12 Things to Check Before Buying Second-hand MacBook
Are you a Windows-to-Mac switcher with a limited budget? Then buying a refurbished Mac with warranty and tech support included sounds like the best option. Alternatively, you can save extra money by purchasing a used Mac. We’ll walk you through all necessary steps you should take to ensure the Mac you are purchasing won’t crash the very next day.
Note: It’s a great idea to perform some basic diagnostics when you meet your seller. So, remember to take an external USB drive with macOS preinstalled, and headphones.
Step 1: Check for damages
Start diagnostics by carefully examining the body of the used Mac for any physical damages. Pay attention to visible scratches—if you find any, you could use it to bargain. Next, check all the screws. Any loose screws can be a sign that the Mac has been serviced by a non-authorized repair service. Finally, make sure the screen and case aren’t bent.
Step 2: Check how old is that Mac
Does the current Mac owner claim the Mac is in like-new condition? That may be true, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually new. You can check the actual age of the Mac with its serial number. Turn the Mac over and you’ll find the serial number next to the regulatory markings. Use these resources to identify Mac model and its age:
- For MacBooks: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201608
- For MacBook Pro: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201300
- For MacBook Air: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201862
Step 3: Boot this Mac
Time to give this Mac a whirl. Make sure the machine you want to buy starts and macOS loads all the way to the desktop picture. If macOS is not installed on this machine, use the bootable drive you brought with you (the one with macOS on board). Hold down the Option/Alt key once you hear the startup chime and select the external startup drive.
Step 4: Disable firmware password
Mac users set up various passwords for their devices, but one of them can be a real headache for new the Mac owner. Bad news if the seller set up a firmware password on their device — you won’t be able to start your Mac from the USB drive. When booting a Mac and hearing a startup chime, hold down the Option/Alt key. If you’re prompted to type in the firmware password, ask the Mac owner to turn it off.
Step 5: Check the display condition
To spot “dead” pixels on the display, use pictures with a mono-color background (red, green, blue, white). Simply open these images on the used Mac. If any pixels are damaged, you’ll notice small spots on the display.
Step 6: Run a keyboard test
Use the macOS built-in Text Edit app to make sure the keyboard is not malfunctioning. Open it and type every keyboard character. Works fine? Now try the Caps Lock button and functional keys. Works perfectly? Great!
Alternatively, you may use Keyboard Viewer. Start up the Mac, clicking the language menu at the top menu bar, and select Show Keyboard Viewer. Now every key you hit is displayed in the new keyboard-like window.
Step 7: Check the optical drive
If the Mac you’re about to buy has the optical drive, insert a DVD or CD disk to check if it reads information.
Step 8: Check all ports
It’s easy to do. Just connect your external drive to the USB port. Do the same with the headphones. Works? Amazing!
Step 9: Run webcam diagnostics
Launch the Facetime app to test the iSight camera. Can you see your face in the app window? That means your webcam works perfectly!
Step 10: Check the S.M.A.R.T. status
This step is for advanced Mac users. S.M.A.R.T. stands for Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology, and scans your hard drive for errors.
Navigate to Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility and check the S.M.A.R.T. status at the bottom of the screen. Verified means the disk will serve you well. A MacBook with Failing status can be a big headache, so never buy a Mac that has this status. On the screenshot below the disk is in good condition with the Verified status.
Step 11: Check the battery
MacBooks are known for their outstanding battery performance, so you want to make sure the Mac you buy won’t drain after just an hour or so of use. Click the Apple Logo, hold down the Option/Alt key, and select System Information from the drop-down menu. Next, open the Power section in the left sidebar menu.
Pay attention to the Health Information section. Cycle count and Condition will help you diagnose the Mac’s battery health. Here you can find more information regarding battery cycle counts for each laptop: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201585
Step 12: Apple Hardware Test
The final step we recommend is an Apple Hardware Test. It detects issues with the logic board, memory, and other hardware components. Before you run it, disconnect all external devices and turn off the Mac. Then, turn it back on and hold the D key once you hear the startup chime. Select the language you need and press the arrow button to run the test. You can find more info about this troubleshooting step here: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201257.
That’s it. Enjoy your ‘new’ Mac. We hope your second-hand laptop will serve you well.
Know someone who’s buying a used Mac? Feel free to share this post and help save them from some serious headaches.
By the way, even with a second-hand Mac, you'll be able to enjoy the new macOS Catalina. Just make sure your computer meets Catalina's hardware requirements.