Save 40+ G4s from the Recycler
August 15, 2006 10:10 AM   Subscribe

My campus has a pile of (maybe 40) dual 1GHz G4 PowerMacs that have reached their "end-of-life". Usually we ship them off to a recycler, but that seems like a sin for what are perfectly good systems. What should be do with them? There's a little bit ...

The IT folks are looking for creative suggestions that don't involve "Give them all to me" or any additional support burden. The linux geek in me says, "Build a Beowulf Cluster" but we've already got one of those.

posted by roue to Computers & Internet (44 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Donate them to local arts entities. I can almost guarantee you that a pair of those obsolete machines would do wonders for a community theatre, either as a simple office machine or up in their light booth.
posted by grabbingsand at 10:14 AM on August 15, 2006

I'd be willing to bet you could find an inner city school district that would love to have those for their students.
posted by buggzzee23 at 10:15 AM on August 15, 2006

Does your campus have art classes? Give them to art students to decorate/modify/whatnot, then auction them off.
posted by box at 10:17 AM on August 15, 2006

you have an enormous amount of computing power available to you here. you should apply the resource to the community that owns it, namely ask this question the the campus folk, see what ideas they have, you could pursue many ideas.

heres one, just on a whim, teach a sysadmin class or class on how to maintain a webserver, assign one of these to each student, put them on a rack someplace with net connections and go at it. and also, maybe have a "computer security" class try to break into them at the end of the semseter, haha, the admin with the fewest breakins and the hacker who acquired the most "bounty" each win
posted by qbxk at 10:18 AM on August 15, 2006

: looks around the Northfield area :

Like these folks, for example. Or these.
posted by grabbingsand at 10:18 AM on August 15, 2006

Yikes, those are already obsolete??

There should definitely be local charities that could use them. A G4 like that would still be perfectly usable for, say, a newsletter designer suffering on an ancient PC--I bet one wouldn't need more than a bump in RAM to handle Adobe CS2 no problem.

Not that I'm speaking from experience or anything. Heck no.
posted by bcwinters at 10:27 AM on August 15, 2006

One word: Beowulf.
posted by baylink at 10:31 AM on August 15, 2006

three more words: Cinelerra on Linux
posted by baylink at 10:32 AM on August 15, 2006


Uh, give me one? My 450 MHz sawtooth is making funny noises and I have nary a dime to spend at the apple store.
posted by mds35 at 10:34 AM on August 15, 2006

Now I'm ashamed. I flagged my own comment for deletion.

Carry on...
posted by mds35 at 10:35 AM on August 15, 2006

Keep it on campus. Can we say PPC Gridley? :)
posted by SemiSophos at 10:35 AM on August 15, 2006

Sell them and use the money for charity/scholarship. Make sure you link the eBay auction here, as I would love to get my hands on one as well.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 10:36 AM on August 15, 2006

How about trading them in with a company like Powermax? I traded in an old G3 tower before and got a decent amount for it (I ended up turning it into an iPod, which was great since I thought that the computer was useless). These guys won't give you real money, but you could trade it in for quite a bit of credit to buy terabytes of hard drive space, or new systems, flat screens, etc. I am sure you'd get a huge grab bag of goods for 40 dual G4s.
posted by SciGuy at 10:36 AM on August 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

Those are faster than the Macs at my wife's quasi inner city school by a good deal. They should be donated to an elementary school or middle school of the Title I variety post haste

Most school districts should already have the IT department and the bulk licensing to make sure that there are no headaches and they're always in need of better computers for the cost of an afternoon or two of moving them, wiping them, and getting them ready to receive their daily BorgingTM.
posted by togdon at 10:36 AM on August 15, 2006 [2 favorites]

Start a club (i.e. get a faculty advisor) in the computer science/electrical engineering department and let them have it. They'll figure something out.
posted by phrontist at 10:38 AM on August 15, 2006

I'm happily using a Dual 867MHz, so the idea these are obsolete is pretty ridiculous. Dual 1Ghz G4s seem to be going for around $600 each on eBay, so my creative suggestion is to sell them.

I'm sure you won't need our help to work out creative things to do with $24,000.
posted by cillit bang at 10:40 AM on August 15, 2006

Selling them for a nominal fee to students would be the easiest and quickest way to get rid of them. Whatever you do, don't let one student swoop in and buy them all. They'll just end up on eBay.
posted by MegoSteve at 10:43 AM on August 15, 2006

"Give them all to me"

Give one to me? You might even be able to create a PC convert - see posting history for details :P

Dual 1Ghz G4s seem to be going for around $600 each on eBay,

If they are really worth that much, it is ridiculous to think of anything else. Ask for competitive bids for the ~$20k in research funding?
posted by Chuckles at 10:46 AM on August 15, 2006

Although you already have a Beowulf cluster, you may want to consider Xgrid. Xgrid would allow the computers to be used as workstations during the day, then turn them into cluster nodes at night or weekends. You have at least 5 departments at your college that could benefit from a clustered supercomputer; Xgridding these G4s could take load off your Beowulf cluster.
posted by forrest at 10:48 AM on August 15, 2006

The University probably has strict guidlines for selling surplus equiptment - all of which probably indicate that it shouldn't (and cannot) be done. Thus the question for creative uses.
posted by jmgorman at 10:50 AM on August 15, 2006

you know, a lot of places can't just sell the things or give them away. There are tax issues to be dealt with and lots of paperwork. (I work for a computer company, and we run into this issue quite frequently. The lawyers explained everything to me in gory detail.)

I'm surprised that you can't spread them around campus to other departments. Make a few into DNS servers. and I second the vote for Xgrid.
posted by drstein at 10:57 AM on August 15, 2006

you know, a lot of places can't just sell the things or give them away.

That seems very unlikely. Universities hold surplus sales all the time.

Now, if you said "A lot of places would rather use their old stuff as a reward for various things than bother doing the paperwork for no direct benefit to themselves." Well, you know..
posted by Chuckles at 11:00 AM on August 15, 2006

Sell (or give) them to the campus newspaper. I know the one at my university still has mainly G4s of exactly the kind you speak—with those specs, they can run CS2 and Office, which is the majority of what they use them for. One of my current desktop machines right now, in fact, is a G4 almost exactly the same as the ones you're talking about (snagged it from the newspaper, actually), and it runs faster than my same-era PC. Now, the newspaper on my campus updates at least some of its computers on an almost yearly basis—but it's likely that the newspaper on your campus doesn't have the same kind of financial independence ours does. I know there are MANY newspapers out there operating on terribly obsolete systems. Definitely check with the campus newspaper—even a handful of those computers could be put to good use by the staff, and a couple handfuls could enable them to recruit more staff members.
posted by limeonaire at 11:01 AM on August 15, 2006

Give one to mds35.
posted by jon_kill at 11:03 AM on August 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

And Chuckles, it's usually public universities that hold those sales, at least as far as I've seen. Here in Missouri, I've seen sales from the University of Missouri system—but the private universities around here would never have such a sale. I don't know why they don't, but they don't, and they often outright throw away things they're done with. (Great for dumpster diving, but terrible in terms of the damage they do to students' pocketbooks, just to turn around and throw these items away.)

Says the angry Washington University alumna. ;)
posted by limeonaire at 11:04 AM on August 15, 2006

I would first investigate if what jmgorman says is correct. Selling them would net a handsome amount of cash (don't forget to figure in shipping, though!), and lets someone (or 40+ someones) else figure out what to do with them. The money can then be put towards new equipment, subsidizing computer equipment for poorer students, or even start a scholarship program or the like.

If you can't sell them, I'd try to start a computer lab. The machines would work great for photo processing, web and print publishing, and the usual day-to-day stuff like word processing and web surfing. If your campus has no use for the machines, see if you can't find a local library or school that does.

I also really like MegoSteve's idea, more as a way to help students with a genuine need for a computer as opposed to helping some people make a profit.
posted by fogster at 11:11 AM on August 15, 2006

Thanks, jon_kill.

roue, my email is in profile.

In all seriousness, though, at the major university where I used to work, any computer more than three years old was officially valued at zero dollars and automatically de-listed from inventory. This meant that we were basically free to walk out the door with any computer not currently being used. They were Dell machines, though, with the all-in-one boards, and they usually died at or near their 3rd birthday, so we usually just scavenged them for drives and RAM and then left the rest to rot. If a similar scenario is the case at your institution, you should be able to do with them as you please. But be sure to check with the appropriate officials at your school/company before doing anything creative. I applaud your efforts to do something good with these machines. They are hardly obsolete! Even my G4 can run Tiger and CS2 (albeit slowly) and its almost 7 years old.
posted by mds35 at 11:12 AM on August 15, 2006

Sell them on eBay and use the profits for a department party/activity.
posted by k8t at 11:16 AM on August 15, 2006

I'm running on a dual-USB G3 and while it might technically be obsolete, it is still a worthwhile little laptop. Mostly.
posted by grabbingsand at 11:18 AM on August 15, 2006

Find a good local nonprofit. My company is always praying for good donations of used equipment.
posted by SirStan at 11:20 AM on August 15, 2006

Find out how much a support contract for one would cost (maybe through Apple or another independent vendor), then give them away to students who can pay for the support contract.
posted by amtho at 11:21 AM on August 15, 2006

Also, [my nonprofit client] The Forest Foundation could really use a couple. It's probably wrong of me to ask outright, but what the hey. Probably no chance anyway; we're all in North Carolina.
posted by amtho at 11:23 AM on August 15, 2006

Any chance you can mail me one of the 1ghz ZIF chips? I have a old B/W powermac g3 and I'd love to have the faster processor. (emails in profile)
posted by Mach5 at 11:33 AM on August 15, 2006

Because there are only 40 machines, I would hate to be the person responsible for attempting to sell/give them to students. Mainly because you'd get a situation like you see here (me! pick me!) but with much less decorum. That's how it would be on my campus at least.

I'm nearly certain there are some offices on your campus that would LOVE to get their hands on a new-ish computer, particularly smaller programs or departments that might be overlooked by the budgets office or development efforts. For example, research labs and psych labs appear to be constantly fighting for dollars, and could probably use some processing power.

As a former university newspaper staffer, I'd vote for giving them to the newspaper (and the yearbook/lit mag/radio station since you have so many). I also think box's suggestion is really cool and you probably won't end up with any hurt feelings if you go that route.
posted by ml98tu at 11:49 AM on August 15, 2006

I work in hardware repair at a small private college. We revisit this issue somewhat regularly. We wouldn't recycle 1ghz machines at this time but we're currently recycling things under 500mhz. What it boils down to is that we cannot give things away because then the question must be asked, "Did we get rid of this so we could take it home or give it to our friend or sell it?" We cannot deploy another lab because we're too busy supporting the labs we already have. We have tried selling things to students but that ends up requiring another full time person to do just that. You have to have a first come first serve rule or lottery. Then of course if we sell or give aging equipment to students then it doesn't take long for them to have issues and come back to us for repairs (which they pay a very very low fee for). We're usually getting rid of computers because they begin to require too much maintenance so getting rid of them saves us a great amount of time. Some here have suggested giving the equipment to student organizations or research labs but for us we already make sure they are well taken care of.

Our solution is to recycle almost all of our old equipment and on occasion when we have a large pool of similar things we find a local non-profit to donate the equipment to. From the university perspective I think that just recycling and donating are the two best options, depending on what you have, and after of course making sure that the equipment wouldn't be useful to a research lab or student organization.
posted by J-Garr at 12:33 PM on August 15, 2006

it doesn't take long for them to have issues and come back to us for repairs (which they pay a very very low fee for).

Why offer support at all? Garage sale rules: As-is, where-is.

we're currently recycling things under 500mhz.

But when you put it that way - ya, those are virtually worthless. I still pick them out of the garbage when I see them, but only to strip power supply, fans, and whatever else might be interesting.

These are dual 1GHz Macs though! (well, $600 speaks for itself..)
posted by Chuckles at 12:45 PM on August 15, 2006

Put them up on or craiglist? Limit it to one or two per person. They'll be gone in 20 minutes. No fuss no muss.
posted by jeribus at 1:18 PM on August 15, 2006

I'll second grabbingsand -- give to a nonprofit. I keep the computers running at The Cedar in Mpls and we would be very happy to put them to further use. I'll email you.
posted by omnidrew at 1:31 PM on August 15, 2006

SciGuy writes "How about trading them in with a company like Powermax? I traded in an old G3 tower before and got a decent amount for it (I ended up turning it into an iPod, which was great since I thought that the computer was useless). These guys won't give you real money, but you could trade it in for quite a bit of credit to buy terabytes of hard drive space, or new systems, flat screens, etc. I am sure you'd get a huge grab bag of goods for 40 dual G4s."

This is sort of what my campus does. All oboslete copmputer equipment is sold as a single lot once a year in a RFP type setup. This company refurbs tha machines and sells them but the machines aren't connected at that point with us so we don't have J-Garr's support problems.

The funds generated are then allocated to a special budget used to provide special training and one time upgrades. For example two years ago we used some of the funds in that account to double the RAM in about 50% of the campus machines so they could run WinXP.
posted by Mitheral at 1:42 PM on August 15, 2006

Well, I'm on a grubby ol' 450mhz g4 and would join the chorus of "donate it to me, and I'll use it for the betterment of society."
But, barring that, my campus newspaper runs on shittier computers than what I've got, and WCBN (the campus radio station at the next school over) runs on even worse computers.
So— give 'em to the radio station, the newspaper, or the art department (to distribute to poor kids who can't afford serious processing power required for Photoshop... CS2 will run happily on those).
posted by klangklangston at 2:18 PM on August 15, 2006

You can also use them in the student lounge to set up the most awesome local Quake network. For some reason, our Fitness Center (gym/pools/etc.) has several computers set up for network gaming.
posted by klangklangston at 2:19 PM on August 15, 2006

But yeah, lemme have the processing chip. You can have mine and no one will know.
posted by klangklangston at 2:19 PM on August 15, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions. While I'm not the person in charge of deciding (they asked folks on campus and I thought "Ask Metafilter will come up with good suggestions!") I'll forward this thread on to those who are making the decisions. Hopefully these machines will find a good home.
posted by roue at 4:18 PM on August 15, 2006

chuckles: not unlikely at all. I've run into it personally, unfortunately. We had some old machines and because they were already written down as a tax writeoff, the powers that be decided it would be too much trouble to deal with the potential tax & IRS issues. So into the recycling truck they went.
posted by drstein at 10:25 AM on August 22, 2006

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