $200 special at the local Best Buy. However, with computers, newer is not always better, and an older but better built (and higher specced) machine will likely outlast anything you can find for the same price new. Sure, there’s some guesswork in trying to find a good one from someone reputable on eBay and the like, but I feel the reward at the end is very worth it.