The Linux Moderate

One Man Standing Up for Computers That Get Work Done

The $50 Computer

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Can you really get a useful computer for less than $50?

The answer is that you can, if you’re willing to scrounge.

Let me tell you about my test machine, which is the result of a bit of scrounging. The entire cost to me was $27.

The computer was free. I took it from someone who didn’t want it anymore, because—after all—it’s terribly out of date. Also the hard drive was dying.

Still, in many respects it was a perfectly decent computer. Here are some of its specs:

  • Built in 1999
  • AMD Athlon processor at 598 MHz
  • Enormous fan on the side to cool the processor
  • 256 MB memory
  • DVD-ROM drive (one of the early ones—surely a collector’s item!)
  • CD-RW drive
  • “Live! Drive” sound card (with a real volume control on the front!)
  • Zip drive
  • Floppy drive
  • Cuneiform-tablet drive

The original hard drive was 20 GB. At the Goodwill Computer Store in Pittsburgh, where you can get just about anything, I found a used 20-GB drive for $12.

At a weekend flea market, I found a good Trinitron monitor in a scuffed-up case for $15.

Total cost, as I said, was $27, plus some hauling.

Now, there’s a sticker on the front of this thing that says “Built for Microsoft Windows 98,” and that’s probably the latest version of Windows that would run really well on it. If you had Windows on this machine, you’d be stuck with outdated software that you couldn’t upgrade, because all the recent versions of things like Firefox demand XP or Vista. And the hard drive would be too puny to run anything but a stripped-down version of Windows.

But if you install a Linux distribution—Xubuntu would be a good choice—then you’ll have an up-to-date system that can run the very latest software, and run it well. Firefox 3 is at your service. has mounds of features you’ll never even explore. It’s all yours for—let me repeat that cost again—$27.

You may not be lucky enough to have someone just hand you a computer. But ask around. You might be surprised by how many people have old computers sitting unused. If you go to a flea market, chances are pretty good you’ll see a computer sitting there with a single-digit price tag. Maybe the hard drive doesn’t work, but hard drives are cheap and easy to replace.

The point is that $50 is actually a realistic budget for a useful computer—one that’s easy to use and up to date. And though it may use a bit more energy than the most efficient of this year’s models, think of the favor you’re doing the environment by keeping all that plastic and silicon out of the landfill! It’s really a good deal for everyone.


Written by cbaile19

August 1, 2008 at 12:25 pm

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