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Cast-Off Computers Offer Hidden Value

Jon Denton
02/25/93


Look again before you lug a computer to the dumpster to rid yourself of outdated machinery.

Somebody may be standing by, waiting to get their hands on your high-technology junk - especially if it's 1 a mainframe or midrange IBM or IBM clone, say computer sales and service operators who keep an eye out for valuable hi-tech cast-offs.

Minerals such as gold, silver and platinum may lace the innards of your mechanical reject. It could be worth hundreds of dollars or perhaps nothing at all, depending on the date of manufacture.

Private businesses sometimes toss outdated electronics, salvagers say. Oklahoma may also have bigger caches of aging mainframe computers, such as schools, governments and military bases.

While today's computers use less valuable minerals than products made even five years ago, there's a niche market that says salvaging out-of-date computers can still be profitable.

Dean Puckett, operator of The Computer Doctor Inc., 3970 E Interstate 240, disdains any connection with full-time collectors variously known as "computer junk men" and "silicon scrappers. "

They are usually in the country's biggest cities, he said. Few if any exist in Oklahoma.

"I've never been a scrapper, but I have acquired too much equipment," Puckett said. "Some of it I had for 10 years, and it's obsolete stuff. I just scrapped it out. "
The rest he used for parts and repair - an approach known as cannibalizing.

Computer-scrappers once got as much as $2 a pound for a mainframe, Puckett said. Years ago a scrapped IBM/36 might bring as much as $3,000. Today it's hard to get anything at all for an IBM/32 or IBM/36 - the metal coatings are too thin and there's too much plastic, salvagers say.

Such products often remain valuable in other ways, said Tom Pace, president of Pace-Butler Corp., 5900 Mosteller Drive, a computer company that specializes in used parts. Last year his company posted sales of $1.5 million, he said.

Now two trucks are kept busy, driving the country and picking up used computer-related equipment.

Five-year-old computers may be too outdated for some businesses but perfect for others on a tight budget. Pace said his company buys computer-related electronics at 10 cents to 20 cents on the dollar, brings them up to standards, and resells them.

"A lot of our clients are schools and large and small businesses. We are saving them a lot of money," he said.
Son Vu, owner of Unicomp, 1 8312 W Reno, limits his business to selling new products. He said a few years back he quit the computer salvage business to focus on new PCs.

"The most value in those old computers are in the parts," Vu said. "Some components are not made any more, and companies are still using them. "

Even so, he keeps an eye out for a quick scrap resale. He will make a bid if the profit looks promising, but strictly as a "side-job. "

"You have to know about computers," Vu said. "Normally, we sell them even before we get delivery. In some occasions, we do the disassembly, but basically we try not to do that. "

He is concerned that his image of selling new computers not be tainted by any past association with computer scrapping.

"We sell to a lot of big companies," he said.
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