Howto: Find an old computer

I get my junk at the junk shop. That would make sense. And in Japan, I’m lucky to a small degree that there seems to be a strong push toward new things, and not so much toward used things.

So recycle shops and secondhand stores are a fairly strong business here, even if they don’t enjoy much popularity among the Japanese people I know. More for me, I say.

If you need to get an old machine, either for testing or for a friend or out of some perverse sense of ideology πŸ™„ , I can tell you a few sources that have worked for me. And a few that I hear work for others.

Friends, Romans, countrymen. Oftentimes people have old machines stashed in attics or sheds, and they just never talk about it. Or maybe atop a garbage pile or in a box of leftover toys.

Remember, your average everyday uneducated computer user thinks about technology in the same way as tires or light bulbs: After a while they get slow or stop working, and after that they’re thrown away.

Knowing that, ask people you usually think of as technologically naive — and I don’t mean that in a rude way. Mechanics know that people who are uninitiated about cars are good sources of fairly recent automobiles that don’t require much work. You’re just doing the same thing.

But always be fair. If the machine is actually worth money, tell them that. Don’t be so much a predator that you can’t help out someone who doesn’t know better. Universal law rewards taking the chance to educate a person, instead of taking advantage of their ignorance. πŸ™‚

Thrift sales and charity stores. Similarly, I remember it being a custom in the U.S. to have a garage sale, or a yard sale, in the summer. Flea markets are possibilities too. Community sales or block sales are good too.

The idea extends to recycling shops (thrift shops?) too, where occasionally a working computer is donated or sold off. I can remember a long time ago the thrift shops were chock full of leftover computer junk.

eBay changed that, even if eBay itself has changed as well. Ten years ago people started to realize that the market for those things (and a lot of other old junk) was online, and things could be bought and then resold at a massive profit.

So thrift shops get scoured rather often. In my experience, unless a shop is dedicated to one particular kind of recycling (like the computer resellers in my neighborhood), it tends to be a catch-as-catch-can affair.

Recycling yards. This time I’m talking about industrial-grade scrap yards, or recycling depots. That might horrify you, and I don’t blame you if it does.

But occasionally businesses or governments who are under contract to buy new computers on a regular basis dump machines en masse on recycling yards or scrap yards. Occasionally it’s illegal (or at least environmentally unethical), but when has that ever stopped anyone? πŸ™„

I used to live in a town with a giant recycling yard along side a rail depot, and complete systems were lifted via hook and magnet, compressed into big bricks and loaded on to box cars. Where they went from there, I have no idea. Probably China.

But in the short span between when the local government dumped them, and when they were loaded on a train, I scalped a huge mess of parts and even full systems.

In those days it was around US$3 to take home a complete computer, specs irrelevant. If you brought them a couple of bags of aluminum cans, they called it a fair trade. Those were the days. … 😐

Office tech staff. This is a long shot, because walking into an office of purebred geeks and asking if they have any leftovers for you is like walking into the lion cage at the zoo and asking for a spare steak.

I’ve been mocked more than once asking for a small castoff, even just a floppy disk or an AC cable. So be warned that you might have to suffer a bit. Don’t try it if you can’t bear to lose face.

Still, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get handed a machine or twosometimes as a joke — by inquiring politely and performing the required obeisances … and approaching from a north-south axis, keeping my eyes averted, and using the third-person honorific when speaking to the staff. πŸ™„

eBay and craigslist. I guess I kind of mentioned one of those already, and the other, to be honest, I’ve never used. Online sources are always a possibility.

And the one thing I like about auction sites (to speak in a little more general term than just eBay) is that you generally are getting fair market value for the item.

That’s an over-generalization, but in my experience, true. The going price for a laptop computer, in the condition specified, is generally adhered to. Not by design, but by nature: Nobody’s going to vastly overpay what a machine is worth.

My impression of craigslist, as built from reports of people and family members who have used it, is that it works a lot like a newspaper classified ad.

So in that sense you might have to make an effort to barter. I’ve seen ads for 10-year-old computers on craigslist that were hideously overpriced, and it was either the ignorance or the greed of the seller that put the price there.

In other words, make sure you know the value of a computer, before you agree to a price in that situation. Generally speaking, a Celeron laptop isn’t worth $125, folks.

Government resales. is something you might look into, although it might be overkill for your needs. Local and regional governments in the U.S. use that site as a clearing house for materiel.

Prices will be good, but transportation is an issue, and you might be buying things by the pallet. If you need something in bulk, this is a good place to start. If not, it might only be handy for a while.

Also check to see if your local or provincial government has a remarketing office, and if they hold regular sales. I used to live in a state capital in the U.S., and there was a once-a-month sale on recovered autos, office equipment and computers.

Free Geek. I’ll give a tip of the hat to Free Geek, even if I haven’t used them personally. As I understand it they operate in different places around the U.S. (and maybe elsewhere?), and will give you a computer if you volunteer for a while.

That, to me, sounds like the best option. Do something good for the people around you, and pick up a rockstar Pentium 4 as a thank-you. If was around a Free Geek store, I’d probably be there all the time. 😯

To finish, I would suggest looking around you carefully, if you’re seeking a machine that — perhaps — doesn’t stand up as tall as the computer you have now.

Knowing that you can do more with less, or at least shift a little closer to enlightenment πŸ˜‰ with a simpler machine, might only require a quick question of the person in the cubicle next to you.

13 thoughts on “Howto: Find an old computer

  1. Matthew

    Craigslist is depressing. Everyone trying to sell old computers for more than new computer prices. Ebay gives open market prices, but then you will be paying for shipping and getting questionable quality.

    Do like your ideas for gov’t clearance and scrap yards. My training with using console interfaces is going great. Will be checking these places soon.

    Thanks for mentioning free geek. Support your local free geek with purchases and your time.

  2. MJS

    I skipped Craigslist and eBay and found a local recycling charity. They had two laptops: one half-working Compaq for 275 USD, and an older ThinkPad T42 for 225 USD.

    I fell in love with the ThinkPad and left with it 10 minutes later. It’s the best Linux machine I have ever owned despite the fact that the battery is toast (but I don’t care about that).

    tl;dr — Skip Craigslist and eBay, they’re snake pits. Look locally and keep your ear to the ground.

  3. Matthew

    The Thrift Stores that I have seen lately have policies against taking computer products. I think this is because they get junk CRT monitors and un-salvagable scrap, and then they get stuck with the expense of disposing of the toxic materials. The Goodwill stores have some deal with Dell Computers, where they accept computers but immediately send them out to Dell in bulk for metal salvage. Sad that these second-hand computers have no chance for a second life.

  4. bpalone

    Ebay is OK, but be careful. I recently purchased an old Compaq 1600 Xl for a little over $50 (U.S) to the door. It was bought to scavenge for parts, but when I got it, it was in pretty decent shape and worked fine. So….I didn’t have the heart to take the knife to it. Instead, I spent another $10 to max out the memory and then had to buy a fan, as the one in it wasn’t working. Ended up with a little over $70 bucks in it and couldn’t be happier.

    It is currently dual booting 98se and GALPon. It started out to be an entertainment computer to take with me when I’m out of town working. But, then I got to thinking that all the software I use was written for 9x (the Windoze software I can’t replace) and got to thinking why not set up for emergency backup if my main laptop takes a dive. Then, I really got thinking that I should find a light Linux distro to keep me safer with it on the net. Besides, I prefer Linux over Windoze, but they are just OSes.

  5. johnraff

    “So recycle shops and secondhand stores are a fairly strong business here, even if they don’t enjoy much popularity among the Japanese people I know.” Are you suggesting these shops keep going purely on the basis of K Mandla’s purchases? πŸ™‚

    Sure, Japanese like new things but these days times are hard and plenty of people buy stuff at those shops. Maybe you only know rich Japanese?

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      I hope my comment wasn’t misconstrued. It’s probably true though; I live in a more affluent area and that might account for the odd looks I get when I mention shopping at recycle shops.

      No offense intended, of course. 😳

  6. steve

    Are there any truley poor people in Japan? Even the homeless in Tokyo looked in better shape than their 3rd world counterparts.

    As for hardware, from my assessment the Japanese hardware market is about 2 years ahead of the rest of the world well New Zealand anyways πŸ˜‰

    1. johnraff

      Of course everything’s relative, but there are some quite poor people in Japan these days. Some of those homeless were employed in regular jobs not long ago. Like everywhere, the gap is widening.

  7. Dmitry

    Maybe my suggestion looks funny or odd enough, but why not looking at your own stuff in the first place? You already might have old PC / laptop which require some upgrade. It can cost you less than buying “new” used computer.

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