The desire to cut costs has lead a lot of businesses and individuals to consider used computers to replace previously failed PCs or act as basic data entry PCs as they expand. While this choice can yield positive results, it's important that consumers understand the pros and cons of used PC equipment and understand alternatives that are out there that can often times yield better options in both the short and long term.
Reasons Behind Choosing a Used PC
Perhaps the largest reason people go with used PCs is the cost. Most people who replace their old PCs feel their old machine no longer provides them a value and thus must not have value anymore. Often times, people will give away old machines instead of having to pay to place them in a recycling facility. As a result, there is an abundance of older PCs that are cheaply available to local repair centers that are willing to take from their inventory of aging hardware and 'fix-up' old PCs they came across cheaply. They then usually will sell these with their time factored in.
If you think about it, many basic tasks done on a PC haven't changed in the last 5-10 years. Creating a document, checking email, data entry, etc are all basic tasks that barely require any more computing power. It's overkill to have a top of the line computer doing basic tasks that a lower powered PC could do. As a result, many businesses will happily pick up an old machine at low cost.
Many also feel that choosing a used PC is a green alternative to buy a new one. Less computers in landfills means less waste which ideally translates to a better environment.
You Get What You Pay For
Used PCs are usually just that. They are older systems with older sets of hardware. These machines usually have older disk drives, often times running with less cache memory and slower disk rotation speeds. This means disk performance is far less than what you find on a more current machine.
Older hard drives usually having moving parts which get worn out. Buying a used PC with an older hard drive means a higher risk of failure in addition to slow performance. This is true of several other key components of the computer. For example, fans have bearings that wear out (and when they do can mean system failure).
One of the biggest disadvantages of a used PC besides performance and higher risk of system failure is it's power consumption. Sadly, this is something most people don't think about up front. PCs have become very efficient as of late and continue to grow in energy efficiency. Older PCs tend to drain power at a rate that can be many times of today's top of the line models, not to mention several lower power options exist today. Be prepared to do some simple math to determine if your old PC is a good buy. Asking to see the PC hooked up to a Kill A Watt meter can help provide some rough estimates on power usage.
To give you an idea of how the power costs can add up, consider that Pentium D processors are energy hogs requiring by themselves anywhere from 95 to 130 watts. Factoring in other system components, this means an old PC could be using anywhere from 200-300 watts easily. Our last electric bill put electricity at 0.13050 per KWH which means running 24 hours a day over a year at 200-300 watt computer could cost $228-$342 in electricity alone. You can run the numbers yourself.
A Better Alternative - Low Power PCs
The recent rise of low power PCs and netbooks has made cheap low powered PCs a reality, often running anywhere from $250-$500. These computers are new machines with specially designed processors that sip energy compared to their older siblings. Intel Atom and AMD Neo processors were designed just for the purpose of low cost, low power PCs. An Atom processor ranges from 2 to 13 watts for the processor and overall netbooks and low power PCs can run under 50 watts (some as low as 20). That's a price range of $23-$57, far less than the used PCs of yesterday. And that lower consumption translates to a real lower total cost of ownership.
Most older PCs come with older operating systems and lack the security improvements of newer operating systems. Many newer low power PCs also come with cheaper solid state drives. While these won't hold a candle to the super high performance SSDs offered on new high end PCs, they do provide more speed than older generation drives with a lower risk of failure due to a lack of moving parts. And as a bonus, the lack of moving parts helps lower the energy overhead. Low power PCs also come in sizes close to that of a text book - older PCs are much larger in comparison.
Performance on low power PCs rivals if not exceeds that of older PCs in most cases. Tom's Hardware did a great comparison of the Atom D510 and Pentium 4 a while back. This comparison gives great insight into the relative performance between the two platforms.
As for the environmental aspect of used versus new PCs, it's important to consider the energy costs. It's hard to argue that an up to 10x multiple in energy to save a box from being recycled is worth it. Energy production has an environmental cost as well.
Tips for Used PC Buyers
As mentioned earlier, a used PC buyer needs to do their homework before buying the machine. Used PCs should come with a fresh install of operating system on a new hard drive with a decent cache and disk rotation speed. Since the processor on these machines tend to be slower, making sure you max out the memory as much as possible will also help with performance times. Most older PCs are 32-bit only and won't go above 4 GB of RAM but it really depends on the system specs on how much yours will support.
Lastly, if you do opt to buy a used PC, ensure it comes with some sort of warranty. If the PC does not come with a warranty then you are risking your investment being thrown away.
How simpleroute Can Help
Whether you are considering a low power PC, used PC or a new PC for your business network, we specialize in helping you make the right decisions for your business needs. We can help you choose the hardware that makes the most sense for you and show how to cut costs in your current PC setup. If you're contemplating an upgrade, we highly encourage you to contact us for a free evaluation to see how we can benefit you.