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 Post subject: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 4:11 am 
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One of the big environmental impacts of computing is that so much of it gets thrown away. Traditionally computer hardware becomes obsolete quickly and users upgrade. I've always been surprised at the amount of very useful hardware that goes to waste and am ever keen to save computers from scrap and things that I no longer need I often give away to charities outfitting schools in the developing world.

Over the years I've managed a number of finds but my brother has just found something much better: An HP dc5800 with a Core 2 Duo E8400, 2Gb RAM and a 500Gb HDD. It's less than 5 years old and his company was throwing away loads of them so he asked if he could have one. It is very useable and when fitted with a cheap basic graphics card should make a nicely rounded system. Incredible this is junk to some people and makes me wonder if I'll ever buy a new computer again.

So, what's your best junk find? Obviously taking into account age is important so the age it was when found is key too.

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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 6:48 am 
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I'm not going to call it my "best" find, but least obsolete find was computer with a 320 GB drive in it when 750 GB was top of the line. The PC itself was old, a first gen P4, RAMBUS memory and all. It had an interesting multi-port video capture card and was obviously used for recording security cameras. Looks like it got tossed only because the drive was full to the brim with footage of various angles of some apartment building lobby. DBANed the drive and recycled the rest.

As someone who has collected various "junk" for years of doing PC repairs on the side, I'm finding that people are simply not getting rid of old PCs at the same rate as before. Core 2s are simply good enough for many people so no one is upgrading. Before the Core 2 n-1 generation could be found for next to nothing and n-2 was junk free for the taking. Now many people are happy with PCs that are 4 generations back from current. Same with servers. I've shipped out pallets of P4 era servers to be recycled, bu the Core 2 Xeons are still working well in the same racks with Ivy Bridge Xeons.

P4s are easy to come by to the point that I don't take them unless they are interesting. I've lately acquired a fair number of Core 1 laptops, but many of them have been age related failures or accidental damage, not because the users found them slow.


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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 7:06 am 
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My latest find was an old Dell system, with a Celeron Inside-sticker on the front. I thought it was a crappy netburst Celeron, utterly useless, but I was in luck. :) It was actually an older system, with a Tualatin Celeron 1.3GHz. Quality stuff in the box, 3com onboard NIC etc. I tossed in another 256MB SDRAM, a few old PATA HDDs and a friend of mine is now using it as a low budget file server. Idle power consumption is not that bad, around 50W.

Socket AM2 stuff is the most modern stuff I've found in the dumpster, I think.

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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 7:31 am 
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Location: UK
washu wrote:
I'm finding that people are simply not getting rid of old PCs at the same rate as before.

This is very true. I remember a time when having a computer over 2 years old meant that you might not be able to use the Internet anymore as whatever version of IE your ISP supported probably needed more of a system than you had if you were to read the recommended specs literally. I think the late 90s were the worst period for that but it was also when things were advancing fastest, hence the obsolesence.

With the basic tasks that most users are doing there is little reason why you can't use 10 year old hardware nowadays. In the Windows world you're stuck to Windows XP really as Windows 2000 is now end of life and no longer supported by Firefox, Thunderbird, Libreoffice et al. Under Linux there's any number of distros aimed at older hardware and it doesn't take a huge amount of customisation to make any of the big distros run well on older hardware.

washu wrote:
I've lately acquired a fair number of Core 1 laptops, but many of them have been age related failures or accidental damage, not because the users found them slow.

I'm pretty sure this is a reason for the swing of manufacturers behind laptops and now tablets. They're much easier to either become obsolete (read: go out of fashion) or break so there will be much higher replacement rates down the line and therefore more money to be made. Desktop PCs have reached market saturation and people aren't replacing them.

I'm probably going to have a bit of a shuffle round of hardware and software soon. My parents are both still running Windows 2000 on their systems and I'm keen to move them on using the trickle down effect of hardware that other people are throwing away!

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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 7:40 am 
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Location: London, UK
edh wrote:
Over the years I've managed a number of finds but my brother has just found something much better: An HP dc5800 with a Core 2 Duo E8400, 2Gb RAM and a 500Gb HDD. It's less than 5 years old and his company was throwing away loads of them so he asked if he could have one. It is very useable and when fitted with a cheap basic graphics card should make a nicely rounded system. Incredible this is junk to some people and makes me wonder if I'll ever buy a new computer again.
I've been working/gaming/everything on a E2160 and later E8400 for the last five years. I can't believe they'd just throw these away. Feed with SSD and see how it comes back to life.

My best find so far was a P4 HT a few years ago during my first job at Uni.


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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 8:01 am 
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Cistron wrote:
I've been working/gaming/everything on a E2160 and later E8400 for the last five years. I can't believe they'd just throw these away. Feed with SSD and see how it comes back to life.

I'm 'still' using an E8200 which I built new 5 years ago so it's a real sign of the times that a computer with the next CPU up can be had for free! Not sure what my brothers plan is for upgrades but I'm thinking a cheap graphics card and an SSD are possibilities, the downside of the SSD being it costs so much more that it sort of spoils the point of free computing.

Here's a few things I've got for free in the past:
- 1995 AST with a P90, 8Mb RAM, 540Mb hard disk, CD-ROM, 14.4Kbps modem, soundcard, 14" monitor, speakers, keyboard and mouse
- A 486SX33 with motherboard and 20Mb RAM, it broke within a week :lol:
- Pentium 3 550MHz, motherboard, 64Mb RAM
- A 21" CRT monitor! I tested it, didn't like it's fuzzyness and got rid of it again.
- An old workstation with dual 1GHz Pentium 3's, 256Mb RAM, SCSI disks and a magneto optical drive! This is still in use but heavily worked over for silence.
- Sempron 2800+, 1Gb RAM, nForce 2 Ultra, 300Gb (broken), Radeon 9550, a DVD burner, 400W PSU, all in a hideous old case. This was broken up but is mostly in use in different forms elsewhere.

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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 8:50 am 
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edh wrote:
With the basic tasks that most users are doing there is little reason why you can't use 10 year old hardware nowadays. In the Windows world you're stuck to Windows XP really

If you haven't tried you'd be surprised at how well Windows 7 will run on 10 year old hardware. CPUs from 10 years ago would have been a P4 ~3GHz, high end Athlon XP or early Athlon 64. All of those are faster than many Atom netbooks that run 7 reasonably if not super fast. Video cards can be iffy if you want to run Aero, but many modern Linux desktops would have the same problem. At my last company I did an XP phase out and even the few remaining P4s and single core Athlon 64s ran 7 just fine for light duty tasks.


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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 9:23 am 
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washu wrote:
CPUs from 10 years ago would have been a P4 ~3GHz, high end Athlon XP or early Athlon 64.

Maybe a little optimistic perhaps. The Athlon 64 was only launched in September 2003 so I would really say that if you have a 10 year old computer you're looking at Athlon XP up to 3000+ and Pentium 4 up to 3.06GHz. With 512Mb RAM being the norm at that time Windows 7 would be possible but how fast would it be?

washu wrote:
Video cards can be iffy if you want to run Aero, but many modern Linux desktops would have the same problem.

I've run KDE fully composited on a Geforce FX5600. It actually worked OK but I switched off the compositing for speed. Again I think this is the kind of tuning you have to accept to get snappy desktop performance.

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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 10:04 am 
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edh wrote:
With 512Mb RAM being the norm at that time Windows 7 would be possible but how fast would it be?

Sorry, I guess it was implied that RAM was added. Even with stock XP most boxes of that era I've run across had at least been upgraded to 1 GB and 1.5 or 2 GB was not uncommon. Not like a full bore modern Linux desktop would run well on 512 MB either. Even XP or a minimal Linux install would still struggle with 512 MB using modern browsers if you didn't keep open tabs to a minimum.

I always hold on to RAM from scrapped machines as it's small and pretty reliable long term. Makes upgrading old boxes free. 4 X 512 MB DDR1 in a P4 makes a fine Win 7 box for basic usage.

Quote:
I've run KDE fully composited on a Geforce FX5600.

A Geforce 5 works just fine with Aero as well, but is the bare minimum Nvidia generation. Only has WDDM 1.0 drivers (ie, Vista drivers) so no multiple different video cards, but otherwise is fine and performs well for its age. 10 year old ATIs work as well, anything from a 9500 up. Need to go a couple years newer if you are using onboard graphics, the GMA 950 from 2005 is the first one to support Aero.

I had a bunch of PCI (not PCIe) FX5200s that I would use for P4s with onboard graphics and no AGP/PCIe slots. They were slower than a GMA 950 but ran Aero just fine.


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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 10:51 am 
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washu wrote:
Even XP or a minimal Linux install would still struggle with 512 MB using modern browsers if you didn't keep open tabs to a minimum.

XP+Opera runs fine on 512M. It might even work OK on 256M. I've run XP on even less but that's probably not viable anymore.
It takes a really ancient computer to benefit from an unusual low-footprint Linux distro as opposed to XP.


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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 11:54 am 
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HFat wrote:
XP+Opera runs fine on 512M. It might even work OK on 256M. I've run XP on even less but that's probably not viable anymore.
It takes a really ancient computer to benefit from an unusual low-footprint Linux distro as opposed to XP.

I've seen more than one recent browser test showing Opera 12.X using more memory than Firefox and I certainly wouldn't want to use Firefox on only 512 MB of RAM on any OS. Previous versions of Opera had a well deserved reputation for low resource usage, but that is no longer the case. It's going to be moot soon anyway as Opera is moving to webkit. Browsers are one case where using the current version is imperative if at all possible if only for the security updates.


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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 12:29 pm 
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If I tell you that Opera on XP with 512M runs fine, it's because that's a fact. It's not some theory based on something I've read somewhere.
When I say "might" that's a guess however.

I can't compare Opera with Firefox because I don't have enough experience with multi-tabbing with Firefox.
But I bet the test you referenced is irrelevant and/or silly (like most are). If you have too much RAM, why shouldn't the browser use it? That doesn't mean you need to have that much RAM for the software to run well. It's not just the OS that caches agressively when there's RAM to spare.


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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 12:52 pm 
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The best free computer I got was a Core 2 Duo notebook at 2ghz, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB drive, and Windows 7 x64. It had a busted screen that I tried to repair but gave up on. Instead I ended up pulling the screen off which made it into a keyboard with a computer in it. I hooked up an external 24" monitor and a mouse and you had a pretty fast little desktop fully capable of running any modern software. It fits nicely on a desk now and all the ports and DVD drive are right there under your fingers. It makes me wonder why more tiny desktops don't take this route instead of the hockey puck design.


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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 4:30 pm 
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My work buys all IBM/Lenovo stuff... their old C2D era computers mostly use poor quality T&T fans in the PSU. When the bearings seize the PSU overheats and voltages go crazy, then blow caps on the mobo. A few dollars in capacitors, a new 80mm PSU fan, and a bit of time will fix these right up.
They've actually started just disposing of them outright since they "don't support Windows 7", so sometimes I get them before the caps blow.

Along the same lines, IBM L191p monitors all suffer from poor quality caps on the inverter board, so I've repaired quite a few of those as well.

Best haul was a Q6600 rig, M57p. FSB pin mod it to 3GHz and it is still quite the performer. Mostly get M55p's with E6300 or E6400's though.

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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Wed May 08, 2013 9:09 am 
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There seems to be a general trend here that getting things from work is the best way to get computers for free. This strengthens my concern that IT departments are throwing money away on upgrades that aren't needed. :roll:

I think I'm at the point now where anything over 10 years old is of no interest to me just because I have enough hardware of that age anyway.

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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Wed May 08, 2013 10:56 am 
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edh wrote:
This strengthens my concern that IT departments are throwing money away on upgrades that aren't needed. :roll:

Speed/capacity increases are not the only reason to upgrade equipment. In the IT world vendor support can be important. A PC may be perfectly adequate for the task at hand, but if it is out of support/warranty that can be a big issue. While most people here could support and maintain an out of warranty PC, many companies don't have the inclination and/or staff to do so. I've been in the IT world for close to 20 years now, many companies do not want to pay for competent staff who can deal with hardware issues. They would much rather call up the vendor support and have them come onsite to replace the failed component/box.


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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Wed May 08, 2013 11:47 am 
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I have worked for some years in the medical industry and all of our systems have to legally be supported for 7 years, this is pretty universal internationally. My last company used HP Workstations for all of their PC hardware which was then imaged internally for Windows XP and all of the software was installed before installation in a customer site. We had a contract with HP which covered computer hardware for 7 years and this is in an industry where service contracts are big business. This means than they're still going to be supporting Core 2 Duo based Xeons for many years and I don't yet know of a single Windows 7 or Vista based medical system. So it is certainly possible to keep vendor support for hardware up to 7 years, otherwise the medical device industry would be building all of their own systems.

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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Wed May 08, 2013 12:09 pm 
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I wasn't trying to say that you can't get longer support contracts, if you are willing to pay of course. A 7 year support contract is certainly possible, but it isn't cheap. It's often cheaper or close in price to get a new PC with a new 3 year contract then to get a 7 year one. It's not unreasonable for most companies who don't have the same legal requirements as the medical industry to replace PCs sooner. A long support contract is also often available only on higher end equipment which drives up the price even more.


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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Thu May 09, 2013 2:41 am 
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Well I suppose support cost might come into it but if more organisations said that no, they weren't happy to upgrade every few years and wanted a better price on long term support or else they'd switch, vendors migth sit up and take notice.

Two finds I didn't mention before which are perhaps my highest value is that I have a pair of 21" 1600x1200 TFT monitors. Basically professional CAD screens. One is pretty much unused but due to crazy reasons couldn't be restocked and was therefore considered junk and the other is faulty in that there is a little flicker sometimes on the VGA signal. I have it hooked up by DVI so this is not an issue. Definitely the highest value I have found and likely to remain in use for many years.

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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Thu May 09, 2013 10:49 am 
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edh wrote:
Well I suppose support cost might come into it but if more organisations said that no, they weren't happy to upgrade every few years and wanted a better price on long term support or else they'd switch, vendors migth sit up and take notice.

Outside of specific industries like medical, lots of companies were happy to do frequent upgrades just for the performance boost. In the past even one generation of CPU could mean a big jump in productivity. As mentioned above this slowed down quite a bit after the Core 2 came out, but the old cycle times are still common. Also newer manageability features made newer PCs desirable outside of speed increases. For example while PXE booting is pretty standard now, it was a big deal once that started appearing on PCs. The time saved in things like system imaging was massive.

At a call center (inbound only, no telemarketing :-)) I used to work at, a big problem was the newest PCs getting "broken" more often then older ones. This was due to the employees breaking them on purpose to keep other agents from using them. Not that it was a nice thing to do, but the speed of the agent's desktop often had a measurable impact on their call times that they were rated on.

Quote:
Two finds I didn't mention before which are perhaps my highest value is that I have a pair of 21" 1600x1200 TFT monitors. Basically professional CAD screens.

I got one of those as well when the call center closed down. It don't really call it a "find" as it was my main work monitor there and my boss specifically saved it for me. I originally had a 21" CRT that I specifically had requested when the rest of the dept got LCDs. The LCDs were only 17" 1280x1024 back when those were 1K+. So for less money I got a much larger and higher resolution screen. I had to prop my desk with a 2x4 to keep it from collapsing under the weight. With one month left in the warranty the flyback blew. Vendor said it was no longer repairable and sent me the 1600x1200 LCD instead. Still using it to this day as my 4th monitor.

One of my other parting gifts from the call center was a Core 2 laptop with a broken screen. There was no visible damage and of course the user said nothing had happened. The screen actually displayed a very dim image, so I thought it was just the backlight controller. Turned out it must have been dropped as the CCFL tube was shattered. Was able to strip out a tube from an older laptop and its worked fine ever since.


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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Sat May 25, 2013 1:15 pm 
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Around the area I live, many people will throw out perfectly good machines when they upgrade, or if the hard drives fail. Working in a computer shop, I've seen everything from Core 2 Quads to 2-3 year old Core i3 or AMD Vision laptops tossed. Many do get "recycled" if customers don't want to pay for the fix.

Right now I've got an HP DV7-6195us that just needs a $40 CPU to get it working again. Win 7 key will reactivate and be a good machine again.

Local dumps or recycling centers sometimes allow you to search through and take computer parts home. The two by me did until just a couple years ago. All of the desktop computers my sisters have had and still use did come from there, even the monitors and my first laptop (Thinkpad T22). Now that you can't take any parts, you actually don't see many full computers lying around anymore. People will give them away and sell them or donate them now, knowing that no one has a chance to take them and refurb them on their own anymore.

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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Wed May 29, 2013 4:44 pm 
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all i ever seem to come up on is single core 3 Ghz+ intels..... :cry:

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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Wed May 29, 2013 5:37 pm 
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I spent the better half of the past two days getting an Acer 4810T back up and running. It's been sitting on the shelf for just about 2 years now, it was dropped, and didn't display correctly. Well, amazingly enough, after a complete teardown and putting it all back together, the laptop works again, and even better, the battery still holds a charge. I put on Linux Mint Cinnamon x64, and it recognized all the drivers for all the hardware, down to the webcam. It'll be a shop/outcall laptop for diagnostics only, and will likely keep linux on it. It has an old 250gb drive in it, so it truly is a $0 laptop, just time to tear it apart.

Next up I have to find an LCD back cover and LCD for an Acer 5810T, which was also dropped by two kids playing tug of war, also abandoned.

Most of the "better" machines that are left are really beaten up, and sometimes people don't even want to purchase them as refurbished.

Recently there were a couple quads that were abandoned, one went to a family friend who needed a new computer, the other, I don't remember where it went. The single and dual cores get refurbed, some donated, some sold as refurb machines.

It's tough though, the time that goes into cleaning and getting the machines to a point where they're worth selling is incredible...cosmetic damage is such a deterrent, and it's ridiculous, because many of the people barely have the money to be picky.

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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Thu May 30, 2013 12:40 am 
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bonestonne wrote:
It's tough though, the time that goes into cleaning and getting the machines to a point where they're worth selling is incredible...cosmetic damage is such a deterrent, and it's ridiculous, because many of the people barely have the money to be picky.
I wouldn't mind a bargain, scratched to no recognition Samsung series 9. Cosmetic damage provides character (and deters sticky fingers). :P


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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Thu May 30, 2013 2:00 am 
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bonestonne wrote:
cosmetic damage is such a deterrent, and it's ridiculous, because many of the people barely have the money to be picky.

It's not so ridiculous when you consider that some types of laptops are prone to early failure if they have cosmetic damage. Speaking from experience.
People don't want to buy stuff that won't last and will end up costing them more than new gear. They probably don't if any particular laptop is at risk but they're legitimately careful.


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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Mon Jun 03, 2013 11:20 am 
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Well, I could take/upload pictures later this week of what I mean, but I'm talking about minor scuffs or scrapes on plastic or aluminum casings. If I wouldn't trust the machine for my own use, I wont even consider giving it away to a customer, but worn finish on corners and scratches are a turn off to many customers, and while my view may be scewed, it makes the laptop look much less desirable for others at times. Oh well.

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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Sat Feb 22, 2014 6:27 am 
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Joined: Mon Mar 17, 2008 1:49 pm
Posts: 1227
Location: UK
Just a little bump on this: With the impending EOL of Windows XP in April I think there might be some more computers being declared obsolete and retired. Although most businesses have been moving away from Windows XP for a few years, the last stragglers and difficult niche installations may see a last purge.

Related to thiss I've recently come into a source of old Workstations which get decommissioned once or twice a month and are then condemned as they aren't seen as being fit for Windows 7. As scrapping them would cost money (mostly in terms of logistics, not actually scrapping) they're basically up for grabs. An old 3.0GHz Prescott P4 has already come my way but to be honest half of the components weren't that useful. There's a few more potentially to come and I'm likely just to pick parts like RAM and the massive copper heatsinks they have for use elsewhere, then send the rest for recycling.

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Silverstone SG03B: E8200, Asus P5E-VM HDMI, 2Gb RAM, Leadtek 9600GT+S1 rev. 2, Samsung 500Gb, Seasonic X-400, 2x Akasa 120mm, Scythe Zipang 2 fanless


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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Sat Feb 22, 2014 9:02 am 
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Joined: Thu Nov 19, 2009 10:20 am
Posts: 482
Location: Ottawa
edh, I'm not so sure the XP EOL will really change much in the free junk supply. Companies have either already upgraded, or are obvious to the issue. You would be surprised at how many "IT professionals" don't even realize the EOL is coming. Either that or they can't make the case to the higher ups who sign the checks.

The few niche places that really do need XP will continue to do so, just at a higher operating cost. Patches for XP are not going to end, they just won't be free. Give MS enough money and you will still get patches for a while longer. The call center I worked at had some software that "required" NT4 and they paid for continued support after the EOL. Even after I proved that the software ran fine on 2000/XP with a couple of minor tweaks.

I'm actually starting to get a fair supply of low-mid range Core 2 PCs (no quads yet), but that is due to the industry I am in (graphic design / gaming / web infrastructure). Nothing wrong with them, the just aren't good enough for our use case.

Interestingly enough, my company will also be getting rid of some fairly new servers soon, most still under support. I'm not trying to start a CPU flame war here, but the reason is they bought AMD based servers on price and have now realized the extra cost for Intel more than makes it up in increased speed for our use cases.


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 Post subject: Re: What's the best computer you can find for FREE?
PostPosted: Sat Aug 16, 2014 1:13 pm 
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Joined: Mon Mar 17, 2008 1:49 pm
Posts: 1227
Location: UK
A bump on this thread:
I've just rescued a pretty massive Fujitsu Siemens workstation with a Core 2Duo E6600. It's all rock solid high end kit so should last forever. The reason it was being thrown out is the optical drive no longer worked due to a broken rubber band! Opened up the drive and replaced the rubber band and the drive works again. An easy rescue of (by weight at least!) a lot of computer hardware.

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Silverstone SG03B: E8200, Asus P5E-VM HDMI, 2Gb RAM, Leadtek 9600GT+S1 rev. 2, Samsung 500Gb, Seasonic X-400, 2x Akasa 120mm, Scythe Zipang 2 fanless


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