Buying a computer: Part 2 – Second Hand Computers

Last week I gave some advice on buying a new computer. This week I want to give some advice on buying a second hand computer, and also on laptops, which are an object of great desire.

Billboard Bargains?

I regularly see second hand computers advertised on notice boards around town. Wazungus leaving Tanzania selling all their worldly possessions – nestled amongst the baby strollers, car parts and dinner tables will be a computer with monitor, printer, speakers and other goodies. Regularly, the asked for price will be over $1,000 – I wonder to myself who buys these things at that price when you can walk in to any computer store in Arusha and pick up a brand new computer for the same
or less. Perhaps I am naîve, and buyers bargain the price down to something more reasonable. Perhaps the computers remain unsold and are donated to the local school or given to friends.

Fact is these computers are usually a year or two old, and in the world of computers that is a lifetime. Pentium II and III machines are old hat, and should be priced accordingly. If you are tempted by machines such as these make sure to drive a hard bargain. At the Saba Saba fair in Dar es Salaam this year it was possible to pick up reconditioned Pentium II machines with monitors for less than 150,000/-. Bear this in mind when buying second hand.

If you find a bargain there are a few things you should do before you start using the machine. If you bought a car you would sweep out the previous owner’s crumbs and boot dust before cruising the streets of Arusha. The same goes for your new second hand computer. Empty the hard drive of all the previous owner’s files, if they have been unwise enough to leave them. Of course, you wouldn’t be tempted to read personal letters they had forgotten to delete would you? Better still, reinstall Windows and all software that came with the machine – this can be like putting a brand new engine in your car. It’ll start faster, and you’ll get more mileage. If you are selling your computer you can be sure that all your personal material is gone if you do a full reinstall of Windows.

As with a new computer, make sure all the installation disks are supplied. You may need them in the future when installing a printer or new programmes.

Turn the keyboard upside down and give it a good shake – you’ll be surprised at the quantity of detritus that falls out. A recent scientific study found the particles that accumulate in a computer keyboard make great chicken fodder.

Inside the computer may be full of dust. A quick once over the insides with a vacuum cleaner will lengthen the life of the machine. Be careful not to touch any of the parts with the vacuum nozzle.

Buying second hand is a little risky, but if you do it properly, it can allow you to have a computer you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.

Computing from your lap

At the other end of the price scale is the greatly desired laptop, AKA notebook. Laptops are convenient small computers combined with LCD monitors. They run off batteries or the mains and fit into a medium sized bag. Laptops are more expensive than desktop computers. Performance is generally slower, having been traded off to save weight and increase battery life. If you can afford one of these jewels then you must make the right choice. Personally speaking the most important thing is portability – you don’t want to be lugging a great brick around with you, especially if the battery empties after half an hour. Recent laptops weigh as little as 1.5 kg and batteries should last at least two hours. Processors are available which rival desktop monsters, and large hard-drives are fitted as standard.

A new laptop will cost at least $1,000. Second hand prices don’t tend to be much better – laptops are loved by their owners, and even departing wazungu are going to take good ones back home.

When shopping get an idea of its weight and feel what it is like carried in any accompanying bag. Make sure to get a feel for the build quality – carrying entails more risk to the body than sitting on a desk.

Remember that laptops are very desirable, and also extremely steal-able. This means it is very important to make backups of your valuable data. In other words, you want a CD burner built into any laptop you buy.

Also take note that when laptops break down it is much more expensive to get them repaired – generic spare parts or not readily available as for desktops. Your computer may have to leave the country to be fixed.

Insurance against break down and theft is advisable.

P.S. I was joking about feeding chickens on the keyboard gunk!

Interesting web sites

  • www.whatlaptop.co.uk – UK website with details on all laptops available in the UK
  • Buy.com – useful for finding out US prices for computers of different specifications – expect to pay up to 30% more for new computers in Tanzania. Expect to pay less for second hand.

Originally published in Arusha Times 281

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