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Charity gives 40,000 PCs a fresh start

Nearly $3.8 million worth of computer equipment has been refurbished by Computer Aid for groups in the developing world.

Nearly $3.8 million worth of computers may not seem like a huge deal these days. But when each computer is valued at about $95, it adds up to quite a lot.

For Computer Aid International, it equals 40,000 PCs that have now been refurbished by the North London-based charity and sent out to schools, community projects and other not-for-profit organizations in 90 countries, mainly in the developing world.

These 40,000 PCs have a second-life expectancy of three years each, according to the organization, adding up to more than 220 million hours of IT use.

"This is a real testament to the generosity of our donors and yet another important milestone for Computer Aid International", said Tony Roberts, chief executive of Computer Aid. "Demand for PCs is high, and we are looking to more than double the number we have shipped so far in the next two years. Our target now is to reach 100,000 PCs in 2007."

Companies and individuals who wish to donate PCs and other computing equipment to Computer Aid can do so online through BridgeTheDigitalDivide.com, a site jointly run with News.com publisher CNET Networks.

Since the cost associated with each PC is fixed--about $75 to refurbish and $20 to ship--Computer Aid is able to raise money in innovative ways, said Roberts. "If an organization like Oxfam or UNESCO wants a whole container full of computers, we can provide that at a fixed cost, and the fundraising is effectively done by that organization. Although it was not what we expected, most of our money comes from that source."

Roberts said that Computer Aid's security procedures, which ensure all data is wiped from a PC's hard disk, mean that it can decommission equipment from banks, the government and hospitals. Most PCs are shipped without software, and recipient organizations tend to install it locally. Although Computer Aid is a Microsoft-certified refurbisher, it occasionally installs open-source software.

"PCs are a rare commodity in many countries," Roberts said. "The vast majority of schools and not-for-profits simply cannot afford to purchase new equipment in view of the prohibitive costs involved."

But Computer Aid does not ship PCs to anybody who asks for them, added Roberts. "There is no point in providing hardware to a place where there is no appropriate technical support. We attempt to work through partner organizations in each country (that) have the capacity to provide the necessary technical and training support."

Matt Loney of ZDNet UK reported from London.