Demand for used PCs on upswing

One in every dozen PCs is a second-hand system, and demand is particularly rising in developing countries, study shows.

Demand for used computers in some developing regions of the world is outstripping supplies, a new study has shown.

One in every dozen computers used worldwide is a "secondary PC," and about 152.5 million used systems were shipped in 2004, according to a study released Wednesday by market research firm Gartner. Secondary PCs are systems used for more than three months by the primary consumer and then made available to another person.

The research company estimated that for every two new PCs shipped to mature markets in 2005, one secondary PC will be resold. More than 200 million PCs will be shipped in 2005, according to an earlier Gartner estimate.

Secondary machines tend to come from the U.S., Japan and Western Europe in order to meet demand in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Asia Pacific.

Gartner said that both the home and professional markets for secondary PCs will continue to see growth in the next several years, fueled by better computer performance, longer system life, and recent recycling legislation that gives companies a greater incentive to sell their used machines.

"PC performance is extending the useful life of PCs," Meike Escherich, principal analyst at Gartner, said in a statement. "At the same time, users are opting to extend the life spans of installed PCs. This may increase used PC availability."

Gartner analysts said developing countries are under pressure to accept used PCs as a viable technology option because they are so much cheaper than new machines.

However, such movement of used machines from the West to locations like India and China is causing concerns among environmental groups. They allege that PCs shipped for secondary use often land in unorganized recycling yards, posing health hazards to workers and the environment.

One potential low-price alternative to refurbished PCs might be the long-awaited $100 laptop, a notion that has been backed by tech executives including Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Advanced Micro Devices CEO Hector Ruiz. On Wednesday, Nicholas Negroponte of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab presented his own plans for such a device, one goal of which is to help better educate children in developing countries.

Negroponte has pointed to some challenges in getting used PCs out to people on a large-scale basis.

"If we estimate 100 million available used desktops, and each one requires only one hour of human attention to refurbish, reload and handle, that is 45,000 work years," he said in an FAQ on the $100 laptop. "Thus, while we definitely encourage the recycling of used computers, it is not the solution for one laptop per child."