Old computers, new life

Computer Refurb Festival offers deals and information

Winnipeggers will have a chance to pick up cheap but perfectly usable old computers and parts, along with some tips on fixing up old systems this month.

Skullspace, a technology club and “hackerspace”, will be running a Computer Refurb Festival on March 12. The event will bring together tinkerers, students, vendors, and anyone interested in computers, to learn about refurbishing old machines while selling spare hardware.

“It’s a fun activity if you’re into computers, if you’re into building things and you like to see results,” Troy Denton, a member of Skullspace’s board of directors, says. “It can be a pretty satisfying hobby to get into.”

This hobby can also cost very little, as Denton discovered in his high school years.

“I certainly didn’t have money to go out and buy the latest computer parts and stuff like this, so I’d often take in used computer parts, and fix them together, build working units. I learned to install Linux on stuff like this, and basically the computers I was pulling out of the dumpster behind the computer store.”

Denton has made some cool projects, including a music recording system from an old laptop that was just sitting around.

Computer refurbishing has other benefits – it’s also environmentally smart. Before sending that old system for recycling, it may be possible to replace a part. Components such as motherboards, RAM, hard drives and video cards can be swapped in and out.

“Not everything is really all that recyclable in a computer when you get down to hazardous materials and things like this, so, from that perspective, environmentally it’s a pretty noble thing to do,” Denton says. “And as a hacker tinkerer myself, I just don’t like seeing these things go to waste, right?”

Jeff Ritchot of Mother Earth Recycling, a social enterprise specializing in electronic waste management, knows first-hand that old computers can be given new life.

“It all depends what your functions are for using them for,” Ritchot, MER’s senior technician and supervisor of sales and training, says. “Like, word processing, you don’t need anything fancy. But you wanna do videos online, you need the newer operating system, which you need new hardware for.”

MER sells basic computers suitable for entry-level users, seniors, or students. For $150, one can purchase a system with Windows 7, four gigabytes of RAM, a 160 gigabyte hard drive, and a 19-inch monitor. The systems are suitable for word processing, reading websites, watching videos on Netflix, burning DVDs and using social media sites. Layaway plans are available.

Ritchot estimates that MER sells 50 to 200 refurbished computers per month.

MER accepts donations. What they can’t refurbish, they send to recyclers, who ensure that toxic substances like leaded glass, mercury and cadmium are kept out of the environment while reclaiming gold, copper, aluminum, and other valuable materials.

The Computer Refurb Festival will also feature a market, an auction, and talks.

Anyone who pays the $5 table fee can be a vendor. And with computer buffs cleaning out their closets, there will be deals – even desktop towers for as little as $5.

Published in Volume 70, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 10, 2016)

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