Retro Hardware Haul from Computerbank
Mar 16, 2019
5 minutes read

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Computerbank is a computer recycling and repurposing outfit here in Melbourne. I’ll quote their description from their own website:

Computerbank is an independent not for profit organisation based in Melbourne. We started recycling and refurbishing computers in 1998. Our low cost computers are refurbished by skilled volunteers for Australian Concession Card holders.

I’ve had my eye on this place for a while - I really like their goals of helping people and repurposing unwanted hardware. There are plenty of old machines out there that, given the right use case, would be perfectly adequate for continued use. Unfortunately they mostly go into the bin, and someone misses out on owning a piece of technology.

A little while ago I was looking at Computerbank’s website and I noticed they were moving locations. This prompted me to wonder - what were they going to do with their junk room? If you’ve worked with computers, you know the junk room. For those who don’t, allow me to explain: it’s where, over time, you accumulate an assortment of machines, bits and pieces, spare parts, and other oddities. Things that weren’t quite useful enough to find a purpose at the time, but a bit too interesting to throw away. Computerbank has been in business for twenty years. That’s a lot of time to accumulate junk!

As they were moving, I figured they’d be doing a bit of a spring clean. Why move things to a new location if you can move them to landfill instead? Even fervent anti-disposable types have their limit, after all, and this is just the kind of event that might endanger the residents of the junk room. I had to get into that room - this was a recue mission.

I skipped lunch to visit the shop one day, taking a short tram ride away from my office. Opening the door, I knew I was onto something. Bins of keyboards, buckets of mice, trays of cables. Computers arranged haphazardly in a window display. A proud poster of Tux by the door. Cupboards with glass doors full of obsolete storage media… This was exactly the kind of place I was looking for. I hoped it was worth missing out on eating my burger in peace.

I rang the bell at the front desk. An older gentleman greeted me and asked if I needed anything. I asked if they had any old hardware, and was met with a puzzled look. Pressed further, I specified - “486, maybe Pentium era is about what I’m looking for”. No response. I was worried. Elucidating further, I explained that I was somewhat of an enthusiast, a hobbyist with a penchant for old hardware. Overhearing the conversation, I was interrupted - “oh yeah, we have a room in the back with some stuff left”. The junk room was confirmed to exist, but it sounded like its days were numbered. The first person I talked to still seemed confused.

My interrupting friend led me to the back of the shop, through a snaking hallway, past boxes of tablet PCs, stacks of desktop computers, and workshops with hardware strewn about in the process of repair. The junk room was small, but held treasure. Immediately I saw laptops on a shelf, beige cases hiding obsolete silicon, and the familiar shapes of CRT monitors. I no longer worried about the burger.

I asked what was happening with the shelves of hardware. Apparently the only reason it survived as long as it did was that Computerbank would rent it out as set pieces - when someone’s filming something set in the 80’s or 90’s, and they have an office scene, they need to fill that office with something. Computerbank would rent some PCs to them, set up with basic office software and plausible accompaniments, e.g. ball mice, or horrible, mushy keyboards. It’d been a while since they’d had any enquiries though, so there was some uncertainty about the planned fate for the old gear. This was my opening.

After further conversation, some emails back and forth, a couple of phone calls, and two more in-store visits, I’d struck a deal. I was really hoping they’d say something like “give us a hundred dollars, then just come in and take whatever you want”. Turns out I was pretty close - the actual deal ended up being “give us eighty dollars, then just come in and take whatever you want”. Can’t beat that.

So, skip to today, and I’ve done just that. Gave the kind people at Computerbank eighty dollars, and cleaned that back room out. I did end up leaving the CRT screens. My eyes are bad enough as they are, and I really can’t think of any redeeming qualities of bargain bin mid-90’s CRT screens.

I haven’t sorted through everything yet, but I’ve taken some pictures! I’m really not sure what I’m going to do with some of this stuff. I know I’m going to keep a good chunk of it, but I think I’ll be moving some of it along. I can only play with so many old laptops at a time!

Let’s get onto the pictures!

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