Buying a new notebook computer to use for e-mail and school was too expensive a proposition for student Vinod Abrams. But it turns out that plunking down $1,200 to get the latest and fastest laptop was not necessary.
He bought a used computer.
"Basically, you don't need all that processing power unless you are a rocket scientist or something like that," said Abrams, who last month bought an IBM Thinkpad he found on eBay for $369. He figures he saved hundreds of dollars by going for a used notebook.
"For basic Internet and reading, a Pentium II or III is fine," Abrams said. His recently acquired IBM is a 400MHz Pentium II, with 128 MB of RAM and an 8x DVD drive.
Abrams isn't alone in snapping up high-end laptops available on auction sites like eBay, industry experts say.
Jim Eisenhauer, sales manager for Andertech, a seller of used computers based in Portland, Ore., said 60 percent of his sales are laptops.
"The trend is, the market for used computers is getting larger and larger as the years go on, because the need for a really fancy machine is declining," Eisenhauer said. "You can do just about whatever you want with a 3-year-old laptop."
Also, corporations are flooding the market with used, high-end laptops. They usually lease computers for three years.
Three years ago, high-flying tech companies flush with cash had big staffs, and they outfitted those employees with notebooks. Then the bubble burst.
Their computers are still coming back on the market in large numbers, said Wade Haldane, CEO of used computer seller eComputers.com.
"Three years ago was just before the dot-com bubble popped, so the off-lease machines are still coming in at pretty big numbers," Haldane said. "So, there are plenty of them coming in, because 2000 was a rocking year."
"Next year it's going to start to slow up a lot," he said. "The pricing curve is definitely going to shift a little more than people are used to because of that time delay from the crash in 2001."
The majority of off-lease, used notebooks being sold on sites such as Amazon, eBay and Yahoo are Dells, IBMs and Compaqs, said Haldane, with Dell leading the way.
The most common machine is a 500 MHz Dell Latitude CPX Pentium III, which was the main machine coming off the manufacturing line in 2000, he said.
A notebook like that, with a DVD or CD-RW drive and 256 MB of RAM sells for about $550 today, about a third of the price three years ago, he said. A recent search for notebooks on eBay returned 16,441 results.
That doesn't surprise Michael Rudolph, general manager for computers and networking at eBay. "At any one time we have over 300,000 listings in the computers and networking category," he said.
"You can see in the industry there is a significant migration from desktop computing to mobile computing, laptops being one of the primary products," Rudolph said. "And we are seeing that reflected on eBay."
Industry experts warn that buying a used computer can pose more challenges than buying a new machine from a major manufacturer.
First, it's unlikely that technical support will be provided for a used computer, although eBay has begun to sell service contracts for some.
Also, used computers often do not come with software, not even an operating system, such as Windows.
So, consumers will not only need to own the software - such as Windows or Microsoft Office - but will have to know how to install it.
Industry experts say consumers should carefully read the descriptions of computers on which they bid. For example, a machine might come without an AC adapter plug. Often batteries are not guaranteed, and CD-ROMs or other drives often are not included.
Computers fitting every configuration and price are out there, Haldane said.
"The best deals are for notebooks that are just 3 years old," he said. "The ones that are 2 years old, you're not going to get quite the deal."