Arman's stuff
Why is old computer hardware so expensive?

(Thu Dec 2 17:53:53 2010)

It's not like anyone wants them... except, obviously, me

I've spent hours on multiseat, and only recently have anything to show for my work; part of my trouble is the hardware I have to work with, obviously. I'm not a fan of buying new things to run experiments - that usually ends up with a) the thing not working out, so I have an extra thing I'll never use, or b) the thing breaks, and I have no thing at all. Either way, my money is wasted. But that's not my rant for today - oh, no. No, this is about something far more sinister...

Old stuff. Yes, you heard me, old stuff. Why are pricing trends on old hardware so terrible?

Think of buying things at a garage sale. Ten years ago, a brand new remote control car with all the trimmings would cost upwards of $100. At the same time, a brand new computer cost, say, $800. About 8 times the price; fair, if a bit steep to buy on a whim. Now if, at a garage sale, you find a remote control car that's seen 10 years of abuse, it's probably going to be missing its spoiler, have dirt all over it, all the stickers rubbed off, and the headlights won't work; it'll have no batteries, a bent antenna, and if it manages to work, it makes funny noises when it runs. Going price? $2. Not a bad deal, especially when they throw in half of a walkie-talkie set.
Now, contrast this with a computer; a 10-year-old computer at the same sale will be full of dust and fuzz, running Windows 98 at best, and Windows ME at worst; it will have coffee in the keyboard, a ball mouse, and rarely has a monitor (even though they always come with one). It won't have any documentation or backup CDs, and it will probably be loaded with spyware and viruses. The best hardware you could hope for would be a Pentium 3 with internal video, sound, and maybe a network card. Maybe. If it runs, it will not only make strange noises, but will smell funny. And what's the price on this? If all that is roughly equivalent to the car, you would expect a price of about $16, $20 at best. Is this what it is priced at? Never! The best price I've seen has been $50, and the monitor is always separate, for another $30-$50! Somehow, even though computer equipment is considered obsolete roughly every 5 years, it manages to retain that value for years. Oh, the first 25% is gone the day you bought it, and the next 65% will drain off in about 5 years - but that last 10% will hang around forever. In fact, it might even get more expensive after 10 years, especially if it's server equipment.

In my multiseat experiment, I'd like to be able to put a few PCI cards in a computer (this is the suggested way, after all), but it's prohibitively expensive. A 5-year-old nVidia card should cost around $5 today, but I can only find it for upwards of $30! If I wanted to spend that kind of money, I'd buy a 2 year old card, new!

I can find keyboards and mouses, speakers and printers, even scanners and laptop bags for a dollar each - good deals, by the way, that scanner light is awesome - but never the stuff I really want, like video cards or ram.

After pricing it out, I found that I can build a 2.9 Ghz quad-core system with 4 video cards and 4 sound cards (three of them USB) for $438.92; quite good, actually. With a used single-core system, I wouldn't want more than two seats per station, which means I'd need to build two dual-seat stations for $219.46 each. A used desktop of decent quality would be about $100 of that; add another $45 for a low-end PCI nVidia card, $10 for a decent sound card, and $15 for extra ram (all new, of course; used is the same price), and I can build two dual-seat stations for $340. They will be about half the speed, half the ram, and half the number of processors as the brand new one, though they will have PCI sound cards instead of USB... but that means that I can build a system that should be able to play Starcraft and Half-Life for only $100 less than a system that would be able to play games that are only a couple years old. If I had the money, I'd opt for the slightly more expensive system.

But that's only the beginning - see, computers might be found at garage sales, but only in their complete state - none of this "parts bin" that I love so much. No self-respecting computer guy would sell his beloved 15-year-old graphics card, and no self-respecting 'normal person' would even know what one looked like. That, I believe, is the crux of the matter - computers, for the most part, are black boxes. Sure, people can plug in a USB drive, and may know how to run Windows Update, but that's about it. Even experienced gamers are afraid to build their own computers. And I don't know why, either; it's cheaper by half, usually, and it's not exactly hard. If you buy quality parts, you can get a really nice system that takes 15 minutes to put together. If you get the cheap stuff, you can build a system in five minutes (assuming you can get the case open in a decent amount of time). Obviously, there is installing the OS and such afterwards, but it's still worth it. If nothing else, you get a computer for cheaper, with more hardware, and with a good knowledge of exactly what is inside.

But, that just doesn't happen. And people that do build themselves a new computer every year sell the old one for way more than I could afford. I need to find a place - a pawn shop, maybe - that doesn't know much about computers, and thinks they are worth about the same as anything else, as far as deprecation. Then again, people like that are still running their Pentium Pro... sigh.

Anyone have some old computer equipment they'd like to sell me? It's a sellers market, it seems...

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This blag is tagged: Computers, Games, Money, Multiseat, Programming, All