Giving Away Hardware

For the last few years I have been actively seeking free hardware to give to members of my local LUG. Whenever a friend or business associate mentions that they are upgrading or replacing computers I enquire what they plan to do with the old ones and request that the old gear be given to me if there are no other plans for it. There is a moderate amount of hardware that I use for my own purposes, but the free hardware that is available is often in excess of my requirements and also sometimes just unsuitable for my use (I am happy to install a second-hand IBM or HP machine for a client but I won’t install a white-box machine).

One organisation that I sometimes give computers to is Computerbank [1]. The purpose of Computerbank is to take donations of old machines, fix them and install Linux, and then sell them for extremely low prices to people who can’t afford new machines. It’s been a while since I gave them any computers because for a long time the minimum specs on machines that they were willing to accept were higher than the machines that I obtained.

Generally I offer my old hardware to the mailing list of Linux Users of Victoria [2]. I offer not only working systems but also broken systems and other things that might be useless to most people – but are greatly desired by the small minority who can use them. One member of that list wants PC power supplies for repairing other electronic devices, so I collect batches of machines that are broken but appear to have working PSUs and give them to him. I once received a box of free two-button mice. I offered them to LUV members expecting that many people would want one or two for test machines. No-one wanted them for use as mice but one guy wanted all of them to use their sensors in robotics projects.

One thing that impresses me is the community spirit demonstrated. Often I will offer some free machines and the first response will be something like “I’d like to take that machine apart for the bits, but if someone wants a complete system please give it to them instead”. There aren’t many occasions when you see someone suggesting that they may not be the most deserving recipient for something that is free!

My aims in this effort are to help random Linux users in my area, and to help the environment by reducing the amount of land-fill. My efforts aren’t going to make a significant impact on the environmental situation, but they do make a significant impact on the availability of hardware for members of the Linux community – which seems to be of particular interest to people who want cheap machines for their children or grand-children.

I encourage other people to do similar things.

One thing that impressed me was the organisation of used hardware gifts at LCA. Near the start of the conference hardware was given away to anyone who put their hand up. At the end of the conference more hardware was given away (I expect it was mostly by delegates who lived locally). It would be good if this idea (which worked so well) was spread to other conferences.

4 comments to Giving Away Hardware

  • John Hughes

    Given that old hardware (especially anything with a PentiumIV) probably uses more energy than new stuff maybe this is not a totally good idea?

  • etbe

    See the above URL for the power use of some machines. You will notice that P3 is better than P4, and P4 is better than Pentium-D. I haven’t tested any of the Core and Core2 systems, but I doubt that they would be much better than the P4 and am almost certain that they wouldn’t be as good as a P3.

  • John Hughes

    I’d expect a Pentium-M (or it’s descendants, Core solo & Core duo) to be quite a bit better than a P4. That’s what they were made for after all.

    The Pentium-D is a development the the P4, so shares it’s “more power, Igor!” design.

  • etbe

    John: That’s a good point. Of course the higher speed RAM uses more power than the older RAM, and the power used by the motherboard chipset and the video controller has also increased. As far as I recall P3 class machines usually didn’t have cooling fans on the video card (for the cards that shipped with them anyway) or on the motherboard chipset.

    Of course the next thing that has to be considered is the power used in creating a PC, which in some cases may be more than the PC uses in it’s life. If I’m deploying a machine for 24*7 use then I will carefully choose the machine for low power operation. If it’s a desktop PC for someone who uses it for a few hours a week then I’ll use something power hungry (better to use a little extra power running a P4 than to waste the energy invested in building a power efficient machine).