Cheapest PC money can buy
September 3, 2012 9:50 AM   Subscribe

What is the cheapest modern computer I can buy and where to get it?

I am a poor grad student with no funding and I am breaking my back lugging around my laptop. I would like to purchase a PC (Mac or Windows preferably, though I'm open to Linux) in my office and keep my laptop at home.

I am looking for the cheapest possible computer that is still usable and won't give me headaches (and will allow me to run things like SPSS, MS Word, PowerPoint, etc.).

There appear to be some refurbished Dell towers on Amazon for $120-150, but I am actually looking for something cheaper!

Craigslist scares me, but I am open to maybe Ebay stores/sellers that I may be unaware of, or perhaps some combination of Newegg parts that could be put together by a novice.

I have an old monitor in the basement that I could use already so won't need to purchase that.

posted by shotgunbooty to Work & Money (16 answers total)
Cheaper than $150? That's gonna be tough. I don't think you can get a new computer going for much less than $200 unless you're getting parts for free.

Suggestion: hit up your university's IT office. Odds are decent they've got some surplus parts lying around they might be willing to sell/give you. Even if it's just a case, that'd help quite a bit.

Alternate suggestion: go to a local computer shop and see what they've got lying around. You will not be able to buy truly modern hardware, but you might well be able to pick up something from two or three years ago.
posted by valkyryn at 10:01 AM on September 3, 2012

Hit your local Goodwill store.
posted by yclipse at 10:11 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Craigslist is the correct answer, despite your reservations.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:16 AM on September 3, 2012

You have to define a budget. You can buy a cheap, refurb. tower, and it might work, but it's likely to be slow. What are the minimum specs for SPSS? Whatever the minimum is, you'll be miserable with it, so double the RAM, and increase the minimum processor. You don't need serious graphics, so you don't have to pay for an additional graphics card or extra RAM for graphics.

Your University may sell old computers; pricing tends to be rather variable. Instead, take them cookies and ask if they can supply you with an office computer while you're working on campus.

You can also post to to Craigslist/free or, and hope for the best.
posted by theora55 at 10:19 AM on September 3, 2012

I sold my G3 tower and monitor for $50 a few years ago to a teenager who wanted it for school. It was kind of old and shitty, but it worked fine, and you know....$50.

I listed it on Craigslist. I agree that or freecycle are probably your best bet.

You could also just tell all of your friends that you're interested in buying secondhand computers in good condition. One of them may have an older tower sitting around that they aren't using anymore and would be happy to get rid of. (I have a computer exactly like that sitting in my house right now.)
posted by Narrative Priorities at 10:26 AM on September 3, 2012

You can find off-lease/refurb Dell and Lenovo desktops fairly cheap. I picked up on last week for $99.

Look on deal sites as they pop up all the time.
posted by wongcorgi at 10:56 AM on September 3, 2012

I would contact your school's IT department. I find it odd that they won't supply one to you, even though you are a grad student, as you have an office and therefore I assume have an assistantship.
posted by TinWhistle at 10:56 AM on September 3, 2012

You're a grad student and you need to run spss.

You need a decent computer. This is not a time to buy a piece of crap. (Unless you have a computer lab you can use 24/7 and this is just a backup.)

I run SPSS 18 on my 3 year old laptop with 8 gigs of RAM and it isn't super awesome fast. I run SPSS 11 (which doesn't do everything that I need it to and is a super old copy that is probably hard to find) on my 7 year old desktop because it won't run 18. (BTW, you realize that you're going to have to spend hundreds for MS Office and SPSS, right?)

You have X years of grad school during which you need a reliable computer. You can't have this thing dying on you the night before a conference deadline or while you're grading papers.

Dell, HP, etc. All have lines of credit. Just buy an okay (like $700) laptop.

I am a former grad student.
posted by k8t at 11:34 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yep, Craigslist and Goodwill. You could also contact your school's surplus office. Mine auctions off old computers, 3-6 years old, for as low as $40. The trick is that you get a wiped machine with no OS.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you can extend the life of an older, underpowered machine by installing Ubuntu or a similar lightweight Linux OS. I put Ubuntu on a 7-8 year old Thinkpad X41 and it flies! Don't worry too much about saying goodbye to MS Office, you can open MS files with free alternatives.
posted by LarryC at 12:12 PM on September 3, 2012

Some large government facilities (like the Air Force Research Lab in Rome, NY) and some large private industries (like various IBM plants) occasionally sell off all their old stuff for surplus. If you live near such a place, call them and see if and when they do this. Prices can be extremely low, though you may wind up with something that needs further attention before it can be useful. But I second the advice of those who say this is a purchase worth spending a few bucks on.
posted by ubiquity at 2:02 PM on September 3, 2012

Can you hit up your supervisor for funds? If your current office is part of your supervisor's purview they might have infrastructure/equipment funds that they can tap. Of course, the computer will remain behind when you graduate.
posted by porpoise at 3:28 PM on September 3, 2012

A couple of months ago I came across refurbished computers being sold at IIRC you could order them online and pick up at any store with no shipping charges, like the other merchandise on the site.

Dell, HP, etc. All have lines of credit. Just buy an okay (like $700) laptop.

The OP says they already have a laptop at home and this is for his or her office.
posted by XMLicious at 3:56 PM on September 3, 2012

You may have a friend or a friend of a friend or a family member or friend of family or family of family who has a computer just taking up space that they couldn't bear to throw away, or who is just waiting for an excuse to buy themselves a new computer. I think your first step should be hitting up your social network. I wouldn't be surprised if your major problem was finding a way to gently turn down computers that aren't up to the tasks you need. It's definitely worth a try.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:12 PM on September 3, 2012

Seconding Salamandrous - I recently gave away an old laptop to a coworker. I did already have a new computer, had had it for a couple of years in fact, but had kept the old one thinking I'd so "something" with it. Well, I never had, and when my coworker mentioned her computer problems, it spurred me to actually wipe the damn thing and get it out of my apartment and to someone who could use it.
posted by clerestory at 6:03 PM on September 3, 2012

You can always post to facebook and ask friends if they have an old computer around they'd be willing to give/sell.
posted by gryftir at 12:32 AM on September 4, 2012

If you live in a decent-sized city it should be pretty easy to freecycle one.
posted by turkeyphant at 10:24 AM on September 4, 2012

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