Macintosh Computing on the Cheap — Very Cheap

Originally published 26 April 2001 as a Tech Reflections column for Low End Mac.

In the spirit of Budget Computing Week at Low End Mac, I present you, the reader, with a small exposé...

Perhaps the two best-kept secrets in the used computer business are surplus auctions and thrift stores. My buddy b.b. down in Texas has gotten some ridiculous deals at thrift stores, like a 24-port Ethernet hub for about $6 and a Power Mac 6100 for under $5. Goodwill is a great place to check, and Goodwill Computerworks in Austin, TX, is perhaps the best-known thrift store in the world among Low End Mac mailing list subscribers.

Another friend, Mike (in Oregon), has had lots of luck finding great deals on Mac hardware at his local Goodwill. I personally haven't found any computer hardware at any of the Goodwill stores in the Kalamazoo, MI, area, but I might not be looking hard enough (or someone else beats me to it all the time).

Where I have had a LOT of luck is at university surplus auctions and through other university disposal channels. The University of Michigan's Office of Property Disposition has a warehouse full of surplus used property from U of M, including close to 2000 square feet of floor space dedicated to computers and computer hardware of all descriptions. (There might be more or less there now; I haven't been in over a year.)

If you get on good terms with your local college or university tech folks, you can often pick up free hardware this way. I've gotten several SEs and a few miscellaneous other bits from my college, most of which I've fixed up and donated to Goodwill. (The lack of computer stuff at my local Goodwill isn't for lack of donations.) I've had the most luck at Western Michigan University's surplus auctions. They're held anywhere from once a month to once every three months on average, and you can score some fantastic deals if you know what to look for. Here are a few items I've picked up in the last few auctions I've been to:

Of all that, only one of the monitors didn't work. It had a bad switch that I was able to easily repair myself. By conservatively estimating eBay prices at the time I got the hardware, I figure that I got $200-250 worth of hardware for about $75. Here are a few other sample items (not items I purchased, but closing prices nonetheless):

I have yet to see a Power Mac sell for more than $60 at one of WMU's auctions (only one went that high), and I have yet to see a 68K Mac sell for over $30. The only thing you can pretty much count on being on par with eBay is PowerBooks; a PB 170 with 4 MB RAM went for $105 last Saturday.

Check your local university's Web site or call their computing center; many public and private universities in the U.S. dispose of their old hardware like WMU and U of M do.

Good luck, and happy hunting!

copyright ©2000-2004 by Chris Lawson