eBay for inexpensive hardware

If you know pretty much what you are looking for, and if you know current prices for computer hardware, eBay, www.ebay.com the online auction site is a possible source. I recently purchased a used machine for a second file server on eBay and here is what I found:

I was looking for a commodity system from a brand name vendor. My favorite hardware vendor is Dell, and I know the product lines fairly well. I was looking for hardware that was less than the current state of the art. Especially for a low-impact network file server a 450Mhz processor, with a 10 gigabyte hard drive was sufficient for my purposes. There were at least 50 of these available on eBay, starting at about $100.00. The Dell Optiplex line is their “corporate desktop” type of machine which has a fairly long design life. The Optiplexes use standard components and they are very easy to work on with convenient access in the roomy cases.

Many of the available machines were from Dell Financial Services. These are machines that are returned from corporate leases so they are usually three years old or less. Once returned the cases are cleaned inside and out, and the hard disks are reformatted. Mine came with Windows 98, a keyboard and a mouse and 128KB of RAM. I was able to purchase this on eBay for $265.00. With about $20.00 for shipping and the same for tax, the total was just a little over $300.00. Note that there was no monitor included. I tried bidding $40.00 for a 17″ Dell monitor but was outbid by $20.00.

Once the machine arrived, in about a week, I plugged it in. It started right up but the hard drive had a very annoying whine. It was so bad that I took a quick trip to Staples and purchased a 20 gigabyte drive and another 128K of RAM. These went into the machine without much difficulty; and I removed the offending 10 gigabyte drive. The new one runs quietly, and so my final specs are 20 gigabytes 450Mhz Pentium II processor and 256K RAM, for a total of about $425.00 and two hours of time. I’m using this for a Windows 2000 server and the specs should be more than sufficient.

The $425.00 should be looked at in the context of what new or refurbished machines cost. I would price these out at the Dell site first. For example they are currently offering a “starter” server for under $1000, and since this is new machine it may actually be a better deal if you have the cash. However, I’ve found that often the low starting price goes up quickly, if you want normal options like more RAM, or a Pentium processor. The nice thing about the refurbished or returned machines is that they represent “real-world” configurations that you really need.

eBay isn’t for everyone. I think the chances of success are higher when you know the commodity that you are bidding on, and you bid on a fairly standard specification. But it is a useful option when you have a more time and less cash.

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