I’d normally buy computers brand new, but at work I’ve found a great source of cheap computers that do the job at knock-down prices: eBay. Businesses are always looking to save money, but most couldn’t cope without their computers. In our case they’re largely used as thin clients, along with running a web browser, perhaps an office suite and some have an email client. If you want to buy a new machine these days you’re looking at something with multi-gigahertz multi-core processors and truckloads of RAM that’ll set you back £250+. It’s overkill for what most people use their computers for.
I found a low-powered Atom processor more than up to the task for the majority of my use. Tablets and smartphones have much less processing power and significantly less RAM than a desktop, yet happily do everything from web surfing to games. Previously, I’ve asked whether Atom-powered computers were worth the money (and decided not). I can confirm that’s still the case because of what you can pick up second-hand.
My latest acquisitions on eBay were two Fujitsu-Siemens workstations with 2.4 GHz Pentium 4 processors and 1.5 GB of RAM. They came with copies of Windows XP Pro and are more than capable of doing what 99% of users need. Their specs weren’t cutting edge and these machines were about six years old. They’re not particularly power efficient, they had signs of wear and they use some non-standard parts, making replacing bits harder if they fail, but they only cost me £25 each (including delivery). That’s less than the cost of a Raspberry Pi!
Now, granted, that was just for a base unit (tower, whatever you call it), no keyboard, mouse or monitor. I could buy new ones of all of those for under £100, but I’m sure I could find them on eBay for much less (in fact I found whole systems — base unit, monitor, etc — for £99) and once you have them you don’t need them again, just upgrade your base unit as and when you need to.
If the specs on my machines don’t impress you, I found a dual-core 2.8 Ghz Pentium PC with 2 GB RAM and a 300 GB hard drive, with Windows 7 installed, for £100 (plus £10 postage). That’ll happily run Windows 8 and, if you’re capable of upgrading the RAM, will happily do almost any task you throw at it for years to come.
Bargain Bucket Computing
Why so cheap? There’s no real market for old PCs and when companies, schools and government departments upgrade, they usually do whole offices at a time, meaning tens, sometimes hundreds, of perfectly good machines get the boot. There are companies who specialise in picking these up, cleaning them and selling them on. There are charities who take donations too, and because of the cost of disposing of electronic equipment (and the lack of any real worth), many companies just give their machines away.
Not only are you getting a bargain, but you’re helping the environment by saving these machines from landfill (if only for a while, though you can re-donate them as they’ll go to developing nations) and possibly supporting charitable work too.
So next time you’re in the market for a computer, or think about picking up a spare for the kids, aging relatives, or whoever, why not take a look and the used market and see what you could save?
Other Sources of Cheap Computers
Obviously I’ve mentioned eBay, but bargains can also be found a places like: