Dec 2, 2016

Rebooting Costa Rica PC Rescue

Our kitchen-table charity, CRPCR, has been at an ebb, but not dormant, the last year or so. Some funds were collected via PC repair jobs, which contributed to refurbishing a handful of PCs, all of which have been donated to local families during that time. It's been a year where my time had to be spent on pressing family, farm and writing activities including a new book about how to earn money copywriting, which is in paperback and Kindle format.

A few weeks ago I received several boxes of computer parts and accessories including two desktop machines and a very old laptop via a third-party. Unfortunately, after a quick triage I found that all three computers were not repairable although I managed to scavenge some minor parts. The laptop had already been stripped of memory and a hard drive. It doesn't happen often that people use CRPCR as an alternative dump site, fortunately. These kinds of "donations" we don't need.

Anyway, that unpleasant episode turned out to have some real goodness to it. As the other activities that had kept CRPCR on the back burner were waning, processing those parts got me back in the shop and imbued me with inspiration. I was soon elbows-deep in the disorganized stacks of parts and untested machines that were threatening to consume all space in the shop.

old computer motherboard on the test bench
The last motherboard test - Celeron CPU/256 MB, circa 2000
Three weeks later of daily work, I'm polishing off the last system, which is a 500MHz Celeron board that maxes out at 256MB!

Imagine, that machine when new fetched well over $500! I thought I would have finished with it in half a day, but it has been challenging finding a Linux version that will even install with that little bit of memory.

During this time, I've also tested and organized all our spare parts into their own containers, which will make subsequent system builds a whole lot more efficient. I was also able to replace 3 broken computers of the 6 systems I'd orginally donated to the local elementary school back in March of 2015.

PC desktop towers refurbished for donation
Refurbished systems on the shelf
I also built two systems for donation to a local night class that educates Ticos in the use of basic PC apps such as a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation slide maker. Plus, I found another single-child family who live in a house the size of some U.S. people's walk-in closets who needed a PC. The son is an eager, bright boy, so I know he'll put it to good use.

At the end of these three weeks of work, CRCPR has six systems on the shelf ready for donation, two that need new motherboards and a few spare cases. However, we are down to just six monitors, so I need to scrounge a few more of those. We also have a large pile of scrap that needs to go to the local recycling center.

PC parts ready for recycling
The recycle pile of non-usable parts

Naturally, it's a refreshing feeling to have everything in order and a good number of PCs to hand out to the neediest families in our area who have never been able to afford their own PC.

The final step in this "reboot" of the charity is a new fundraiser to acquire older, new stock of motherboards. We're aiming at 10 or so motherboards that are still in the static wrapper but are about 5 years old or more so we can get a good price. That vintage also matches up well with the CPUs, hard drives, memory, etc. that we have on the shelves, so we can, hopefully, continue to build PCs for around $50 each.

I want to wholeheartedly thank our awesome donors of money and materiale who have generously given in the past! Without your much-needed contributions, we could never have realized this endeavor and kept it going as we continue into our third year.

Pura vida!!


  1. Hi Casey, Was thinking about this. I being asked to secure wipe and dispose of PC's from time to time. Is there a cost effective way to get them to directly you from Canada? Those few I shipped last year was while visiting a friend in New York. Are things at the point now where a raspberry Pi could do instead of shipping the CPU units? We could just ship monitors, keyboards, Mice instead. Brian ve3bwp

  2. Hi Brian, nice to hear from you. Actually, it has become more difficult to get outside shipments due to CR Customs increased enforcement. Shippers have had to raise their prices, tax/duty is no longer included in the price and I saw that, for some reason, used computers require special permits to come in (not sure about monitors, etc). I'm going to have to dig up some local sources, probably visit all the PC repair shops I can find.

    I actually have thought of using a Raspberry Pi or one of the other small boards, putting it in a small enclosure and attaching it directly to monitors. I have one I'm experimenting with now. Could definitely be a better option. Restoring laptops is not really viable for me as they are difficult to repair/procure parts. I'm lucky to get half of them going again.


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