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Confessions of an unrepentant computer refurbisher.

Written By | Jan 17, 2016

MONTGOMERY VILLAGE,  Md., Jan. 15, 2016 — Refurbishing is the action of fixing, updating and configuring a computer so that it can be used again. In our throwaway society, most electronic devices are used for only a portion of their functional life before they are replaced by newer and better ones.

Most users, especially computer users, don’t want to take the time to research, repair and configure their failing or slow devices; they’d rather buy a new one.

This may keep the economy rolling, but the fate of a discarded computer can be of importance to the well-being of our planet. This is not a lecture on environmental impact and resource conservation, though irresponsibly discarded computer components can pollute our environment.

They also have an impact on the production of components for replacement computers.

So the reuse of computers after refurbishing is beneficial to the environment and for resource conservation.

Old computers are not appropriate for everyone, especially if they’re used in wealth creation. Those machines need to process vast amounts of information and support powerful software. They must be state-of-the-art machines.

However, for a large segment of the population that does not depend on computers for wealth management or creation, a refurbished computer is adequate for research, messaging, social activity and small business management.

In this group it is important to include those who do not have the resources to purchase state-of-the-art equipment and those who because of their novice status need a computer only for basic activities. Refurbished computers provide them the opportunity to remain sociable, to do research and even to complement their income. The information provided in this article derives from refurbishing computers for this segment of the population.

When a person is in the process of purchasing new equipment for personal or business use, the life-cycle of it should enter into the decision-making. In the case of computers, the robustness of the system, technical support and permanency of supporting resources should be taken into account.

But how does the average citizen determine the factors for the secondary use of the computers?

One logical starting point is the record of the brand in question. It is obviously a fallible process, as a particular brand of computer could have been great in the past, but not be in the future. However, it is one of the few tools that we have to make a logical determination.

Enter the computer “refurbisher.” S/he takes donated or discarded computers and makes them work again. In the process a lot of knowledge is acquired.

Refurbishing entails the following steps:

  1. A user decides to buy a new computer and donates the old one;
  2. The receiving party does a primary evaluation of the computer to determine whether it can be refurbished and what it would take to do it;
  3. The hard disk and other storage media are removed and erased. Each is certified not to contain any data from the original user;
  4. If the system is amenable to repair/update, a technician installs/increases memory (RAM) and installs a hard drive with a licensed copy of the operating system;
  5. The computer is booted up and the operating system configures. After answering a few questions it becomes operational;
  6. It is then checked to determine whether all the components are functional. In this step, which is usually the most time consuming, drivers (software that allows the operating system to talk to the hardware) are evaluated, researched, found and installed. Typically, two or three drivers have to be located and installed;
  7. Software such as word-processor, spreadsheet, Internet browsers, PDF readers, compression/decompression utilities and email are installed. These are usually “open source” programs that are as functional as paid software, but without the bells and whistles;
  8. Operating system updates are installed and instructions for less obvious usage are included if necessary;
  9. The computer is ready for its new owner.

This process takes at least two hours when there is no need to replace components like keyboards and/or screens (in a laptop), Internet wired/wireless adapters, video adapters or other more esoteric component. In some extreme cases the process may take tens of hours, and at the end the system may not be usable.

In the process one develops knowledge as to the ease of refurbishing, the quality of the product and the effectiveness of technical assistance from the manufacturer. The personal evaluation below is mostly for laptops as they appear to be the most desired refurbished computers.

So how to the different brand names rate?

  1. Overall, Dell offers the best chance for refurbishing. With the service number provided with each system one can go on line and get on-line self-assistance. Models are supported indefinitely and many parts are modular (i.e., they can be used in different models). Drivers are usually available for old models. While the computers are not super-fast, they are dependable and last a long time;
  2. IBM-Lenovo computers are really elegant in design and well built. Drivers are available from Lenovo, even for older IBM models. The ThinkPad models come back to life over and over and are fast, light and attractive. They are difficult to work with if you need to replace a screen or keyboard. Some old IBM ThinkPads require proprietary hardware. Some ThinkPads stop working while the battery is installed;
  3. Toshibas are work horses, reliable and clunky. Their support is good.
  4. HP computers used to be excellent until about 10 years ago when corporate greed took over. Good luck trying to get assistance or drivers for a machine that is 10 years old and sometimes newer. Support for some models was stopped after five years, and they can’t be updated to new operating systems like Windows 8 or Windows 10. Some models stop working after the motherboard gets too hot and de-solders connections. Stick with the printers.

There are other makers of computers, but by far the ones mentioned above are the most popular ones.

So next time you buy a computer think of its full life-cycle. Some lucky person may benefit from your critical choice and Mother Earth will thank you.

Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is a volunteer computer refurbisher and longtime technology fanatic. He is in Twitter (@chibcharus), Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook (Mario Salazar).


Mario Salazar

Mario Salazar is a combat infantry Vietnam Vet, world traveler, renaissance reconnaissance man, pacifist, metal smith, glass artisan, computer programmer and he has a Master of Science in Civil/Environmental Engineering. Now retired from the Environmental Protection Agency and living in Montgomery County, Mario will share with you his life, his thoughts, his musing on living in yet another century of change. He will also try to convey his joy of being old.