The Art Of Buying And Selling Pre-Owned PCs

Selling or Buying Pre-owned PCs
Gary Mercado
PC World Phils. 11/22/02

Your PC is acting up. The latest game has come out and your PC can’t handle it. Your department has requested that you submit a requisition report to replace your ageing machines, or maybe your business is growing or retrenching and you need to buy or let go of a few computers. Or perhaps it’s just you’re just tired of looking at the same old computer day in and day out.

If it’s not one thing it’s another, but whatever it is, you’ve decided it’s time to change your PC. But wait, if you’re buying, do you have enough cash? You’ve noticed so many classifieds and PC warehouses selling second hand PCs, but how does one go about buying one? Are there any good deals there? How about if you’re selling, how much is your machine going to fetch? And how do you let people know about your machine?

Over the years, I’ve amassed a few tips on buying and selling Personal Computers and other gadgets. While by no means an expert, I’ve determined that as long as I maintain level-headed and stick to a few tried and true techniques, the results can come out pretty well. Here are some I’d like to share.

General Rules
First off, here are some general rules, applicable to both buyers and sellers:

PCs Are NOT Investments

Certain items make the privilege of owning them become wise investments. They usually share the following characteristics: They are unique – there aren’t many like them. Their value usually appreciates over time and they are difficult to find and/or make. Art is a good example, so are certain automobiles, real estate and jewelry.

But Personal Computers are the exact opposite. In fact they are on the far other end of the scale. They are ubiquitous, and even if there are several manufacturers out there that might color their products black or design heating vents in a different way, they are all basically the same.
But the biggest reason they aren’t investments is the most popular one: all PCs become obsolete very quickly. “Moore’s Law”, an observation made in 1965 by Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, states that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits (ICs) would double every year. This basically meant that PC processors would double in performance and capability every 12 months. Granted, this does not necessarily mean that today’s PC would be completely useless. Years ago when there was a drastic improvement in performance from a 386 to a 486, that case would have been true. However, these days even a Pentium II, circa late 1990s would still perform acceptably for normal secretarial work.
Knowing this, and realizing that there is no such thing as a “collectible” PC, you would therefore do well not to price your item the same way as you would a piece of art, nor expect to pay the same for such. You should emphasize usefulness, practicality and availability above all. Looks, aesthetics, previous history and others factors of that sort are of zero value in this market. Also, you should expect the types of transactions to mimic those of a supermarket or even a wetmarket rather than a posh mall or a showroom.
The business of pre-owned PCs is marked by fast moving transactions, and people buying, selling and trading quickly and efficiently, in effect trying to make the most out of their still working but quickly devaluating equipment while it’s still of some value.

Emotions

There’s a place and a time for everything, and unfortunately as far as emotions are concerned when selling or buying items this isn’t one of them. So you feel terrible that your reliable PC that’s seen you through College and your first job is fetching such a low price? Depressed that the notebook you worked so hard to save up for all these years is selling so cheaply? Well, unfortunately, that’s the way it is. Take heart in the fact that your next purchase is going to be even better, and that someone will be making good use of it after you. The sooner you let go of any emotional attachment when selling items the more level-headed you will be come negotiation time and consequently, the higher the chances you will come out a winner.

Negotiations

Frankly, if you’ve done your homework it shouldn’t have to come to negotiations. In fact, I particularly prefer to avoid adding or subtracting any more than I’ve already decided on when selling or buying. However, occasionally you will have to, and the important thing to remember here is to take your time and make sure your offers are sound and beneficial to both parties. If you don’t feel you won’t come out with a good deal nor do you think you the other party will be happy with anything you can offer, then just back off.

But what if the other party insists? Sometimes this happens when dealing with acquaintances or people who think they’re good at “haggling”, which in my opinion is more often that not just a lot of noise. If a firm “Sorry, but no.”, said with a smile and brimming with politeness is incomprehensible to them, do what I do and counter with an offer that’s too biased towards yourself. If they agree, then by golly, you have yourself a sale!

More often than not, however, that would make them at least think and rethink the deal. If so then you can say “Think about it!”, and make your exit. If they know what they’re doing however, they’d just see this for what it is, another way of saying “no”, and just quit altogether. What you’re doing really, is performing the ancient age-old art of “saving face” for them by giving them the benefit of being in control and allowing them to decide to discontinue – saving face is an important component when dealing with Filipinos, and most Asians.

Be Upfront

Always give clear and concise details and For Goodness Sakes Don’t Lie! There is no such things as half-truths or white lies when selling items. First of all, it’d be obviously silly to say your PC is a Pentium 4 when it’s only a Pentium 3, or that it’s overclocked. In actuality, a Pentium 3 these days would still fetch a good price, so there might not even be a need to lie and there are so many people who understand PCs nowadays it’s an easy matter for them to remove the casing or turn on the computer and check for themselves.

But I’m not just talking about obvious things like that. Even little details are important. Take for example a former officemate of mine: this guy, while selling his item (a digital camera), talked on and on about how he bought it in Hongkong on a trip with his wife and while his wife wasn’t looking, he went to Sogo and managed to score himself the camera on a gigantic 30% sale. However, when the next buyer came along, the same story was told except certain details were changed: Instead of Hongkong it became Singapore, it was still Sogo, but the sale wasn’t 30% it became 50%. Later on the buyer’s companion confided in me she’s at Hongkong regularly because she was a stewardess at Cathay Pacific and she knew of no such sale and if there was she would have known about it.

In the end those silly non-related and extremely unimportant stories made the buyers doubt the sincerity of the seller, delaying the sale for weeks forcing the guy to lower his price. It doesn’t really matter frankly what was the real truth, what’s notable here is that his stories didn’t match and hence his honesty needlessly became under question.

I knew he was just trying to make small-talk, trying in effect to make an emotional connection with the buyer so they would smile, think he’s a good guy, and buy it. But in this case it just backfired badly.

No Cash? No Prob.

For the PC-savvy, the world is your oyster. Are you unhappy with your video card? Or is your 14″ monitor bogging your Counterstrike game down? You recognize the need to upgrade but your tight budget won’t let you buy a whole new PC? Well then, get the complete details of the item you’re selling, decide what’s out there that you need, and get your barter hat on. Bartering is to switch, swap, trade and exchange, with or without cash involved. It’s also a good way to get what you want while getting rid of something that’s of no value to you anymore in one fell swoop.

There are pros and cons though. Pros include the fact that you can do it in such a way that there wouldn’t be cash involved. Hopefully if you’ve got stuff of value so if you want someone’s video card but you’ve only got an old monitor to trade, maybe you can throw in that old Network card or your first keyboard you’re not using anymore to sweeten the deal. Cons though is that you would need to be pretty savvy with your know-how and learn the market well so you know which part is better than which and who is getting the better end of the deal and up to what degree.

I would recommend you do bartering only occasionally when you really feel the need to trade for something or you happen onto a great offer. But bartering regularly for one component or two can get very busy, confusing and tiring, and not to mention wreak havoc on your computer’s driver database and operating system (OS). OSes generally don’t like it when you change video cards or other peripherals more often than once and it might require the hassle of a full reinstall – so it’s just as important to know that whatever you’re getting is worth the hassle as much as you’re getting a good bargain for your trade.

The Offer You Can’t Refuse (aka Dealing with Family)

There’s a saying I made up: “Stuff (cash and gadgets, tangible things) is what you deal with strangers.” I think this is important thing to remember when dealing with friends, family and people close to you – an eventuality in life that you might as well prepare for. Sooner or later your little brother, aunt or cousin is going to ask for a “discount” – more often than not at a price bordering on the insane. Maybe your mom is the younger sister of your aunt, or your brother is pressuring your Dad to force you to sell it to him at his version of a “good” price, or you just don’t feel good about charging a relative or close friend at all – you’re going to have to settle for less cash than you thought.

If you really really need the money, then you’re going to have to, again, be upfront and state clearly that You Need The Money, So Please Do Not Ask This Favor Of Me. But most likely, we in Asian countries will essentially bring about the “utang na loob” factor, or a “debt of honor” – which if you have not realized already, is far more valuable than cash. If and when this happens – the dividends are far more valuable, and if viewed in this manner you will not feel bad about making a deal this way.

Get Online, Read, Ask, Take Your Time (But Once You’ve Decided, Be Quick About It)

The more time you take to buy or sell has a direct relation to the quality of your purchase. Get online, buy a magazine or two, and ask technicians and people whom you know are qualified to give good answers. No, you don’t have to take a 3 month course or study Computer Science or anything, just try and keep tabs on the market from time to time.

Websites: Here are a few good local websites that maintain pre-owned PC classifieds. You can check what’s available and even ask a question or two.
http://www.pinoypc.net/
http://www.sysads.org
http://www.ebili.com/
http://pc.exchange.ph
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/pcexchange
http://www.buyandsellph.com/
http://www.adpost.com/
http://bidshot.com/
http://www.buyandsellplus.com

Pre-owned PC stores: A word of warning, pre-owned PC stores are like supermarkets. People come in to look around, pick up what they want, take it to the counter and bring it home. You should have already done your homework before you even get there because the staff will be usually be too busy to deal with you.

But if you really have a lot of questions, here’s a tip: go early in the morning on a weekday, when there’s surely not going to be a lot of customers. Prepare your questions in advance so you can grill a technician or a knowledgable salesperson on the things you do not understand. Don’t worry about sounding ignorant – these guys are used to it and you shouldn’t feel embarrassed. In any case, if one does say anything that makes you feel stupid in any way take that as an indication of the quality of their service and take your business elsewhere (it usually is, PC stores that are shoddily kept and hire poorly trained staff is a dead giveaway to bad equipment and service).

HMR Mandaluyong
PCX Surplus, Shaw Boulevard Mandaluyong
SOS stores
(check your local listings)

Now let’s get into a few specifics:

PSST, wanna sell your PC?

Here Are Some Selling Rules : Let’s say you wanna sell your PC, notebook, hard-drive, monitor, whatever. How do you price it? How do you perform the transaction? How do you make an ad and where do you place it? Here’s a few tips that you can combine or take one at a time to use to your advantage:

a. Use Your Existing Unit to Pay For The Next One

If you’re selling to upgrade to the next model, base your selling price on your next purchase. Determine how much the next model costs, then sell your item at percentage to cover that cost. For example, if your dream machine costs P100,000.00 and yours is last two year’s model, sell yours anywhere between 50% to 75% of that amount, depending on how much you’re willing to add and how long you’re willing to hold on to it till you get the right price.

b. Market price

This is usually the first thing people want to check out when selling their unit. Unfortunately for one-off items like some notebooks or PDAs though, usually the guy whose pricing you’re basing it on is just as clueless as you and also trying to guess the market as well. However, if the volume of people selling the same thing at the same time is enough, then you’ve got yourself an “industry standard”, and this will definitely help you price your unit.

c. Profit margin?

So you want to make a little extra money off it, eh?? Get a grip. Like I mentioned earlier, PCs and techie things are NOT investments, hence there is little chance that you can sell your PC or gadget at a price higher than what you bought it. Sure there are special cases, like you brought home a PDA you bought while in the US or HongKong at a special sale and it’s not available here yet, someone might be interested. However, barring specific situations most general techie items are quickly devaluating as we speak, so get rid of any illusions of profit margins, and get rid of it quickly.

d. Sell Quickly

These two sentences are the most irritating to hear for buyers. “Well, I’m not really sure I wanna sell it, just seeing how much I can get for it.”, “I’m hoping my price is good enough, pero it’s negotiable.” When selling, you MUST be sure you really wanna sell it, and you MUST be positive about your price by mentioning your best price immediately. Avoid the temptation of thinking that someone might give you a higher price than you want it for. Buyers will not waste time waiting for you to make up your mind. Not to mention market forces and the price of your (devaluating) item won’t wait as well. If your item is of no use to you anymore or you need the money, make the decision to sell it quickly, take positive steps toward that goal and don’t look back.

e. Be Specific

When putting out an advertisement, you would be doing everyone a favor by cutting the long story short. There are ads that go, “My bf gave this to me, but we’re no longer together, so siempre benta ko na :*)”, or “Lady-owned, super kinis, buy this and become THE MAN!!”. Frankly, posts like these make the boring classifieds a little more colorful, but it’s very important that you need to get down to business quickly and get to the facts.

Here’s a shortlist of the essential things your PC ad should display:

Processor Type, Speed and Megahertz : Intel/AMD; Pentium/Celeron/Athlon/Duron, X (where X is II, III or IV), xxx Mhz.
Type of Motherboard (optional)
Video Card brand and memory
No. of Megabyes and type of RAM used:
Size, brand of monitor
Hard disk size (in Gigabytes):
Installed standard peripherals: Modem? Floppy Drive? Sound Card?
Installed special peripherals: Network card? CD Writer? SCSI card? DVD player/writer?
Operating System and other software
Any other special item like printers or scanners.
Any other information that you may want the buyer to know: If your PC was used as a server it would make a big impact on a buyer who happens to be a start-up business looking for one. Similarly if the former owner was a secretary of student most buyers can imagine what kind of use it was used for, and adjust their buying accordingly. Finally, if you upgraded it sometime recently and some warrantees still apply on either hardware or software, your item’s value can increase because of this.

Tip: On Windows 9x machines, you can find out your computer’s specific characteristics by right-clicking My Computer > Properties. While at the “General” tab read the details under “Computer”. For more specifics, click the “Device Manager” tab and just write down what you see there.

Don’t forget your personal info!:
Your real name: NOT your “cool” internet nickname, the name your mother gave you.
Your complete contact information: For security reasons, a telephone number and the time when you are available to be reached would be ideal. If you wish to post your cellphone number be aware that the buyer will be spending good money to call you, so be ready with the details and don’t waste his time – or you could ask to be texted a number where you can reach them. Also be aware that you might receive unwanted calls in the middle of the night. Same goes for addresses – if you want to post your address just be aware of the risks.
Your location: On internet postings this is usually the most often forgotten piece of information. Always state clearly where you are so that potential buyers will decide for themselves if they’re qualified. If you’re in Cebu your post will be useless to those in Manila. However if you’re willing to deliver, whether w/in Manila, the country or overseas, state so clearly with clear instructions on how to perform the transaction.

f. Sell Regularly aka “The Revolving PC Technique”

Now this tip is not for everyone, but for those who may want to have the best and the latest, read on:

My dad used to change car models every three years. I also have friends who upgrade to the latest PC models every few months. Sounds luxurious? Silly even? Actually it makes a lot of sense, but I admit it didn’t to me at first. Eventually it became clear to me that they were merely “revolving” their money, in effect getting the best of whatever’s the latest available now by selling what they have while it still fetches the best price. The only time they ever handed out a big amount was the very first time – when they bought the first model. But in the case of my PC owner friends, six months later they sell what they have to finance the better machine available then. So essentially, they were only handing out a few thousand pesos – needed for the upgrade – however the neat thing was they consistently always had the latest and best machine available.

To practice this effectively, you don’t necessarily need to change yours every six months. Depending on your cash availability and how often you want the new stuff, every year or a maximum of two years would be good to establish your “revolving” cycle. Buy the best now, then watch the market and when you think the timing is ripe, sell it, use the money plus whatever you can spare to buy a new one. Don’t worry about screwing up a few times at the start, it happens and you’ll get better with time.

In order to not have too much trouble when migrating PCs, a few things are needed:
a. Symantec’s Norton Ghost or Powerquest’s DriveImage (optional) – These are third party software tools that allows you to exactly copy the contents of your PC for easy burning to a CD which you can then transfer to your next new one. This way you won’t waste important hours reinstalling your old applications to your new machine. Just slap in the CD, follow the prompts and, give or take a few adjustments here and there, you’re in business.
b. CD Writer – CD Writers are getting easier to use and more reliable by the month. It wasn’t long ago when you needed an expensive SCSI card – equipped CD Writer to “burn” a few decent CDs, but nowadays even the cheap models will do quite well for everyday use. CD Writers are essential for backing up your files to make migration to a new PC as seamless as possible as well as making backup copies of applications you regularly use on your machine.
c. Backup software – MS Backup, is good enough for most everyday Windows users. If that’s not enough there are tons of free backup tools available on the internet for Windows and Unix users.
d. A regular backup Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) – All the latest backup software and hardware isn’t worth a thing if you don’t follow a solid, regular procedure to backup your files. It’s all about organizing your files in regular directories and subdirectories on your hard disk – and taking time to let your backup software / hardware do it’s thing. Not only will this help keep your PC migration painless, it will also help whenever a crash comes along.

g. Know where to sell

Check out those PC ad websites as well as the PC Exchange corner at the end of this magazine and the popular free and paid classifieds sections of newspapers, and industry magazines. These will usually contain areas where you can post your ad. Free ads are great, but if you really want to sell your item quickly don’t scrimp and go for the paid ad – these are usually designed to capture buyer’s attention quickly increasing your chances of selling. And believe me, even a little advantage like your ad being read more clearly than the others can pay dividends in a big way.

h. Investigate The Many Ways People Can Pay You

This is important – I’ve seen deals not pushing through merely because the buyer can’t find a way to pay the seller. As the seller, you must make it as easy as possible for the buyer’s money to get to you – not all buyers are carrying around a lot of cash especially for big-ticket items. Open an account at a popular bank with branches nationwide so that he can easily deposit the amount in your account. Check out how Money Transfer works and learn it’s finer details so you don’t end up paying any transaction fees. Check out how banks and some telecoms companies wire money from place to place. On the internet, check out your options that allow payment to the Philippines (there aren’t a lot). The important thing to make sure of is, once the buyer says yes, you’ve already planned out how to get paid so you can get the cash quick – quick enough to avoid the chance of him changing his mind.

PSST, wanna buy a PC?

Buying Tips: Here are a few observations re buying pre-owned PCs.

Observe the Market
If you’re buying more than one pre-owned PC, or doing so on a regular basis observing certain market factors is important to you. First off, the Peso – US dollar rate is an essential barometer to buying used, and even new, PCs. Many of these items are bought abroad, and even if they come from non-US countries the US dollar rate is the de facto standard to base trading on. If you have the luxury of time, schedule your purchases when the Peso is strong and you can save a few thousand or two.
Other market developments also have drastic effects on PC prices. For example, I am convinced that the local Internet and Gaming Cafe revolution of the past two or so years has drastically helped lower the cost of PCs for us all. All components were affected, especially prices of 17″ and larger monitors – monitor prices traditionally change the least often. Most of these Cafes had to have BIG monitors – the bigger the better, consequently lowering monitor prices all around.
The effect on the rest of the market was equally positive. Network cards and hubs, essential for multi-user gaming and internet access are now available at less than P500.00 per card and a 16-port 10/100 hub costs P7,000.00. Prices of other component parts prices such as motherboards, cables and casings lowered across the board.
The advent of the PC Superstore, a monster of a shopping place that keeps inventory of almost any PC related item imaginable, also improved prices throughout. By virtue of just being big, places like these can demand lower prices from distributors and manufacturers resulting in higher margins across their inventory for them – and cheaper prices for us.
An example of a negative effect however, is when one hears of a company that manufactures an essential PC component closing down such as Hitachi’s Hard Disk plant closing in the Philippines, or years ago, a memory manufacturing company developing labor problems in Asia. The September 11 event in New York last year caused untold costs to rise in the freight and delivery business – directly affecting computer deliveries and manufacturers.
While these affairs seem distant and unrelated to you, their overall effect causes PC prices, which have very slim margins to begin with, to rise and fall as a consequence.
Buy from Pre-owned PC Companies or Individuals?
Pre-owned PC companies business plans are simple. Buy them in bulk, mix and match parts as necessary to come up with working models, clean them up, wrap them in miles of shrinkwrap plastic (there seems to be an obsession with shrinkwrap in these warehouse places), and sell, sell, sell. The advantage is, they can usually offer a 30 day guarantee. And they can also accept credit cards which in turn helps you defer your payments.
Here’s your pros and cons when buying with pre-owned companies:
Pro: 30 day guarantee.
Pro: Accepts credit cards.
Con: Pre-owned company’s high overhead makes them a little bit more expensive.
Con: Their preference for branded PCs has it’s pluses and minuses (Check below). However if you’re pressed for time, don’t want to pay in cash and need to buy more than one unit, these are the places for you.
So what about buying from individuals?
Con: There is more emphasis on your skills of judging a good PC from a bad one. Depending on that, you might need to know how you can find them if ever you need to later on, and how well they can replace a broken item if they have to. I’d advice though, that if you cannot judge a good PC by yourself bring along someone you trust and avoid having to ever have to get back at the seller again. Chasing sellers to follow up on promises is a hassle no one needs. This is the price of having no warrantee.
Con: All your transactions must be in cash. Try paying with a check or credit card, or try requesting for an invoice or a purchase order and you will either be laughed or snarled at.
Con: Individuals will not usually have more than one or two PCs in stock, so if you need more at one time look elsewhere.
Pro: You can of course, haggle and negotiate to your heart’s content. If you think you can wear down a seller to see your way via sheer unceasing bargaining, you are welcome to try.
Pro: If the PC being sold has a component you don’t need, you may be able to convince the seller to remove it, or if he has other stock, to replace it with another model you like better. This is impossible with most pre-owned PC stores as they bundle everything together and will not allow removing or replacing individual parts.
Pro: Finally most individuals sell “clones”, or non-branded items, which is preferable to many because you can always change specific parts if you need to upgrade them or if they break later on.
Monitoring Monitors
Why take special mention of monitors amongst all PC parts? Of all parts I would recommend to buy brand new instead of pre-owned, monitors are it. This is possibly one of the reasons why monitor prices throughout the years are the least changing of all. It took a major event like the local Internet / Gaming Cafe Revolution of recent times for monitor prices to actually improve, no doubt affected by increased demand and the entrance of lesser name brands.
Buying a pre-owned monitor requires special instructions as I equate it somewhat to buying second-hand tires for your car. There is a health risk involved. Buying a bad set of pre-owned tires can explode on you while on the road. Less dramatic but equally alarming, a bad monitor can ruin your eyesight and cost you dearly for the rest of your life. Any of the other PC parts, if not performing well, do not have such as grave an impact as that.
A few tips:
Check the back for the year it was manufactured. If you cannot see the sticker or little metal plate that states it’s Serial Number and year it was made, avoid it. It has been tampered.
While testing, try making the screen as totally white as you can. You can activate MS Paint or another application to do so. Look for green “blobs” or any tinge of any color that’s not supposed to be there. Avoid units with even a hint of another color.
Check for lines across the screen. Check if all the knobs and buttons are in place. Check if they all work. Check if the cables are attached properly and aren’t loose. Check if the monitor stand is still there and turning properly. Check if there’s anything rattling or loose inside it. Check Check Check. Then finally, turn on a screensaver or a game demo and stare at it for at least five to ten minutes, and only when you’re completely convinced everything is in order do you even think of buying it.

Check out d’ hood.

So you like the specs, time to snoop around inside. So what do you look for? Check again for anything loose, that’s not supposed to be there, that makes weird out of the ordinary noises or even smells strange. Keep your eyes and ears open and keep these in mind:

Clean Clean Clean: The newer it looks the better. PCs due to it’s static electricity and the fact that they’re usually placed in nooks and crannies around desks are natural dust-magnets, hence PCs that are used in offices with open windows and lots of people coming and out will usually accumulate tons of dust. If you find cobwebs, cockroach eggs or traces of anything organic, move away.

Smell Smell Smell: Smell something burnt? Then something probably is. It’s possible that something is slowly burning, like an under-cooled processor, a piece of glue touching hot metal or a cable that’s too close to something warm like the power supply or brushes against the processor fan.

Check for something new or old: Circuit boards can look old after a while, they can become yellowish and some of the solders can get weak from too much heat. If most of the insides look new but a certain component looks old, take note of it and ask the seller why that is. It can usually be something innocent. A part could have been replaced for a superior model or a piece was removed from an old PC to a new one to appreciate the value or so on. But the reply should satisfy you and is a good indicator as to how well the seller knows what he’s selling.

PCs don’t have odometers

So how do you know what model year you are buying or how long it’s been used? Here are a few ways, mix and match them to get a few answers:

The receipt. If the seller still has it.

Hard disk size: The hard disk size can be a dead giveaway as to the year it was released, because when a PC is new the largest and latest hard disk is usually installed. Be aware hard disks are easily replaced though so this is only a third option when finding out the year.

Check the BIOS: When the computer starts it is “booting” and will quickly flash on the screen it’s model and year the BIOS was installed. This can be changed by knowledgable ones however, so if you have doubts, try the next tip.

The best method is to check the motherboard and processor: Find out the motherboard and processor speed and respective manufacturers, get on the internet to research it’s manufacturer’s site or asking someone you trust when that model was released.

Buying Components? Here’s A Guide:

Certain components in PCs do not require improvement anymore. Dial up modems for example have reached the peak of their abilities long ago. There is no more technological improvement left for modems when they reached 56kbps around the late 1990’s. No amount of hardware tweaking, or driver upgrades will ever improve what you probably already have. If ever you aren’t achieving 56k then the fault is probably to be found in your telephone line or the Internet Service Provider (ISP) you are using.

(Tip: Try using different prepaid cards to see which ones allow you to reach 56kbps or as near to it as possible. Try to get one that’s using the same telephone company as you are (ie. If you’re using PLDT, choose one that uses PLDT dial-up lines.)

The same goes for keyboards, mice, floppy drives, cables, power supplies, sound cards, fans and a few other parts. Sure there may be a few models with a few improvements here and there that can fetch a better price, like keyboards and mice can be wireless, cables can be colored and such, but for the most part these have become standard items that have reached the peak of their development and have no more room for improvement – hence becoming as standard as soap dishes.

Another good example is the scanner. Even this seemingly high-tech device has become a standard item. Generic scanners from no-name brands nowadays have the ability to provide such high levels of DPI (dots per inch) so far beyond what you would ever need for ordinary everyday use. This along with the entry of cheaper models has lowered demand and consequently cost. That’s why their prices have so dramatically decreased from the early entrants back in the mid-90’s selling at around P75,000.00 to the far more reachable P2,800.00 that I shelled out for mine around a year ago.

QUICK GUIDE TO WHAT YOU SHOULD OR SHOULD NOT PAY A PREMIUM FOR:

These items are pretty much the same, so expect to pay cheap for them, unless they have special features noted:
Keyboards – Unless wireless.
Mice – Unless wireless, or optical, or has special scrolling functions.
Floppy Drives – Maxxed out speed and capacity far long ago. Almost obsolete.
CD Rom drives – 40x is already quite acceptable. For normal use you will not notice the difference with the newer ones.
Cables – Unless colored, or shaped in a better way. Otherwise, a cable is a cable.
Sound Cards – unless with special abilities like 4 or 6 channel sound or recording capabilities.
Modem – Maxxed out speed back in the late 1990s.
Scanners – Very cheap, unless it’s very fast, or has back to back capabilities or has high resolutions, which you may not necessarily need anyway.
Network Cards – Unless wireless. 10/100 models are very cheap and have maxxed out their abilities in the early 2000’s.

These items are still improving and can fetch prices closer to their original price when new:
Memory – determine if SDRAM, DDRAM, RDRAM, etc. The more Mb. the higher the price.
Processors – Pay more for newer versions.
Motherboards – Feature set depends greatly on your particular needs, but for the most pay more for newer versions.
Hard Disks – The more capacity the more expensive.
Monitors – Pay more for flatter screens, larger sizes, better quality, higher resolution, and name brands.
Computer Casing – Pay more for better ventilation, increased number of bays and better layout of controls.
Video Cards – Pay more for higher amount of memory, higher amount of resolution, and name brands.
Printers – Pay more for color, higher resolution, faster printing speed, better paper handling and paper type capability, and any number of different printer features suited for different users.
Sofware – Pay more for newer versions.
CD Writers – Pay more for faster speeds, and newer models.
UPS, AVRs, Line Conditioners, Power Supplies – Pay more for higher capacities, longer running times and newer versions.
Hubs / Switches / Routers – Pay more if wireless or name brands.
Removable Storage – Pay more for higher capacities, connectivity options and newer versions.
Speakers – Pay more for better sound.
Fans – Pay more if water-cooled, quieter, chromed or made of special materials and has monitoring capabilities. Otherwise very cheap.

What Are You Going To Use It For?

Nine out of ten times, if you approach a person who knows computers and asks what type of computer is best for you, that person will most probably ask you the eternal question: “What are you going to use it for?”. This might not necessarily be an easy question to answer, usually because you’ve only been exposed to a single way of using PCs or have none at all, hence you are not aware of any other purpose for it.

My early experiences selling computers taught me this: If people could quickly say what exactly is the reason why they’re buying a PC to begin with, I could think of a machine for them ASAP. Even if the reasons sound silly and non-business like, such as you want to show off to your neighbor, or you want to organize your house or business. In this case therefore, whether you’re buying a new PC or a pre-owned one, you must have a clear idea of what you’re going to do with it and what purpose it will serve.

It’s important to remember this so salespeople will decide early on that you know what you’re looking for and size you up a good machine early on. Otherwise if you allow salespeople to start their sales pitches they will always try to sell you their top of the line model (they get better commisions that way) and you might end up buying one that’s beyond what you need.

Imported And Branded Is Better?

A certain pre-owned store in Mandaluyong is pushing their “US Branded” machines. Should this get you excited? Well, no. First of all branded machines are slightly more difficult to maintain and upgrade, because they are not using standard components that non-branded (typically called “clone”) PCs are using. When upgrading time comes, you will have problems looking for compatible memory, or replacing the motherboard, because these items are made specifically for that brand. However, modems, network cards, hard disks, monitors, floppy drives, keyboards, printers and other peripherals will usually work with it without a problem.

Knowing this, your choices are clear: Branded PCs, are just as good as “clone” PCs, BUT they are difficult to upgrade. However if the price is within your budget, it works fine upon testing, and it is good for your needs, they can provide you with many years of reliable computing.

Just remember to make sure that it will be sufficient to do what you want for as long as possible because when it eventually becomes not enough for you, you will have a problem improving it and might have to buy a whole new one instead.

To Conclude

Disclaimer: Not all of the above is applicable at the same time. Some may apply at a certain situation better than others. Or you may find you may apply one rule in combination with another. The important thing is to keep an open mind and a clear head while being firm with what you know.

But most of all, my last tips are most important: Information is key. The best deals are made very quickly, within minutes of the buyer asking “How much?”. This is because both buyer and seller are already well-versed as to what they want to achieve from the deal, as well as knowing what it takes for the other party to agree. The deal itself doesn’t take very long, mainly because what was really important, the learning and researching, was done far beforehand.

The longer you take and the more meticulous you are in preparing to buy or sell your PC, the more it will pay dividends for you at the end.