2. Finding a Free Computer for Cost-Conscious Entrepreneurs

Photo: pixabay.com

Photo: pixabay.com

This is the second article in my Realistic Technology Options for Collegiate Gigsters series. In this article I’m going to describe how I was able to score a free computer. It wasn’t as easy as it seems.

“Do you have an old computer you no longer need?”

To start off, I put out a call to friends and family. I realize this is a bit of a privileged question to ask. Not everyone is going to have a circle of friends and family to hit up for an old computer. In my case, I was sure to get a few responses. Well… I didn’t. Bummer.

My next option was to check out the local recycling center. Not every city or county has one, but ours did. Yes, I know that this isn’t available to everyone either, but you have to use the means available to you, and this was available to me. I went, I saw, and… I did not conquer. Sure there were tons of computers, but they were in bad shape. I also noticed that when new stuff arrived, the workers took a bit of pleasure in watching it crack & shatter on the pile. More importantly it has been raining lately, so everything was soaking wet, grimy and well, there wasn’t anything I felt would actually turn on. Bummer #2.

Craig’s list & Nextdoor had a few computers for sale, but they were expensive. It seemed like folks wanted top dollar for junk and I really wanted to find something inexpensive. I kept this in my mind as an option, but for now, I was going to keep looking. Few guarantees with this investment. Honestly, I thought I would have better luck on eBay but then I’d have to pay for shipping, and still have to worry about it working properly, viruses, and who knows what else. Bummer #3.

“Actually the guy at BB was rather rude about it too, almost laughing me out the door”

I decided to check local stores and see if any sold any refurbished systems. Costco, Wallmart and Best Buy didn’t. Actually the guy at BB was rather rude about it too, almost laughing me out the door. Fortunately, we have a Micro Center nearby and they sell refurbished gear. Starting prices were ~$250 w/o a monitor for used corporate systems. Now I happen to know a bit about how employees at large companies treat their systems and this wasn’t a good investment IMO, not for this price point. It did come with a 3-month warranty, so that was a plus. I’d keep it as an option…maybe. Bummer #4.

I also checked Goodwill, but it was a bit expensive for what they had and while it does go to a good cause, I preferred to keep looking. Really? I struck out at Goodwill? Yup. As I found out later, Goodwill doesn’t take computers anymore. What I found in that store was an “anomally.” It would have been helpful if the guy at the counter would have mentioned this... Bummer #5.

I checked with a few local businesses and while they had equipment they seemed to be concerned with some stranger making off with their corporate secrets. I offered to remove the hard drives, but they just had a puzzled look on their faces (I was clearly not talking to a tech person about this). Other businesses used a “proper” disposal service so they weren’t interested. Hmmm, how hard would it be to get a certification as a “proper” disposal service… Too much trouble for just one computer. Bummer #6.

* * *

For living in such an affluent area, I was really surprised at how hard it was to score a computer. I guess this isn’t such an easy commodity to find after all. Then I had a bit of luck…

A friend’s girlfriend had a computer that had “died” and they needed the files recovered from the hard drive. I’m an IT guy, so I was the go-to-guy for this. After a few painful hours of recovery work, I was able to save the files. When I went to return the computer, she didn’t want that old computer anymore - all she wanted was the files. Just send them on a USB stick -

So for a few hours of labor, a $5 USB drive and some postage, I finally had a computer.

Now it did have a (nearly) dead hard drive, so I wasn’t out of the woods yet, but I finally had a computer, and it was nearly free! So I still needed a new hard drive, a monitor, a fresh keyboard & mouse - trust me: don’t use other people’s keyboards.

Success! (sort of).

* * *

So finding a free computer may take a while, it certainly did for me. There is one lesson I can share about my experience here: you’ll have better luck if you barter your services. We all have skills from either a previous job or a hobby, or just being willing to do some completely unrelated work.

And if you’re on the giving end, ask around if someone needs a free computer. Wipe it down, install new software, add a clean keyboard and mouse, and make someone’s day. You’d be surprised who might really appreciate it.

Unless it’s as old as the one in the picture above, it’s likely to be of some use to someone.

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