Slim, flashy tablet computers and smartphones have pushed many traditional desktop computers off the desk and into the closet, where they and their peripherals sit gathering dust.
But there is still value in those old computers, which can be fixed up and donated to students in low-income families or to seniors who want to use email, said a northwest Oklahoma City man who has found a project for his retirement years.
“I just do this for fun,” said Dave Stewart, a Tinker Air Force Base retiree who studied electronics in high school and pursued that interest through his career.
His career, which began in the U.S. Air Force, took him from the introduction of transistors to computer-controlled radar in the Vietnam era.
“I went along with it and got into that stuff,” he said.
“That stuff” traced the early years of the computer boom and the advent of predecessors to the Internet. The exploding popularity of laptop computers, tablets and smartphones, with their own computer functions, followed.
“That's where the business is going to,” he said.
His computer repair hobby began with 25 used computers donated by a Catholic school.
The school had wanted to ship the computers to Africa, but the $25 shipping cost per computer proved prohibitive.
He has continued to get donated computers, sometimes through notices he places online on Freecycle.org, which promotes recycling items by giving them to someone else.
“There are a lot of good ones, but I get a lot of junk,” he said. “You never know when someone calls.”
He will pick up computers in the metro area. At his home workshop, he erases everything on the hard drives. If desired, he can copy the material on the drive to compact discs and give them to the computer's owner.
The repaired computers often end up at Christmas Connection in Oklahoma City, which operates a store where low-income clients “shop” for Christmas gifts for free.
The nonprofit provides assistance through the year to clients who have been referred there by other agencies.
Christmas Connection staff and volunteers use the recycled computers to take application information about clients.
Some of the computers are later donated to families in need, said Shelley Dutton, executive director of Christmas Connection.
“We are the ultimate recyclers,” Dutton said.
Stewart said he prefers to work on Pentium 3 computers “or later.” Earlier versions of Pentium are too slow, so most people don't want them, Stewart said.
He gets to the crux of it: “You can't play games on them.”
He prefers to work with the Windows XP operating system because a lot of software works with it.
He does not work on Apple or Macintosh computers or on laptops because the parts are not interchangeable.
“You have to have exactly the right part,” he said.
With the move away from desktop computers, Stewart said, the supply of used computers seems to be dwindling.
There is little demand for refurbished computers with operating systems as old as Windows 95 or Windows 98, although they can be fixed up for email use, he said.
He can sometimes fix bulky, old CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors that have quit working.
“It depends what the problem is,” he said. He takes monitors that are beyond repair to a hazardous waste disposal site.
He has helped make a difference to families living below the poverty level who count on Christmas Connection, Dutton said.
“It's a tremendous service to us,” Dutton said. “It's just a blessing to the families.”