Low cost computers

Many people don’t realize it, but we are living in a golden age of low cost computers right now. A veritable flood of off-lease computers is driving down prices for quality, good-performance equipment. These are ideal for low income individuals or others on tight budgets. They’re PCs for people–ordinary people.

Consumer-grade bargain desktop computers

With some shopping around, you can get a desktop computer for $300 or less. At that price point, you’ll get a highly integrated system with an Intel J-series or AMD E-series CPU, integrated graphics, and a mechanical hard drive. These computers more than meet the minimum requirements to run Windows 10, and they’ll be fine for light duty use. But they don’t have a lot of upgrade options, and quality isn’t the driving factor with these. It’s all about meeting a price point.

At the moment I’m writing this, the local big-box store has a Lenovo PC with a Pentium J4205 CPU, 4 GB of RAM, and a 500 GB mechanical hard drive on sale for $220. Its regular price is $300.

These computers will be OK, but you can do a lot better. It’s possible to get a better computer for less money.

Off-lease business desktops as low cost computers

low cost computers
Once businesses discard their computers after three years, they make great low cost computers after a refurbisher gets done with them.

I’ve been buying off-lease business PCs for my own use for about a decade now. It makes even more sense now. Software is more demanding now than it was then, but the hardware does a better job of keeping pace. They’re a great way to get quality low cost computers.

Businesses are discarding their Intel i5-2400 desktop computers now, replacing them with current models. These were high-end computers in their day. The i5-2400 isn’t a top-end CPU anymore, but it performs like a Pentium G4600 CPU, first introduced in 2017. It’s faster than the J4205 in the big-box special I found.

You can pick up an i5-2400 with 8 GB of RAM and a 120 GB SSD for around $150 on Ebay. Look for one that includes a Windows 10 license. For less money, you get a processor that’s 60 percent faster, double the memory, and you get an SSD. It’s an older SSD with not a lot of capacity, but an older 120 GB SSD outperforms a new one because it has more memory cells. Brand doesn’t matter, but at this price point you’re more likely to find a low-profile Dell Optiplex or HP Elite system.

What about quality?

At the $300 price point, you don’t get a lot of quality in consumer desktop computers. You can expect these types of computers to last 3-4 years. Sometimes they’ll last longer, but they aren’t designed with long life in mind.

Many businesses discard machines as soon as their factory warranty expires, but I’ve seen business computers go for 10 years or more. If you pick up an i5-2400 with an SSD, it’s likely it was built between 2013 and 2015, so it will have several years of life left in it.

I don’t worry about brand with these computers. If you had a bad experience with an HP or a Dell consumer-grade PC, their business-class machines are built differently. They’re high quality, the best computers they know how to build, because if they deliver a batch of lemons to a Fortune 500 company they stand to lose a ton of money.

What about performance?

Nobody likes the performance of their work PC. But when you load an i5-2400 with a fresh, clean copy of Windows on it, it runs well. Especially with 8 GB of RAM and an SSD, it will run rings around any new computer that costs less than $500. Businesses tend to load down their PCs with management software that slows them down. You won’t have that on yours.

Upgrades for off-lease business desktop computers

If you want, you can pick up a Team Group L5 LITE 480 GB SSD for around $70. This SSD gives a good mix of price and performance. An i5-2400 with a Team L5 will match my big-box special’s storage capacity and blow the doors off it performance-wise.

These computers usually can be upgraded to 16 or even 32 GB of RAM. For someone looking at basic low cost computers, 8 GB is probably plenty. But it’s nice to know you can easily add more memory to extend the computer’s life if you need to.

The integrated video should be fine for most uses, but you can easily pick up a low-profile video card to put in one. There are plenty of off-lease cards available. Dell-branded cards are especially plentiful but you can mix and match. All that matters is the card fitting in the case. A Radeon 6450 card will pep up these machines’ web browsing and provides a good value for the money at $20.

One thought on “Low cost computers

  • September 26, 2018 at 8:34 am
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    The biggest reason that people often don’t like their office computers is that they don’t have enough RAM. The configuration of many of these off-lease systems has been upgraded by the refurbisher, partly by reusing components from defective systems. (There is a big difference between Windows with 4GB and 8GB, especially if the 4GB has also been loaded down with management software.) When you buy a large lot of off-lease computers there will always be some broken ones. The refurbished uses parts from those to repair and improve the good systems. You’re not taking that risk when you buy one of these systems because you’re getting the ones that the refurbishing company has already tested.

    The reason for the five year period is not the length of the factory warranty (which is usually shorter than that) but because that’s the depreciation lifetime of a computer for tax purposes in the US. If you have taken accelerated depreciation on a computer, as companies usually will, it’s a huge accounting headache (and not cost effective) to get rid of it before the five years are up. So broken systems will usually just get stashed in a storage room until the five year point and then the company will unload the entire lot.

    If you live near a Micro Center store you can get an even better deal on their house brand of SSD, Inland: $20 for 120GB, $38 for 240GB, and $65 for 480GB. (They also have a 1TB version for $140 but I haven’t bought any of those; I’d only be looking for a drive that size for a laptop because I keep the bulk storage on my home network on a home-made NAS.) They’re all decent performers for computers in this class. 120GB isn’t much, but for really short money you can add it to a system with a spinning hard drive and move the OS to it, keeping the larger drive for bulk storage. If you’d rather spend a bit more for a name brand drive they also have good deals on Crucial MX500 SSDs, but they’ll only tell you the price (which is lower than the one listed on the web site) in the store.

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