March 31, 2004
Looking a Gift Computer in the Mouth

Budgets are tight. We're all looking for ways to provide our offices with the things we need to do our jobs. So, when someone comes along and offers us computers for our office--a little used, but still works fine, they say--it's pretty tempting to accept them. Often, though, it's a gift with a steep price tag.

As tempting as 'free' computers might be, here are some critical things to think about when someone offers them to you:

1. Why are they getting rid of these computers?
Companies, non-profits, and other organizations, just like Extension offices, use computers every day for every staff person that they have. They, like Extension, are trying to stretch their budgets, make things last, use their resources as efficiently as possible. Like Extension, most organizations buy new computers for those staff who use computers most heavily and pass the replaced computers along to someone else who may not need a machine that's as fast or may not need it as often. When they give computers away, it means they no longer meet the needs of even their most minimum computer user. Extension offices use computers at as high a level as any other organization. If the computers won't work for the organization that's giving them away, they almost certainly won't work for Extension offices either.

2. Do they meet university support standards?
Computers must meet university support standards to be setup or repaired by the Extension Information Technology service. This means not only do they need to meet support standards when they're initially setup, they must continue to meet the support standards at the time they need the repair or troubleshooting assistance.

ISU Support Standards as of September 1, 2004 will be:

  • Pentium III
  • 256 MB of memory (and more memory is strongly recommended)
  • Windows 2000 or Windows XP Pro operation system

Sometimes older computers can be upgraded to meet the university support standards, however, this will be an additional investment in an older computer, which (since it's already been heavily used for several years) may not be a performing computer for very long.

3. Have you considered the cost of ownership?
Older computers are no longer under warranty so any hardware repairs will cost you money. In addition, repairs to older computers--hard drives, memory, CD drives, etc. will be more expensive than the same repair to a newer computer. Old parts that fewer people want cost more. Older computers will be more likely to need repair so at some point you will either be spending more money on that computer or it will no longer be repairable--and often this moment will come without warning and when you're least prepared to handle it.

In addition, old machines:

  • may not be repairable,
  • may not be able to use supported applications,
  • may not have adequate security and other protections
  • may not be able to run collaborative network applications which will be increasingly important for all aspects of work

It's daunting sometimes to consider the cost of replacing the computers in your office, but as computers continue to be critical to day-to-day operations, it remains important to budget for and obtain machines that can be a help and not a hindrance to your office and your productivity.

Posted by dcoates at March 31, 2004 03:13 PM