Project FIFE: A 100% free desktop PC.

Last week was our campus-wide electronic waste collection drive, with several drop-off sites set up around the university.  Needing a few parts for some hacking projects I have in mind (for one previous example, see here), I decided to browse the e-waste items that had been dropped off.  There is also a regular e-waste recycling depot in my building, which I have started checking out more regularly.  Hey, if dumpster diving for electronics is wrong, then I don’t wanna be right.

You wouldn’t believe the things some people throw away.  Most notable (aside from a wireless keyboard and mouse set still in the original box) are what I am calling FIFEs, computers that are Free, Intact, and Fast Enough.  Operationally, I am setting a minimum cut-off of Pentium 4, which is what I still have in my office at work.  In the past week, I have found two FIFEs — Pentium 4, 160Gb HDD, 1Gb RAM, LCD monitor, etc.  I have taken them back to my office, cleaned them up, formatted the hard drives, and started installing software.

As a follow-up to my previous post about free science software, I am trying a little experiment in putting together a 100% free desktop computer that can be used by undergraduate research students in my lab.  The first step is to find a FIFE, then to install a free operating system like Ubuntu, and then to install the various free office, stats, graphing, imaging, web, and other necessary software.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

5 comments to Project FIFE: A 100% free desktop PC.

  • The other jim

    Have you used Ubuntu much? There is some specific ABI software that I need to run, but don’t have a Ubuntu machine here to test it on.


  • Very cool, can’t wait to see how this resolves. In the next few months in our lab, I think we’re going to be trying to put together a cluster from others’ e-waste… :)


    • So far, so good. The two PCs I picked up have been formatted and I have installed a bunch of software. They’re pretty much ready to go, and I think I will keep one in my lab and give one to a colleague who needs one for undergrad students. I decided to put XP on them because Ubuntu is a bit too hard to use for noobs (which includes me). Still, a Pentium 4 with 1 Gb of RAM, two hard drives (160Gb and 80Gb), and a flatscreen LCD is pretty good for $0.


    • One desktop is now in an office for use by undergrads, and the other I gave to a colleague for her students to use. Both seem to work just fine. Next: playing with setting up a “hackintosh” just to see if it works.


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