Thursday, July 15, 2021

FEATURE: Buying Secondhand and Refurbished Computers for Music and Audio Applications


A Guide to Buying Secondhand Computer Hardware for Music Applications.

Please note: this is a general guide offered on an informal basis and based on my own experiences in the field. Please read the disclaimer at the bottom of the page. 

So in my last computer hardware post I looked at the sort of specs and hardware requirements you'll need to successfully run popular, modern music production software. Youcan check that out via the link below. 

In this post, I'll take a look at the secondhand computer hardware market for those looking at setting up their own computer music system on an extreme budget. We'll discover that the necessary computer hardware required for a pretty powerful music setup can start from as little as around £250. Add to this some of the amazing recording platforms and virtual instruments that can be downloaded completely free and you can have a system with endless creative possibilities for a few hundred pounds. 

You'll need a few other items such as an interface, maybe a mic if you're recording vocals and/or acoustic instruments, and some form of monitoring which could be as simple and inexpensive as a basic set of headphones. We'll take a look at some of these additional items and their availability on the secondhand market in a future post shortly.      

Why Buy Secondhand/Refurbished. 

Well I guess price may be the primary factor but there may be others. 

One useful tip I was given and always pass on when talking about computer music systems is the idea of dedicating a single computing device to your music. You may already own one or even several computers capable of running your required music applications but I've always found music systems work faster and more reliably if you don't have a hard drive filled with other stuff such as video, photos and documents plus all the editing software to go with them. 
If you're serious about your music then I really would recommend dedicating a single computer to it.  

So buying a computer to dedicate to your music endeavours may mean compromising a little on cost and so a secondhand or refurbished system may be the choice. 

You may, of course, rather like the idea of re-cycling and re-using computer hardware. The idea of giving a piece of tech a new life may appeal to you rather than using up more of the planet's resources on new hardware. I don't really consider myself any kind of eco-warrior, but I do like the idea of re-using previously owned tech. 

The secondhand market is also great for students, training and educational applications. You may be looking for hardware to run Pro Tools First as an educational career project so you can learn the basics of such 'industry standard' software. 

Certainly when we are talking about spending a few hundred pounds, you will have no choice but to go for secondhand. For music applications new budget devices like Chromebooks and Chromeboxes as well as budget Windows laptops are just not going to cut it. 

Basic Spec Requirements.

So going back to my previous computer hardware post, I concluded that we need something along the lines of a mid/late generation i5 processor (gen 4 upwards), minimum 8gb of RAM, and 240+gb of SSD mass storage. We need 64 bit Windows 10 and 3+ USB ports. USB 3.0 would be a bonus but 2.0 would work. 

Something that runs pretty quietly would also be a bonus. 

I'm going to assume that were not using it for busking so laptop battery life is not a factor. We're going to be somewhere there's a wall socket at all times. 

So on the basis of these requirements I went looking at both retail and private markets to see what I could find........

What You Can Get. 

The good news is there are now lots of tech sites and retailers supplying secondhand computers, so you really are spoilt for choice. More good news is that most of them offer limited warranties on their products so you also have some protection if your purchase 'falls over' within a certain period.  

Here are some sites you may wish to peruse:

So lets first take a look at some desktop options. 

Secondhand Desktop Computers for Music. 

Stonerefurb was particularly interesting as they offered upgrades to their machines. 

I found a Fujitsu Esprimo desktop computer with Core i5 4590 (3.3ghz), 4gb RAM, 500gb HHD, 4 USB ports and Windows 10 Home Standard for £81.25.  

However, their engineers would upgrade me to 8gb of RAM, a 240gb SSD, Windows 10 Pro, and an internal Wi-Fi card for logging on and total price came to £178.24. That seems like a lot of computer for the price and would massively outperform anything you could buy new for that. Let's face it, you're not going to get much in the way of a new computer at that price. 

A keyboard and mouse added another £20 and we would still need a monitor, but this system would outperform my current laptop hardware which has happily run any DAW I've tried. I could add a secondhand monitor and still have a handful of change from £300. 

A six month warranty is included so I at least get to find out f their engineers have successfully installed the upgrades and everything works OK. Don't know how noisy the fan would be. 

A very similar package was available featuring a HP Prodesk G1. Same upgrade path, almost identical price, slightly more and I got a 6th gen i5. 

Over at CEX I found a Dell Optiplex i5 6th gen, 8gb of RAM with a 128gb SSD, 2 x USB 3.0. 2 x USB 2.0. £180. Bonus here is that I get a 24 month warranty! 

Unlike Stonegroup, CEX don't offer any installed upgrades, but their site is pretty much teaming with suitable desktop computers that would take us a long way down the road in computer music from around £150, and they all seem to have 24 month warranties. 

Secondhand Laptop Computers for Music. 

Over at Laptops Direct, I found a cute little 12.6" HP Elitebook, i7 6th gen, with 8gb of RAM and a 256gb SSD. £324.97. Only a 30 day warranty here, but at least you get to check it's working when it arrives. 

Lenovo ThinkPads abound with i5 4th gen+/8gb/256gb SSD models starting in the early £300s. 

Stonegroup could offer me a HP ProBook 450 i5 4th gen 2.2ghz, 8gb, 256gb SSD with a large 15.6" screen for £329. 

So, I guess refurbished/secondhand laptop prices coming in at around a similar sort of prices to desktop packages with monitors. 

These are, of course, merely examples. Options abound in the secondhand laptop market including other models from Sony, Dell and Acer among others. 

General Tips On Buying Secondhand Computer Hardware.

The most important thing is that the computer is capable of doing what you need it to do and therefore has the required specifications. 

Ask questions. If your vendor is offering you an upgrade path, make sure with the engineers that the power supply will handle the upgrades. Probably not going to be a major issue for a bit more RAM or replacing mass storage drives, but if you'r adding graphics cards or additional drives it may be an issue. 

With laptops, ask about any missing keys and pixels!

Check that it has the operating system you require. A computer may look like a real bargain until you find out it has no Windows!

There are now many vendors specialising in secondhand/refurbished computers with at least short term or 'dead on arrival' style warranties such as those dealers we've mentioned, so it might be worth trying these first. If you can't find exactly what you require here, or you're really on a super tight budget then it might then be worth trying the private sales at Facebook Sales, Ebay, or Gumtree. 


So given our minimum requirements of i5 4th gen +, 8gb RAM and 256gb SSD mass storage it looks like were starting at around £200/£300 with monitor for a desktop solution and £300 - £350 for a laptop. 

All of the above mentioned PCs should happily run any major music production platform in a singer/songwriter setup including my favourite freeware packages such as Soundbridge or Akai Pro MPC Beats. Those looking for an educational project will find they can easily run Pro Tools First or Cubase on the above systems. 


The information contained within this blog post is offered on an informal basis and is correct to the best of my knowledge. I accept no responsibility for outcomes arising from the mis/interpretation or use of this information and/or associated download files. Always download files via security/scanning software. 

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