Four Macs, $28

by Simon St. Laurent

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Last Wednesday, I went to a volunteer organization in an old factory and bought four used and untested Macintoshes - a mix of 68030s and early PowerPC systems for $28. Then my brother brought me an old PowerBook 140 and a Classic II, and I found a used IBM WorkPad z50 cheap. All of these computers are old, but they're still useful.

Three of the four computers I bought are for a friend's collection, but he uses them on a regular basis. I'll be using the Centris 660AV I bought for a birdfeeder webcam, something I've been working on but never finished. For some reason, the computers are never near the birdfeeders, but for $7 I can put one right there. The AV ports may let us do something with a better video camera if we ever get around to it.

We'll see what I come up with for the PowerBook, which needs a new battery, and the Classic II, which sometimes comes up with a screen full of random pixels.

The other nice find is the IBM WorkPad z50, which is a genuinely delightful design despite using Windows CE. Apparently IBM dropped this business, setting off a fire sale, but it's a sweet little system. I'm still figuring out how to set it up for Ethernet, but the CompactFlash card works nicely, the keyboard and TrackPoint are great, and the batteries last a long long time. Hopefully I'll be able to get PersonalJava running on it. Even if I can't, I expect this to become my portable writing machine. At three pounds, it puts my eight-pound ThinkPad to shame, and it's small enough to use in coach class.

While I realize that the rapid upgrade-and-abandon cycle has made a lot of money for the technology industry, I'm not so sure it's all been a good thing. 30 MHz machines may seem like distant memories, but they can get an enormous amount done at a remarkably reasonable cost.

Anyone else finding new uses for old computers? Or know of places that give them new life?