cheap desktop PC at local Goodwill

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timothy42b
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cheap desktop PC at local Goodwill

Post by timothy42b » Sat Sep 15, 2018 8:03 am

For some time I've been contemplating getting another PC to experiment with Linux. I'm still running XP on a couple of machines, which isn't supported, and Win10 works but can update at the wrong moment.

Yeah, there are a couple of old laptops lying around, but with less than a Mb RAM and more than 10 years old, there are some limitations.

Anyway, I was in Goodwill looking for a trombone (well, you never know!) and they had a half dozen refurbished desktops. Google told me look for refurbished models originally aimed at the corporate fleet, rather than personal use, as more reliable and maintainable, and stay away from Pentium and Dual Core processors. Goodwill had Dell Optiplex with i3 or i5 processors, so it fit both criteria. So I went home with a complete system for $125. It had been wiped and reloaded with Win10, and seems to work fine. No WiFi of course, I'll have to add a USB adapter.

Goodwill has a recycle arrangement with Dell; there are some bargains here if you don't need the latest high powered PC.
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JohnL
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Re: cheap desktop PC at local Goodwill

Post by JohnL » Sat Sep 15, 2018 8:29 am

A lot of big (and not-so-big) companies refresh their fleet on a three-year cycle. I haven't bought a new desktop since the early Win95 days. Good deals. I'm typing this on a Dell OptiPlex that I picked up from a local real estate company.

Another benefit is that those former corporate machines typically come with licenses for the "Pro" version of the operating system. After years of working with Pro and Enterprise versions, I bleeping hate dealing with Home versions.

Laptops are can be dodgy, though - if the user didn't practice reasonably good battery hygiene, you could end up having to buy a new battery. Sorta sours that "good deal" taste in one's mouth, particularly if you have to crack the case to replace the battery.
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Matt K
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Re: cheap desktop PC at local Goodwill

Post by Matt K » Sat Sep 15, 2018 9:40 am

Yeah if you check out Craigslist, and in Utah/parts of the US West - KSL, you can find really nice used machines. Jon beat me to the punch: The only problem you'll run into is with laptops as the batteries do depreciate over time and sometimes finding a replacement for a particular model can be hard. Desktops though - you can get some awesome stuff. I picked up a quad core Xeon with 24GB of RAM and 2 GPU for $85 a few months ago from someone who gets contracted by companies to get rid of their old machines. You can't even find the RAM for that price! Purring away running my VMs as I speak. The only problem is that sometimes those companies require that the had drive be shredded. Really not big deal, the HDD on most of those machines are worthless anyway... 5400RPM 250GB drives. Spend $50 and get a SSD and it becomes a new machine. (Usually spending more money is only worth it to get more space; a lot of machines that are a few years old are restricted to SATA2 speeds and an entry level SSD maxes that out).

If a machine comes with Win10, I suggest going through the steps to wipe it when bring it home anyway. Who knows what the last person did to it or if the Goodwill people actually wiped it properly.

Also,fwiw, those XP machines are almost guaranteed to be compromised if they're connected to the internet. There are a boatload of known vulnerabilities that aren't being patched. There's a good reddit thread on why this is important.

The machine you just picked up can virtualize Linux installs if you want to try it with a low cost of time. Basically that runs another OS inside a window of your current one. It's a great way to try out different installs of OSes to see if they'll suit your needs. For the XP machines, if they run Win10, they'll run Lubuntu or Xubuntu for sure. Version 18 which came out a few weeks ago requires 1GB but version 16, which is supported for a few more years can run on 512. There are even leaner distributions that will work too like Bodhi or DSL. I'd definitely recommend switching them over - this is a good reddit thread on what that process would entail.
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ghmerrill
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Re: cheap desktop PC at local Goodwill

Post by ghmerrill » Sat Sep 15, 2018 12:25 pm

Don't overlook various sorts of government and quasi-government surplus sales. North Carolina does this, for example, and you can get some amazing stuff at these for decent prices if you know what you're looking for, know what needs to be done to get it working properly, etc. NC State, for example, frequently dumps their used equipment (instructional, maintenance, laboratory, office, etc.) on State Surplus Property Agency, and this includes computers of various sorts.

A few years ago someone picked up a functional jet engine (mounted statically, out of a lab). Have no idea what he did with it. :roll: For a while, one of my kids was buying bags of coins from them on auction and making quite decent profits from culling collectibles and selling them on Ebay.

I'm looking on the site now and seeing about 20 Lenovo ThinkPad T510 machines ($60 each), and PALLETS of HP Z220 desktops (13 to a pallet) for $268/pallet. I'd guess that if you bought a couple or three of something like the Z220 you could cobble together a perfectly respectable Linux server (or desktop, whatever) system.

Not sure what happens with their new rules about minimum bids and what happens if they don't get that when they offer the item.

Anyhow, if there's something like this near you, see if they might have what you're looking for.
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Trav1s
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Re: cheap desktop PC at local Goodwill

Post by Trav1s » Sun Sep 16, 2018 7:04 am

I have a local recycler in town that is a MS certified reseller so they can sell machines with a fresh Windoze install legally and upgraded for reasonable prices. I'd also suggest checking out local education institutions as a source for older but working machines.

I am a linux user and favor the Ubuntu and ubuntu-based distros. I have an older Dell Optiplex SFF i5 with a SSD drive in the garage running Ubuntu MATE. I use it for music streaming, youtube, Pandora, and technical reference. Ubuntu MATE has been my distro of choice for close to 5 years now and I have installed it on everything from a hot-rodded 2nd gen intel Mac mini to my current AMD A10 workstation in my office at home.
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timothy42b
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Re: cheap desktop PC at local Goodwill

Post by timothy42b » Sun Sep 16, 2018 7:02 pm

Trav1s, thanks for the encouragement on linux.

I've tiptoing in with Knoppix 8.1, live CD/DVD. I also have Lubuntu running on one laptop. Scariest thing so far, I adjusted size of a partition. Haven't created the new ones I need yet. Oh well I did dd/zero on a machine I plan to get rid of.

Today I tried Bodhi and Ubuntu Mate, both lighter distros with good reviews, on my most deficient laptop. Neither could find the wifi. Knoppix found it right away, but ran unusably slowly. That machine has been hanging anyway.

I tried Mate on my new desktop. It booted fast and was reasonably intuitive. It also couldn't find wifi - then I remembered oops, this machine doesn't have wifi. I do have a wifi USB dongle but finding a driver for Mate would be an issue. On the other hand, if I ran an ethernet cable. Might be worth a try.
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Matt K
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Re: cheap desktop PC at local Goodwill

Post by Matt K » Sun Sep 16, 2018 7:53 pm

timothy42b wrote:
Sun Sep 16, 2018 7:02 pm
Trav1s, thanks for the encouragement on linux.

I've tiptoing in with Knoppix 8.1, live CD/DVD. I also have Lubuntu running on one laptop. Scariest thing so far, I adjusted size of a partition. Haven't created the new ones I need yet. Oh well I did dd/zero on a machine I plan to get rid of.

Today I tried Bodhi and Ubuntu Mate, both lighter distros with good reviews, on my most deficient laptop. Neither could find the wifi. Knoppix found it right away, but ran unusably slowly. That machine has been hanging anyway.

I tried Mate on my new desktop. It booted fast and was reasonably intuitive. It also couldn't find wifi - then I remembered oops, this machine doesn't have wifi. I do have a wifi USB dongle but finding a driver for Mate would be an issue. On the other hand, if I ran an ethernet cable. Might be worth a try.
Under the hood, all of the Ubuntu OSes are the same. The "Mate" is the desktop environment. Lubuntu is Ubuntu Server + LXQt. Xubuntu is XFCE + Ubuntu Server. Kubuntu is KDE + Ubuntu Server. So on and so forth. Mate is a great environment. Its bascally a fork of the older Ubuntu DE, Gnome 2. I wish they would have kept that instead of going in the direction of unity. Though I've been digging on KDE Plasma lately.

At any rate, the probable reason that it can't find the drivers is that they are possibly proprietary (meaning that they aren't open source). That doesn't mean you can't use it, but some people prefer to only use "free" software (as in free speech, not necessarily free beer). Knoppix probably included "free" (as in free cost, but not free speech) drivers for your wifi card. Either that or it is an older distribution and still has legacy components that might not be included n a new kernel. Depends on the hardware you're running it on probably. I don't think I've ever used Knoppix so I don't know what it is off the top of my head other than I recall it being Debian based, which is what Ubuntu is based on as well. Ergo, if it works on Knoppix, you can probably get it working on Ubuntu too if you have access to the internet via Ethernet just to get it setup.

Likewise with the dongle, many of them work (bearing in mind that you aren't getting a driver for the desktop environment, but for the Ubuntu environment and it is currently one of the most popular distributions). If for some reason it doesn't, you can get them for like $13 for a basic one that is compatible with Linux too.
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Matt K
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Re: cheap desktop PC at local Goodwill

Post by Matt K » Sun Sep 16, 2018 8:10 pm

Fun fact too: I've been seeding about 50 Linux distributions for a few weeks. I can see how many people have downloaded it from the torrent in the meantime since my machine is involved in the distribution. Currently the list in order of popularity is

1 (tied for lead): Ubuntu 16 x32bit & Ubuntu 16 x64bit
3 ubuntu server 16 x64
4 ubuntu mate 16 ARM (like Raspberry pi processors)
5 ubuntu mate 18 x64
6 ubuntu mate 18 x86
7 kubuntu 18 x64
8 ubuntu budgie 18 x64
9 ubuntu 18 x64
10 ubuntu mate 16 x64
11 ubuntu mate 16 x86
12 ubuntu server 18 x64
13 ubuntu server 16 x 86

So that obviously isn't 100% accurate but Mate is really quite represented!
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BGuttman
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Re: cheap desktop PC at local Goodwill

Post by BGuttman » Sun Sep 16, 2018 8:20 pm

Linux can be a lifesaver for an old computer.

I have a Thinkpad T-43 with a Dual Core (not even Core Duo) and I put 32 bit Linus Mint. Found the built-in WiFi (802,11g) and runs Apache Open Office and does low-grade Internet browsing. Machine has to be over 15 years old. For you Thinkpad geeks out there, 2687-D4U.
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Re: cheap desktop PC at local Goodwill

Post by SimmonsTrombone » Mon Sep 17, 2018 4:28 am

I put Linux Mint on an eight year old Dell laptop. It was the easiest OS installation I’ve ever done. Found my WiFi, found the external network drive I use sort of like a server. Microsoft now says Windows is a service, not a product, and there are stories that you will soon be renting the servive by the month.
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Re: cheap desktop PC at local Goodwill

Post by timothy42b » Mon Sep 17, 2018 6:06 am

Interesting. I'll give Mate another shot then.

Knoppix is designed to run as Live CD and not recommended for installation. It's a good way to test the water and if you use the DVD ISO it comes with all the software you'll ever need. People keep it handy to recover files from an OS crash.

I talked to our IT person at work about the desktop. He said Dell is now the easiest to work on, you can get it open and swap most parts without tools. When I got the box home I saw the case was held together with blind rivets instead of screws, and I thought it might be tricky to upgrade memory or add a drive, but it turns out there's a latch and the side pops off. Having disassembled a laptop once (a job I hope never to repeat!) I was pleasantly surprised.
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Matt K
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Re: cheap desktop PC at local Goodwill

Post by Matt K » Mon Sep 17, 2018 8:00 am

SimmonsTrombone wrote:
Mon Sep 17, 2018 4:28 am
I put Linux Mint on an eight year old Dell laptop. It was the easiest OS installation I’ve ever done. Found my WiFi, found the external network drive I use sort of like a server. Microsoft now says Windows is a service, not a product, and there are stories that you will soon be renting the servive by the month.
I really dislike WIndows at this point - but that isn't the full story... at least yet. Basically there is an option where Windows will basically host your machines in the cloud and you can use a thin client to access them. That way you won't have to worry about hardware and other devops types of stuff. Geared towards businesses mostly. They might go that direction for everything but I don't see that being the case unless the market radically shifts... which I suppose they certainly have the power to do.

Win 7 support will be available after 2020 for a monthly fee as well just as XP was (and is I believe for certain government contracts). Of course, you should switch to something better by that point anyway. (Linux, for example :wink: )
I talked to our IT person at work about the desktop. He said Dell is now the easiest to work on, you can get it open and swap most parts without tools. When I got the box home I saw the case was held together with blind rivets instead of screws, and I thought it might be tricky to upgrade memory or add a drive, but it turns out there's a latch and the side pops off. Having disassembled a laptop once (a job I hope never to repeat!) I was pleasantly surprised.
Especially their enterprise stuff. I have a Precision T3500 from dell and the thing is built like an absolute TANK. And everythign in it is easily openable etc. The consumer grade stuff isn't anything to write home about but it isn't bad either. I have a Ryzen 5 Dell that is a little... interesting under the hood. And the worst part about it is that the fan on it can't be changed without it thinking the whole system is compromised at boot. So you have to escape the BIOS checks every time it boots which is a royal PITA. Long story about how I got it to not sound like a jet engine... but yeah, anything that is enterprise? Stuff is great!
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Re: cheap desktop PC at local Goodwill

Post by Trav1s » Wed Sep 19, 2018 4:49 pm

I have found the Optiplex (and especially the Small Form Factor) machines to be a great choice. I have three versions of these SFF machines that I use at home. One is an i5 quad/8gb ram/SSD running Win10 (for work stuff), i5 quad/8Gb ram/SSD running UbuntuMATE in the garage, and an older Core2Duo that is running Cloudready and works like a Chromebook. The MATE machine in the garage is a beast. I have also found that the Linux experience is easier on Intel based machines. The AMD A10 workstation in my office at home took a bit more tweaking to get up and going, even when using a motherboard that is readily supported.
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Re: cheap desktop PC at local Goodwill

Post by JohnL » Wed Sep 19, 2018 5:48 pm

Trav1s wrote:
Wed Sep 19, 2018 4:49 pm
...and an older Core2Duo that is running Cloudready and works like a Chromebook.
What's your take on CloudReady? I've spent a lot of time with Chrome OS and a little with CloudReady; it seems to work pretty well. Of course, it does lag a little behind Chrome OS as far as new features, but it seems to be stable and runs decently on older systems.
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Re: cheap desktop PC at local Goodwill

Post by Trav1s » Thu Sep 20, 2018 5:10 am

Been using Cloudready on low traffic workstations at the church for close to 3 years now. I am impressed with it so far and we don't have to worry about people doing bad things to a Windows machine. The current CR machine is an old HP Pavillion 23 with an AMD A3 processor. It struggled with Windows 8 so the owners gave it to me to recover data and then play with. I grabbed a used SSD at the local recycler for $20 and put it to work. Nothing fancy but plenty of screen space, pretty quiet, and works quite well. It's a solid way to eek life out of older hardware.
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Re: cheap desktop PC at local Goodwill

Post by boneagain » Thu Sep 20, 2018 6:47 am

In the interests of sticking closer to the TOS "trombone related" bits, I'll add two cents.
Just got a nice Chromebook for close to $100. Even though it is NOT listed on the "adapt Chromebook to Linux" page (https://mrchromebook.tech is a good example of how open software spawns more-better open software) it loaded and does base functionality just fine.

But the built-in audio is not working, nor the suspend-resume power functions, nor the touch screen.

OTOH, a j5 USB 3 hub with HDMI, ethernet, and two format A ports worked as soon as I plugged it in. Sound and video both work just fine out the HDMI. ethernet tests out at full gigE.

Next week I'll be testing a USB "sound card" that should get me mono audio in and stereo audio out.

Then I'll see how this all runs audacity.

And I'll be curious to see and hear what kind of usability hit I get relative to my Mac on Audacity and Musescore.

I'm pretty sure the Chromebook will run both better than my old MacBook Pro runs El Capitan. That was so bad I switchted back to Yosemite. But Yosemite is no longer being updated, so I do not want to keep using it on the Internet. Linux Mint runs MUCH faster on the Mac than Yosemite, WHEN it rusn, but Apple made sure their config is flaky without their custom adaptations at the kernel level. The Chromebook should help with all that.

The problem with Chromebooks is that the makers have moved steadily to NOT having removable RAM or SSD devices in them, and NOT providing a way to disable "write protection" on the "open source" ROM, and doing tricks like mounting file systems "noexec" so that things like replacing Chrome OS with Linux get harder and harder. Google DOES have their "crostini" project to run Linux in a VM on the latest chromebooks (I may benchmark that against a "bare metal" linux on my music apps later) but that still leave Google gleaning bunches of stuff and encouraging inadvertent leakage of personal data on the cloud.

So, recapping:
-linux is pretty amazing at recognizing all kinds of hardware, but it just can't recognize the constant churn of new stuff as well as an OS with a captive hardware base.
- things like USB sound and network cards level the playing field a bit, so we can get music writing and midi pre-listens and recording and editing

Final note: it's good to keep an eye on passmark's https://cpubenchmark.net
You might THINK you are getting an old system that will do nicely on your music processing, with fabulous high total benchmark ratings. But you MIGHT find that YOUR software tends to run the biggest things using ONE of however many cores your PC has. passmark gives BOTH the aggregate AND single core ratings. You can probably find the ratings of a system you have, then find the ratings of a system you are considering and get a good idea ahead of time on whether things will be better or worse with the new machine before you go to the effort of getting Linux working.

To me it's all a lot like a vintage British sports car: it's not just a car... it's a hobby!
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Trav1s
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Re: cheap desktop PC at local Goodwill

Post by Trav1s » Thu Sep 20, 2018 8:17 am

Would this be worth splitting of into separate threads?

One for Linux and another for Cloudready?
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Matt K
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Re: cheap desktop PC at local Goodwill

Post by Matt K » Thu Sep 20, 2018 8:28 am

This topic is fine either way - or if your'e interested in one or the other taht's fine too. TOS really only forbids explicitly political stuff. I think you could make a compelling case that this is on-topic as musicians use computers too. Evidenced by the fact that we're all on computers. ;)
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Re: cheap desktop PC at local Goodwill

Post by JohnL » Thu Sep 20, 2018 8:30 am

boneagain wrote:
Thu Sep 20, 2018 6:47 am
In the interests of sticking closer to the TOS "trombone related" bits, I'll add two cents.
Just got a nice Chromebook for close to $100. Even though it is NOT listed on the "adapt Chromebook to Linux" page (https://mrchromebook.tech is a good example of how open software spawns more-better open software) it loaded and does base functionality just fine.
It's actually https://mrchromebox.tech/
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