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Buying a Second-Hand MacBook? Check These 12 Things

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Last updated: September 14, 2023

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Looking to score a great deal on a second-hand MacBook without getting burned? Buying used can be a smart way to save money and protect the environment, but it also comes with its fair share of risks—from sketchy batteries to hidden software bugs.

To help you avoid scams and get the best bang for your buck, I’ve created this guide about what you need to check before buying a second-hand MacBook. So let’s dive in and turn you into a second-hand MacBook buying pro.

Before We Begin

Before rushing to buy a new Mac, consider rejuvenating your current one! If you’re tempted to replace your existing device solely due to poor performance, give MacKeeper a shot. It’s designed to optimize and maintain your Mac, potentially saving you the cost and hassle of purchasing a brand-new machine.

Is Buying a Second-hand MacBook Worth It?

The question of whether buying a second-hand MacBook is “worth it” largely depends on your needs, budget, and the specific deal you’re considering. Here are some pros and cons to help you weigh your options:

Pros Of Buying A Second-hand MacBook

  • 💰 Cost Savings: One of the most significant advantages of buying a second-hand MacBook is the price. You can often get a relatively high-end machine at a fraction of the original cost.
  • 🌟 Quality: Apple’s products are generally known for their durability and longevity, making them good candidates for second-hand purchase.
  • 🔧 Upgradability: Older MacBooks often have more user-upgradable parts like RAM and storage, offering more potential to improve performance down the line.
  • 🌱 Environmental Benefits: Buying second-hand is a form of recycling, reducing electronic waste and contributing to a more sustainable consumption model.

Cons Of Buying A Second-hand MacBook

  • ⚠️ Limited Warranty: Unlike new MacBooks, used devices usually come with limited or no warranty, making repairs potentially costly.
  • 🔋 Battery Life: Batteries degrade over time. A used MacBook might not hold a charge as long as a new one.
  • ❓ Hidden Issues: There could be underlying hardware or software problems that are not immediately obvious during the buying process.
  • 💾 Outdated Technology: Depending on how old the MacBook is, it may not support the latest software updates or run modern apps smoothly.

Before You Buy a Second-hand MacBook

So you’re considering diving into the world of second-hand MacBooks—a place where savvy shoppers find premium tech for less. But before you make that investment, why not give your trusty, old Mac a last chance?

I suggest downloading a Mac maintenance tool, like MacKeeper, and use it to clean junk files, free up storage, and scan your system for malware. These optimization tasks can breathe new life into your old Mac and add some more years to its lifespan.

1. Use Memory Cleaner to Free Up RAM

If your MacBook seems sluggish, using MacKeeper’s Memory Cleaner can free up RAM, which in turn improves the speed and responsiveness of your device. This action clears out memory caches and terminates idle processes to make room for tasks that need immediate attention.

Here’s how to free up RAM on your Mac using MacKeeper:

  1. Download and install MacKeeper on your Mac.
  2. Open MacKeeper and click Memory Cleaner under the Performance tab.
select memory cleaner under performance
  1. Click Open.
click open in the memory cleaner
  1. Click Clean Memory.
click clean memory
  1. It will clean your Mac and free up available memory. You can see how much memory it freed under Last Cleanup.
memory cleaned after a cycle

2. Uninstall Unnecessary Apps With Smart Uninstaller

Over time, your MacBook may accumulate apps you no longer use. MacKeeper’s Smart Uninstaller can identify and remove these apps along with their associated files, helping you reclaim precious disk space and potentially improve system performance.

Here’s how to uninstall apps on your Mac using Smart Uninstaller:

  1. Download and install MacKeeper on your Mac.
  2. After installation, launch MacKeeper and click the Smart Uninstaller in the left-hand menu.
click smart uninstaller in the left sidebar
  1. Click Start Scan.
click start scan in smart uninstaller
  1. Select the applications you want to delete from the list and click Remove Selected.
select the applications you want to remove and click remove selected
  1. Tap the Remove button on the pop-up to confirm the deletion.
click remove on the pop up window in smart uninstaller
click remove on the pop up window in smart uninstaller
  1. MacKeeper will uninstall the apps and remove associated files and folders. You will get a Removal Completed notification. If you want to scan your Mac again, click Rescan.
click rescan in smart uninstaller

3. Run a Virus Scan With Antivirus

Even Macs can get viruses. Running a comprehensive virus scan can root out any malware that might be lurking on your device, ensuring your MacBook stays healthy and secure.

Here’s how to run a virus scan on your Mac:

  1. Download and install MacKeeper.
  2. Launch MacKeeper and navigate to the Antivirus tab in the left sidebar.
click antivirus under the security section
  1. Initiate an instant virus scan by clicking the Start Scan button.
click start scan in mackeeper antivirus
  1. If any viruses are detected during the scan, click the Fix Items button to resolve the issues.
  2. If your system is threat-free, you’ll see a No threats found message. You can tap the Restart button to run the scan again.
no threats found in mackeeper antivirus
  1. Enable real-time antivirus protection to safeguard your Mac from future threats by clicking the Enable button.
click enable to allow real time protection

Once you have configured your security settings, MacKeeper will continue to operate in the background, diligently scanning for threats and actively blocking any malicious activity.

4. Use Safe Cleanup to Remove Cache Files

Cache files are temporary files stored on your computer to speed up certain tasks. However, over time, these files can build up and slow down your system. Using MacKeeper’s Safe Cleanup can help you efficiently clear out these unnecessary cache files.

Here’s how to clear cache files on your Mac using MacKeeper:

  1. Download and install MacKeeper on your Mac.
  2. Once done, open MacKeeper and select Safe Cleanup in the left sidebar.
click safe cleanup under the cleaning section
  1. Click Start Scan.
click start scan in safe cleanup
  1. Select files from the scan results to remove unnecessary cache items from your system. You can also click the Check All checkbox.
select junk files to remove or click check all
  1. Click Clean Junk Files.
tap clean junk files
  1. You will receive confirmation that the cleaning process has been completed successfully. Click Rescan to scan your Mac again.
click rescan in safe cleanup

5. Remove Unnecessary Login Items

Programs that automatically start up when you log in can significantly slow down your MacBook. Using MacKeeper’s Login Items feature, you can remove unnecessary login items from your Mac and improve its startup time.

Here’s how to remove login items on your Mac using MacKeeper:

  1. Download MacKeeper and install it on your Mac.
  2. Open Login Items under Performance in MacKeeper.
tap login items under performance
  1. Click Start Scan.
tap start scan
  1. Select unnecessary items from the list and click Remove Selected Items.
select the files you want to delete and tap remove selected items
  1. Tap the Remove button on the pop-up.
tap remove on the pop up
  1. It will remove your selected items from the system startup list. You can click Rescan to repeat the process.
tap rescan

What Else Can MacKeeper Do?

Besides freeing up RAM, uninstalling unwanted apps, scanning your Mac for malware, removing cache, and clearing login items on your Mac, MacKeeper can perform various other Mac optimization tasks, like deleting duplicate files, removing annoying ads, and updating your apps on Mac. Check out my detailed MacKeeper review to learn more about its amazing features.

What to Check Before Buying a Second-Hand MacBook

From scrutinizing the device’s physical condition to running key software tests, there are several critical factors that you can’t overlook. In the following section, I’ll dive into the essential checklist you’ll need to arm yourself with before buying a second-hand MacBook.

1. Check Its Technical Specifications

While a MacBook’s exterior might look sleek and pristine, it’s what’s under the hood that truly counts. From processor speed to RAM and storage capabilities, understanding the technical specs is crucial for assessing whether the machine will meet your needs.

Here’s what you need to check in terms of the Mac’s technical specs:

a. Model Year

The model year of a MacBook is more than just a number; it provides valuable information about the device’s capabilities and limitations. Older models may offer fewer features and may not support the latest macOS updates, limiting your access to new software and security patches.

Furthermore, tech support for outdated models may be restricted or entirely unavailable. Make sure to check the model year aligns with your specific needs, whether you require it for professional tasks, multimedia usage, or casual web browsing.

b. Processor, RAM, Storage

The ‘heart and soul’ of any computer lie in its technical specs—specifically, its processor, RAM, and storage. These three factors largely dictate how well the MacBook will perform based on your intended use.

  • 🎛️ Processor: A more powerful processor will make resource-intensive tasks like video editing or 3D modeling smoother.
  • 🧠 RAM: Sufficient RAM is essential for multitasking. 8GB is the general minimum for most users, but if you’re into heavy video editing or gaming, you might want to aim for 16GB or more.
  • 💾 Storage: SSD storage is faster and more reliable than HDD. Make sure the MacBook has enough storage to accommodate your files, applications, and any other data you’ll need.

c. Check the Mac’s Age

While the model year gives you an idea of the MacBook’s capabilities, knowing the actual age of the device can help you understand its current condition.

Determining the exact purchase date of a second-hand MacBook can be tricky, but you can easily identify the model’s launch year, which gives you a good indication of its age. The older the MacBook, the more room you may have for negotiating a lower price.

There are a few methods to discover the model’s launch year:

  • In the About this Mac dialog box, the first line usually shows the MacBook Identifier, which often includes the model’s launch year. For example, it might read MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Early 2015) or MacBook Air M1, 2020.
macbook model year in about this mac
  • If the year isn’t displayed in the About this Mac section, you can copy the serial number and use it on Apple’s Check Coverage page to find out the launch year of the model.

2. Examine Its Cosmetic Condition

While internal specifications are crucial, the external condition of the MacBook can also tell you a lot about its history and how well it’s been cared for. Here’s what to scrutinize:

a. Screen

The screen is one of the most critical components of your MacBook experience. Inspect it carefully for any dead pixels, discolored patches, or visible cracks. Any defects in the display can not only be annoying but also expensive to repair.

To identify any faulty pixels on the screen, use a dead pixel checker tool that floods your display with solid colors. Another option is to display images with single-color backgrounds (such as red, green, blue, white, or black) on the MacBook. Damaged pixels will manifest as small, distinct spots against these uniform backgrounds.

b. Keyboard and Trackpad

Open up the Text Edit app on the Mac and test every single key on the keyboard to ensure they are all responsive and feel smooth when pressed.

keyboard testing in text edit

Similarly, examine the trackpad to make sure it responds well to touch, gestures, and clicks. Problems here can drastically affect your daily computing tasks and may necessitate expensive replacements.

c. Body

A cursory look at the MacBook’s exterior can reveal much about its wear and tear. Check for any major dents, scratches, or other signs of significant damage. While cosmetic issues may not affect performance, they can indicate how well the previous owner took care of the device.

d. Ports

It’s easy to overlook the condition of the ports, but they’re essential for connecting peripherals and charging your device. Test all available ports by plugging in various devices such as a USB stick, charger, or an external display.

If you encounter any issues like loose connections or failure to recognize the device, it could be a red flag. By thoroughly examining the MacBook’s cosmetic condition, you can better gauge its overall quality and possibly avoid hidden pitfalls that could lead to costly repairs later on.

3. Make Sure Everything Is Functional

Beyond the MacBook’s cosmetic condition and technical specs, it’s vital to ensure that all its functionalities are in working order. Here’s a rundown of critical elements to check:

a. Battery Health

One of the first things you’ll want to assess is the MacBook’s battery health, as a deteriorating battery can significantly impact your laptop’s usability. Follow these steps to check the second-hand Mac’s battery health:

  1. Navigate to Apple menu > About This Mac.
click apple icon and select about this mac
  1. Click More Info.
click more info
  1. Scroll down and click the System Report button.
click system report in general
  1. Click Hardware in the left sidebar and select Power.
click hardware and select power
  1. Look for Cycle Count under the Battery Information section.
mac battery cycle count

A lower cycle count generally indicates a healthier battery.

b. Charging Adapter

Don’t overlook the importance of a functional charging adapter, as replacements can be costly. Plug the charger into the MacBook and a power outlet to confirm it’s working properly.

Look for any fraying or damage to the adapter’s cable as well, as these could be signs of wear and tear that may lead to future issues.

c. Sound

To ensure the MacBook’s audio capabilities are up to par, test both the speakers and the microphone. You can do this by playing various types of audio files for the speakers and recording your voice using an app like Voice Memos for the microphone. Pay attention to audio clarity, volume levels, and any static or distortion.

d. Webcam

Webcams are increasingly important for video conferencing and online communication. Open an application that uses the camera, such as FaceTime or Zoom, to confirm that it captures video clearly and without any glitches or lags.

e. Wi-Fi & Bluetooth

Connectivity is key for any laptop. Make sure to test both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth functionalities. Connect the MacBook to a Wi-Fi network and try browsing to confirm the Wi-Fi works. Pair a Bluetooth device, like headphones or a speaker, to test the Bluetooth capabilities.

f. Run Disk Utility to Check the Hard Drive

A MacBook’s hard drive is like its backbone—holding all your files, software, and essential data. Therefore, it’s crucial to ensure its health and integrity. To do this, use the built-in Disk Utility application.

Here’s how to check the hard drive repair disk permissions on a Mac:

  1. Launch Disk Utility by going to Finder > Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility. Alternatively, you can search for it in Spotlight (Command ⌘ + Space) by typing Disk Utility.
type disk utility in spotlight search
  1. Select the hard drive from the list on the left side of the Disk Utility window.
select the disk with permission issues
  1. Click the First Aid button in the top toolbar.
click the first aid button in the top toolbar
  1. Click the Run button to initiate the permission verification and repair process.
click run on the dialog box
  1. Tap Continue to confirm your decision.
tap continue to confirm your decision

Disk Utility will check for any issues or errors, and if found, will offer solutions to repair them. Any red flags could signify a failing hard drive, which could lead to data loss and would likely necessitate a replacement—both of which can be costly and time-consuming.

4. Check the Software

Software compatibility and security are often as important as hardware when it comes to buying a second-hand MacBook. Here are some aspects you should be considering:

a. OS Version

First and foremost, verify which version of macOS is installed on the MacBook. It’s crucial to make sure the operating system is compatible with the applications and software you plan to use. Some older versions of macOS might not support newer apps or receive security updates.

To find out the macOS version of the used MacBook, go to the Apple menu > About This Mac.

click apple icon and select about this mac

It will open the following window where you can see the macOS version:

macos version in about this mac info

b. Apps

Having some pre-installed software can be a bonus, but it’s also essential to ensure there’s no malicious software lurking on the device. Perform a thorough scan using a reputable antivirus software to rule out the presence of malware or any unwanted programs.

If the MacBook comes with software licenses, make sure they are transferrable so you can get the most out of your purchase.

c. Updates & Compatibility

Also, consider checking if the macOS can be updated to a newer version, should you need it in the future. If you’re using specialized software for work or hobbies, make sure to check that these applications are compatible with the macOS version.

5. Ask for Proof of Purchase

When buying a second-hand MacBook, obtaining proof of purchase and verifying the device’s legitimacy are crucial steps to ensure you’re making a sound investment. Here’s how to go about it:

a. Check for Stolen Property

Before finalizing your purchase, ask the seller for the device’s serial number. Use this information to verify the MacBook hasn’t been reported stolen. You can do this by consulting various databases or even contacting Apple’s customer service for confirmation.

2. Match the Serial Number from Different Sources

Upon meeting the seller, one of your first tasks should be to confirm the serial number. Serial numbers can typically be found in several places:

  • 💻 On the MacBook: Navigate to Apple menu > About This Mac to see the serial number on the device itself.
  • 🔍 On the Bottom Lid: The MacBook’s bottom lid often has a printed serial number.
  • 📦 On the Box: If the original packaging is available, the serial number is generally printed there.
  • 🧾 On the Original Purchase Invoice: The seller should ideally provide this, and it should match the other sources.

Make sure to cross-reference the serial number from all these different sources to rule out any discrepancies. If there’s a mismatch, inquire with the seller to clarify the reason.

c. Invoice or Receipt

If possible, obtain the original invoice or purchase receipt from the seller. This document is especially useful if you ever need to prove ownership, and it can provide valuable information about the MacBook’s warranty status.

6. Do A Test Run

Conducting a test run is the ultimate way to confirm the second-hand MacBook you’re interested in is in good working condition. Whether you’re buying in person or online, here are some best practices to follow:

a. In-Person Meeting

If you have the opportunity to meet the seller face-to-face, try to arrange the meeting in a safe, public location.

Bring along a checklist of items you want to examine to verify the MacBook’s functionality. This list might include, but is not limited to, aspects like boot time, software responsiveness, all port functionalities, audio and video capabilities, and battery health.

Don’t forget to match the serial numbers as previously discussed.

b. Remote Buying

Online purchasing comes with its own set of challenges and risks. To mitigate these, ask the seller for extensive video or photographic evidence demonstrating the MacBook’s condition and functionalities.

  • Request a video showing the MacBook booting up and running various programs.
  • Ask for close-up photos or videos of the screen, keyboard, ports, and other components.
  • If possible, arrange for a live video call where you can direct the seller to perform specific tests in real-time.

In both cases, if any red flags arise—be it something small like a single non-functioning key or something major like issues with the hard drive—it’s best to either negotiate the price accordingly or reconsider the purchase altogether.

7. Ask for Warranty and Returns

Even after performing meticulous checks and tests, there’s always a possibility of encountering unexpected issues later on. To protect yourself, it’s crucial to inquire about the device’s warranty status and the seller’s return policy. Here’s what to look for:

a. Warranty

Determine whether the second-hand MacBook is still under Apple’s standard warranty or if it comes with AppleCare, Apple’s extended warranty service. The warranty can provide a safety net in case of hardware failures or other issues. To check the device’s warranty status, you can:

  • Ask the seller for proof of purchase that contains the date of original purchase, then cross-reference this with Apple’s warranty policies.
  • Use the serial number to look up the MacBook’s warranty status directly on Apple’s website.

b. Return Policy

Understand the seller’s return policy thoroughly. Whether you’re buying from a third-party platform, a certified reseller, or directly from an individual, knowing the return policy is crucial. Ask specific questions like:

  • What is the time frame for returns?
  • Are there any conditions under which returns are not accepted?
  • Will you get a full refund, or are there restocking fees?
  • Who pays for the return shipping in case you decide to send it back?

Having a clear understanding of the return policy ensures you have a way out in case the MacBook doesn’t meet your expectations or if any undisclosed issues come to light post-purchase.

8. Compare Prices

Before pulling the trigger on a second-hand MacBook, it’s essential to ensure you’re getting a fair and reasonable deal. With so many variables like model, year, and condition affecting the price, here’s how to make an informed decision:

  • Similar Listings: Browse through multiple platforms to compare prices for MacBooks with similar specs and condition. This will give you a ballpark figure and help you understand the market rate.
  • Price Guides: Numerous websites and online forums offer price guides for used MacBooks. These guides usually break down the cost based on factors such as the model year, hardware specifications, and cosmetic condition.
  • Haggle Smartly: If you find that the asking price is above the average market rate, don’t hesitate to negotiate. Use your research and any discrepancies you found during your checks as leverage.

9. Check the Seller’s Credibility

Knowing who you’re buying from can add another layer of confidence to your purchase. Here’s how to assess a seller’s credibility:

  • Reviews and Ratings: If you’re buying from a platform that features seller reviews, carefully read through the comments and pay attention to the ratings. Look for sellers who have consistently high ratings and positive feedback.
  • Transaction History: Sellers who have successfully completed numerous transactions are generally more reliable than those with few or none.
  • Communication: How responsive and transparent is the seller in your interactions? A credible seller should be willing to answer all your questions and provide requested information promptly.
  • Documentation: A trustworthy seller will have no issues providing proof of purchase, warranty papers, or any other document that you request to verify the MacBook’s authenticity.

10. Make Sure the Mac Is Completely Wiped

Before you consider your second-hand MacBook purchase complete, it’s vital to ensure that the device has been entirely wiped clean of the previous owner’s data and settings. Here’s a step-by-step guide on what to look for and how to go about it:

a. Check If the Firmware Password Is Disabled

If the previous owner set up a firmware password, you’d be restricted from making specific changes, like booting from an external drive. Make sure the seller disables this password before completing the transaction.

Here’s the procedure to remove the firmware password:

  1. Shut down your Mac.
  2. Power it back on and immediately press and hold the Command ⌘ + R keys.
macbook air command r keys
  1. Let go of the keys when a lock icon along with a password field appears on the screen.
  2. Request the current owner to input the firmware password.
  3. Once in, click Utilities and choose Firmware Password Utility or Startup Security Utility, depending on what appears.
  4. Click Turn Off Firmware Password.
  5. Input the firmware password once prompted.
  6. Exit the utility and reboot the Mac.

If the current owner has forgotten the firmware password, a trip to the Apple Store may be necessary before the purchase.

b. Make Sure iCloud Account Is Removed

The iCloud Lock can be a significant hindrance in making the MacBook truly yours. Before purchasing:

  1. Confirm that the previous owner has signed out of their iCloud account on the device.
  2. Verify this by going to Apple menu > System Settings > Apple ID. The iCloud account should be empty or allow you to sign in with your own Apple ID.
  3. If the iCloud account is still active, request the seller to remove it. They can do this by signing out and selecting Remove from Account on the device.

11. Run an Apple Diagnostics Test

Before finalizing your second-hand MacBook purchase, it’s advisable to run an Apple Diagnostics Test. This built-in tool scans your MacBook for hardware issues and provides valuable insights into the condition of the machine you’re about to buy. Here’s how to run an Apple Diagnostics test on Mac:

On Apple Silicon Mac

  1. Disconnect all peripheral devices except the keyboard, mouse, Ethernet, display, and power cable.
  2. Power off your Mac.
  3. Power on your Mac and continue holding the power button until the startup options screen with the Options icon appears.
startup options screen
  1. Press the Command ⌘ + D keys.
Press the Command D keys

On Intel-Based Mac

  1. Disconnect all external devices except the keyboard, mouse, Ethernet, display, and power cable.
  2. Shut down your Mac from the Apple menu.
click the apple icon and select shut down
  1. Press the power button and immediately press and hold the D key on your keyboard until a list of languages appears.
Press the power button and D
  1. Select a language, and Apple Diagnostics will start automatically.
select a language touse apple diagnostics
  1. You’ll see a report listing any issues detected when the test completes. If you see an error message or reference code, note it and contact Apple Support or an authorized Apple service provider for further assistance.
report listing any issues detected

12. Look Out for Model-Specific Known Design Flaws

Every MacBook model is unique, and some come with their own set of quirks or design flaws that have been documented over time. Whether it’s issues related to the keyboard, display, or even battery life, it’s essential to know what you’re getting into. Here’s how to go about it:

For instance, the 2016-2017 MacBook Pro models gained some notoriety for keyboard problems, largely attributed to the butterfly keyboard design.

It’s important to note that not every MacBook Pro from these years will experience this issue; only a small fraction do. Nonetheless, as a prospective buyer, it’s crucial for you to be aware of any such known issues with the model you’re considering.

Buy a Second-hand MacBook Without Getting Scammed

Purchasing a second-hand MacBook can be an excellent way to get your hands on a high-quality device without breaking the bank. However, the key to a successful and satisfying transaction lies in due diligence.

Now that you know what to do before buying a pre-owned MacBook, here are a few more tips for you:

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Is it safe to buy a used MacBook?

    Yes, it is generally safe to buy a used MacBook, provided you take the necessary precautions, such as verifying the device’s condition, checking for any potential software or hardware issues, and confirming the credibility of the seller.

  2. How can I check if a used MacBook is stolen?

    You can ask for the device’s serial number before purchasing and use it to check databases or directly contact Apple to verify that the MacBook hasn’t been reported as stolen.

  3. Is the warranty transferable when buying a second-hand MacBook?

    Yes, Apple’s standard one-year warranty is tied to the device, not the owner. However, it’s crucial to check the warranty status using the serial number and get it confirmed in writing from the seller if possible.

Hashir Ibrahim


I'm Hashir, a tech journalist with a decade of experience. My work has been featured in some of the top tech publications like MakeUseOf and MakeTechEasier. I have a bachelor's degree in IT, a master's in cybersecurity, and extensive knowledge of Apple hardware, specifically MacBooks. As the senior writer at MacBook Journal, I write in depth guides that help you solve any issues you have with your mac and unbiased reviews that help you make the right buying decisions.



Hi there! I'm Ojash, a tech journalist with over a decade of experience in the industry. I've had the privilege of contributing to some of the world's largest tech publications, making my mark as a respected Mac expert. My passion lies in exploring, using, and writing about MacBooks, and I enjoy sharing my expertise to help others make informed decisions and get the most out of their MacBook experience. Join me as we delve into the fascinating world of MacBooks together!

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