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Refurbishing office computers for schools and the community

Recycled PCs handle bulk computing at Buller High (October 2005)

Year 10 students working with Excel spreadsheets in one of Buller High School's labs equipped with recycled computers.

At 1:3 and rising, Buller High School's ratio of computers to students is higher than the national average. It has achieved this largely through a policy of buying recycled computers.

Howard Murray, the school's full-time network manager, says the recycled machines easily handle the school's core computing needs. "With the software we're using – MS Office suites and so on – we find we just don't need the flat-out 3Ghz machines they're pumping out now."

Buller High does have faster machines in a laptop suite, but it's three years since a new desktop was bought for student use. This was for high-end graphics, but even at that level of school computing, recycled equipment has caught up somewhat. Recently Buller High bought second-hand Pentium 4 machines from CANZ recycler The Ark.

The bulk of school computing takes place in two labs. One has 29 Pentium 450s and the other has 25 Pentium 733s.Ten computers are in the library, one classroom has a suite of five desktops and individual desktops are dotted here and there. A few years ago the school also began leasing ten laptops, under the Ministry of Education's programme to install mobile wireless-networking using Smart Tools controlling software. This group of laptops is rolled from classroom to classroom.

All computers are networked via a fairly standard system based on four servers – terminal server, video, file and print server, and communications server. The mobile laptop group is able to link with the same system. All computers receive the school's basic software 'image' via the Ghost system.

The current network, which Howard says is working well, replaced an older Citrix-based thin-client system which was never satisfactory.

Apart from day-to day maintenance by Howard, the school's computers receive periodic attention from Christchurch ICT specialists IDS Ltd, who maintain many computer sites on the West Coast.

Howard thinks the school will stay with recycled computers for most of its needs. "They certainly handle the work. And out of all the recycled computers we've bought, we've only had to replace about 2-3 power supplies and perhaps one monitor a year.

"It's a good way to go – we can put a small lab into a classroom for close to the price of a single new computer."

He doesn't rule out the possibility of buying new desktops for high-end graphics work in the future, but sees no need at present. The next major purchase is likely to be a set of desktops at around 1000Mhz, to replace the oldest lab machines when the school moves from Windows 2000 to Windows XP.

Howard can be contacted at

Photo caption: Year 10 students working with Excel spreadsheets in one of Buller High School's labs equipped with recycled computers. 

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