How To Make The Most Of The Second Hand Market (Part 2)

1/22/2013 9:11:40 AM


If someone mentions buying or selling goods second hand, it’s a safe bet that your brain will go straight to thinking about eBay. It’s not hard to see why: the website has been around longer than most and has crushed the competition over the years with its wide range of content and reliable system of sales.

However, the site’s strength is also a weakness. eBay’s enduring popularity means that bargains are hard to find and even harder to hold onto. Hardware sales on eBay, even at auction, tend to match the cheapest retail price very closely, while ‘Buy It Now’ sellers are usually more expensive. Any desirable second hand bargains you spot are likely to end close to the limit of whatever’s being sold at retail.

eBay website

eBay website

It’s possible to pick up good deals on cheaper components that don’t retain much value specifically, we’re thinking of optical drives, mice/keyboards and speakers but that’s only because there’s very little competition and not much money to be saved. Try to find a bargain monitor on eBay and you’ll quickly discover that they don’t exist.

However, what that does mean is that eBay is a great place to sell components. It helps that the market can decide the price; it’s possible to search for completed listings, so if you have hardware to sell, you can quickly find out what the market value is before you get anywhere near clicking the ‘sell’ button.

eBay’s biggest advantage over most second-hand outlets is its feedback system, which allows you to check the credibility of buyers and sellers before engaging with them. Although the payment system is heavily tilted in favour of using PayPal as the payment method, which may be inconvenient if you don’t have a PayPal account, there’s a lot of protection on both sides and you can be fairly sure that if you take the correct precautions (communicating through eBay’s messaging system, checking returns policy in advance, getting postage receipts, etc.) that you won’t be ripped off.


Arguably the home of the best bargains of all, Freecycle (aka The Freecycle Network) is an organisation that co-ordinates groups of local people over an email list/forum allowing them to request and offer items of any kind. It’s like a classifieds website, only the listings are all entirely free.

Freecycle website

Freecycle website

The idea is to unite people’s unwanted goods with those who actually want them, saving potential junk from a rather more useless fate in a landfill site somewhere. The nature of the organisation means it’s quite good for computing components; when old systems and peripherals are replaced, they’re often listed as an alternative to being thrown out in case anyone wants to refurbish or strip them for parts. All you have to do, as the interested party, is collect the goods. No money changes hands and that means the potential for fraud is virtually nil.

The system allows you to request goods as well as offer them, so if you’re after a specific piece of hardware, there’s a chance someone has it lying around unused and will be happy to gift it to you. Obviously, you’re unlikely to get anything with significant value when using Freecycle (no amount of requesting an Ultrabook or GeForce GTX 660 is likely to result in you receiving one), but if you’re interested in getting your hands on a free system and don’t mind a little work fixing it up, an old laptop or desktop isn’t out of the question. After all, selling them is often more trouble than it’s worth.

A quick scan of the local Freecycle group shows a variety of computing related offers across the spectrum of prices: a free copy of Office 2003, ten empty printer cartridges for recycling, a VGA cable, a Dell Inspiron 1300 Laptop (without its hard drive), multiple working wireless routers, a 17” monitor, a box of assorted computer parts (including keyboards and mice) and a NAS case (again, sans hard drive) - all within the last 24 hours.

Obviously, the quality of the selection varies wildly (and most users are clearly shrewd enough to remove hard drives before giving them away, so don’t think there’s an opportunity for any identity-theft fraud either…), but if you check the site for a few days, there’s a good chance you’ll find hardware you want or need on offer. There are no guarantees of quality, but then the price is so good, it’s worth taking a risk on.

What Should You Buy?

Just because buying second-hand hardware can be a good idea, it doesn’t mean it always is. Certain components, such as RAM, processors and hard drives are excessively vulnerable to wear but may show no sign of it until their inevitable catastrophic failure, which could leave your data junked and your PC unusable.

Putting hardware on Freecycle helps keep it out of landfill sites

Putting hardware on Freecycle helps keep it out of landfill sites

There’s no guarantee, for example, that the second-hand CPU you buy hasn’t been running overclocked for years and is mere weeks away from dying completely. You can’t be certain whether any second hand hard drive you buy has endured thousands of hours of constant use, or whether it was woken up once a week so that the owner could check their email. In either case, a hardware failure would be disastrous, but unlike second-hand cars, there’s no odometer you can simply read before (or indeed, after) you buy them to check how much strain has been placed on these parts.

While this is true for other components, it’s only with the most vulnerable, system critical hardware that you should allow caution to get the better of doubt. Components that don’t often fail (or that won’t cause huge problems if they do) can be approached more casually on the secondary market.

Motherboards, for instance, are rarely put under any significant strain and have low failure rates under normal use. The vast majority are replaced before they get anywhere near the end of their lifespan. Ditto for optical drives, speakers and monitors. Cases are virtually indestructible. Accessories like cables are always a bargain second-hand, often available completely unused because they were included free with another purchase despite being unnecessary.

There’s always some risk when buying second-hand, but as long as you stay away from the most vulnerable components, you should be able to minimize the potential for disaster and save money in the process.

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