The cheapest computer you can get

The Government has a new scheme to let people buy a computer for as little as £49, but would you qualify for it and is that really the cheapest computer available…

If you’re reading this then you’re either online or you have a friend with a printer who thinks you should be.

Even if you already have a computer, the chances are you know someone who needs one, whether it’s a teenager with schoolwork, someone looking to upgrade or an older person who wants to shop online.

There are 8.1 million people in the UK who’ve never used the internet and around 4 million of them come from disadvantaged backgrounds. So clearly price might be a factor in keeping people off the web.

But households save an estimated £560 a year by shopping and paying their bills online, while 7 million jobs were advertised on the internet last year alone. The benefits are considerable, so what are the costs?

Here’s a rundown of some of the cheapest ways to get a web-ready computer.

GetOnline@Home scheme

The Government has launched the GetOnline@Home scheme as part of Martha Lane Fox’s Go On UK campaign, which is working to help get new users online.

If you’re in receipt of certain benefits, including housing benefit, jobseeker’s allowance and income support, you can buy a refurbished desktop computer for £99 or a laptop for less than £170.

Refurbished means that it’s been used but had its factory settings restored, in this case by a Microsoft-accredited company. Under this scheme, you also receive a 30-day guarantee.

Customers who also sign up to TalkTalk’s Essentials internet package for £5 a month get a £50 discount, which brings the cost of the desktop computer down to just £49 up front.

It won’t be suitable for everyone, though, as there’s also a £14.50 line rental charge. That means monthly costs of £19.50 for the internet, and you’re signed up for a full year.

However, there are other offers on the website, including pay-as-you-go internet access. Just make sure you factor in line rental when comparing the prices.

If you’re not receiving any qualifying benefits, you can still get a computer through the scheme, you’ll just pay slightly more. A desktop computer will cost you £149 and you’ll pay £199 for a laptop.

Each machine comes ready with the latest Microsoft software as well as security programs.

Is it a decent computer?

The machines on offer are pretty basic, so you’ll struggle to play top-end games. However, they are fine for browsing the web and using word processing and other Microsoft Office documents.

The purchase includes a 15-inch flat-screen monitor, keyboard and mouse, CD drive and USB ports, a P4 2GHz processor, 1GB RAM and 40GB hard drive. There’s also a helpline if you struggle to get started.

Of course, you don’t have to use the GetOnline@Home scheme to buy a refurbished computer – you could pay a little extra and get a higher-spec model from most of the major computer retailers.

What about the Raspberry Pi?

You may have seen news stories regarding the Raspberry Pi, a credit card-sized computer that costs just £22.

If that sounds too good to be true, you need to know that it’s literally just a computer board, and comes without a screen, keyboard, mouse, memory, power supply, cables or even a case!

The purpose of the gadget is not to replace conventional, more expensive machines but to encourage kids to learn computer programming.

If your child wants a computer for school work then this may not be the best choice. But if you want to encourage your offspring to learn core computing skills then it could be a great purchase.

There’s more information available on the DesignSpark website.

Find one for free

There are many websites allowing people to give their unwanted stuff away rather than chucking it into landfill.

Probably the most famous is Freecycle, but there’s also Freegle, Don’tDumpThat and a host of others.

Users can leave descriptions of their unwanted items on the site and anyone who wants it can email to collect. You can also leave requests for items you need that aren’t being advertised.

As a test, I posted an advert requesting a computer for my mother and was astonished to receive offers from three people.

I had a choice of two old desktop computers, complete with screens and keyboards, or a fairly ancient laptop. One other person emailed offering me a wireless keyboard and mouse set.

They were far from top of the range but they were perfectly functional and would have got a user online and able to send emails.

Staying safe with a second-hand system

If you’re thinking of accepting or giving away an old computer, you need to take your security seriously.

When accepting a computer from an individual, always run a virus and spyware scan before using it, or find a company that will do so for you. Keep hold of the details of the people who gave you the machine in case anything incriminating is ever found on it.

If you’re giving away a computer then you need to be careful not to hand over any data that could be used by thieves.

Even when you delete files they can be stored away on the computer, meaning your machine can be mined of information and put you at risk of identity theft.

Before you hand over your unwanted computer, make sure you copy all data you want to keep and fully erase the hard disk so that personal information is deleted.

You can also use a program like Eraser, which will repeatedly overwrite your deleted data until it’s very difficult to recover. Some security companies recommend that the only way to be confident your data is safe is to remove the hard drive before passing it on.

What are your tips for keeping the cost of a computer down? Share your experiences with other readers in the comments below.