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What about building cheap PCs?

edited January 2006 in Vanilla 1.0 Help
This topic comes up because of a personal experience while teaching computer class.

My church owns a building in a poorer part of my city where they offer all kinds of things, one of them being computer classes. I helped put together the lab and this fall I have taught some classes, mostly to people who are not native to the United States.

One of the most recent people I helped was a middle-aged Vietnamese woman. She wanted to learn how to use e-mail, the Internet, things like that. She learned pretty well, but there was a major problem - the PC at her house ran Windows 95 and she had no Internet. Now I can suggest to her a cheap dial-up service, but with the PC being so ancient there is no guarantee it will even work.

Eventually she found a friend that was willing to sell her a decent XP computer for $130, but it got me thinking. Apple has been very successful with the Mac mini. The mini is not a powerhouse and most people who have won aren't gaming on them or editing video or anything like that. They are doing the essentials - web browsing, word processing, IMing, etc. The thing is, PCs became fast enough for that stuff 5 years ago.

And I wonder what the chances of of getting a lot of old *dated* hardware for cheap. Still perfectly good stuff, like 1ghz processors, but its not top of the line or anything. Put together these cheap components, slap some user-friendly version of Linux on it, and you've got a perfectly suitable PC for the uses of most people.

You know, I'm thinking with current technology, it really wouldn't be anything at all for a company to be able to put together cheap and small PCs like this and sell them at $50. Be smart with the PC design itself - make it attractive like the mini. Maybe something colorful and likeable like the GameCube.

All kinds of people would buy these I would have to think - elderly people, poorer people wanting a cheap PC, parents buying a PC for their children. Hell, I'd probably even buy one if it were $50. You don't need much of a PC to run Linux very quickly and efficiently. Most people don't care about specs. They don't care about what OS is running on their PC. They just care if it works. Can they take it up and plug a telephone line into it and it hooks up to the Internet without much problems? Is it easy to use IM?

What are your thoughts on this? Frankly I'm suprised, no amazed, someone hasn't even attempted something like it.


  • edited January 2006
    Linux + Beginners = Holy crap what a bad idea.

    It has nothing to do with ease of use. If you don't know or care what OS you're running (and I think it's perfectly valid to not want to), you'd better have the most popular one, or you'll have no idea why all the software you buy/download doesn't work. Then you call tech support. Except there is none because this is a $50 computer.
  • I'm not talking about any old flavor of Linux. Obviously if little PCs like I'm talking about were made, a custom version of Linux would need to be designed that was all about ease of use.

    And it would also need to be clarified that only custom-made programs would work with it. Whoever made the PCs could put package up all versions of software and put it out there for people to use. You'd just have to be clear that only those programs would work with the PC and none others.
  • Good idea. I was just browsing through ebuyer the other day and i found an OLD dell refurb for £70. To be honest, dell are getting closer and closer. You can get a *full* pc off them for the same price or cheaper than the mac mini. And building cheaper than that gets increasingly difficult. You might be considering putting really outdated hardware in, but thats only beneficial price-wise if you have access to it all. Just because it's old doesnt mean it's cheap - it can quite often mean it's more expensive because nowhere stocks it or makes it anymore. And it's difficult to make now because all the factory lines have been changed to produce the new stuff.
    And then if you're talking about providing custom software for it, that increases costs too.

    On a large enough scale project it's possible, i guess. But since you can get a more modern pc for £300 (full setup) you'd really have to scrape the barrel to make it worthwhile.

    As i said, it's a good idea, but there are major logistics to think about.
  • Yeah, it would definitely have to be a decent sized company to pull it off. Although I know some companies produce single boards with basically everything integrated. I wonder how cheaply you can get those.
  • edited January 2006
    there are rumours that google are thinking about such a move... edit: apparantly they've already denied the rumour ;-)
  • edited January 2006
    It's a good idea and would certainly work providing you keep the costs down as much as possible. I think there are companys around that do this - as a few months back someone came in trying to flog our school some 'older' pc's which had been taken from businesses that didn't have a use for them anymore and then refurbished (they just put in 1gb of ram, and changed the case). As it turned out, they were a rip-off though... charging way to much for a 400mhz pc... and why a 400mhz pc would want that much ram I have no idea. PC's do seem to be getting cheaper though. I'm not sure how much of a market there would be.
  • Oh and thinking about it, I would probably buy one for $50 even though I have a much faster PC.
  • edited January 2006
    >>> You can get a *full* pc off them for the same price or cheaper than the mac mini. >>>

    You know, that's still quite expensive. I mean, that's anywhere from $400-$500. Its not something you walk into Wal-Mart and say, oh look, Bobby could really use a PC for his room.

    Anyway, seeing as how Nintendo can put together something like the GameCube (a dedicated gaming machine which is by nature more expensive than a regular PC) and has been making a profit on it at $99 for several years makes me think this isn't too far-fetched. But again, it would take a decent sized company to pull it off.

    The only way I can see a smaller company pulling this off is by buying units of old hardware that is being liquidated or what not. But hey...even Dell started somewhere.

    EDIT: Blockquote no longer works so nicely!
  • It is still quite expensive, yeah. And i agree about the gamecube thing. But it's wierd. If a few (literally) years ago someone came up to you and said 'You know, soon you'll be able to get a 17" colour tv which plugs into a magic box that can do all your calculations, play pacman, and print letters for you for like £300' you'd have been amazed. And thinking about it, it really is quite incredible.

    It has to be the way of the world, and things will only get better (and equally worse from a vareity of points of view), but these days we take *so* much stuff for granted if you think about it all.

    Thats a little off the point though, pc's can still be made cheaper. Dont forget, however, about the 'a pc for each child' initiatives and whatever else is going on in various places.
    Hell i remember a while ago there was an advertising company that were giving pc's away free but forced you to watch X hours of advertising in X amount of time. Dunno if that ever happened though but it was an interesting concept.
  • mmh, i think i'll set up a company on this :)
  • edited January 2006
    Good luck funding it.
    Hmm. Very roughly speaking, just tossing together a few bits and pieces on ebuyer the cheapest i can get a full system (give or take) built for is £150. Bulk buying and sourcing even cheaper hardware i guess you could get it down. I think £100 is easily possible, $100 could be pushing it a little. But it could be done.
    This really is a scrape of the barrel system though...
  • lechlech Chicagoland
    While I'm not entirely too sure if they're still making pc's or not, I do recall that Lindows (Not sure if they're called that anymore) were offering up some fairly cheap (with some decent spec hardware) for under $200 through walmarts. This is minus the monitor if I remember correctly. I was tempted to snag a few at one point just to have some spare servers laying around the apt to poke around with. While they might not look pretty, they're decent machines as limited as they may be.
  • edited January 2006
    They're not called Lindows anymore - the new name escapes me.

    I think I could build the "low-range" pc i could sell for like, 30 pounds?
    <strong>Edited:</strong> "If a few (literally) years ago someone came up to you and said 'You know, soon you'll be able to get a 17" colour tv which plugs into a magic box that can do all your calculations, play pacman, and print letters for you for like £300' you'd have been amazed." No, I'd have called them crazy.
  • lechlech Chicagoland
    linspire i think they call themselves now.
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