Cheap PC Scheme Launched In UK To Extend Internet Access

Go ON UK is a cross-sector partnership that aims to bring the benefits of the internet to the remaining 8 million UK residents who are not already online.

Martha Lane Fox, of fame (infamy?) is spearheading their new ‘Get Online @ Home’ initiative, selling ‘no nonsense affordable’ refurbished PCs and laptops to try to tempt those people online.

Substantial discounts are available for those on state benefits and further discounts are offered for taking up a new broadband/phone contract with TalkTalk (a backer of this initiative).

What’s The Deal?

  • Basic PC deal is a refurb Pentium 4 (2.0Ghz) PC with 1GB RAM, 40GB hard drive, W7 and a 15” TFT screen for £149 (about $235) or £99 for those on benefits.
  • Basic Laptop deal is a refurb Celeron laptop with 1GB RAM, 40GB hard drive and W7 for £199 (about $310) or £169 for those on benefits.
  • Signing up to a 12 month phone/broadband contract gives another £50 off the total price – so those on benefits could buy the PC for just £49 with this option. However they would be stuck with TalkTalk – ‘winner’ of Money Mail’s Wooden Spoon award for worst customer service in 2011 (and in 2010)…

So Is It A Good Deal?

It’s getting a load of press attention in the UK because a headline of £49 for a Windows 7 PC and monitor sounds very impressive for anyone on benefits wishing to get online. But is it?

Judging by the PC specs these are very old refurbished computers – the Pentium 4 2.0 processor was released way back in 2002 (or 2000 if it’s the socket 423 version) and the 40GB hard drive also suggests they are likely to be between 7 and 10 years old.

The CD (instead of DVD) drive also points to a vintage era – my bet is that these were originally XP Pro business desktops but the RAM has been doubled to try and cope with the demands of Windows 7. The 30 day warranty is not generous – although typical for old refurbished computers. However, it does not instil much confidence that the hardware will last as long as anyone spending up to £200 might reasonably expect.

For comparison, after a 2 minute search on Ebay I found a business with 100% feedback selling ex-corporate Dell PCs of similar spec (but with 0.5GB RAM and XP Pro) including a 15” monitor for just £35 delivered…

Add a keyboard and mouse for £10 and you still have a saving of £50 to £100 compared to the Go ON PC – and you are free to choose your own broadband and phone provider (there are usually large discounts and/or cashback deals for signing up – £50+ is very common).

Why Windows 7?

Although it is possible to run W7 on such a low powered computer with just 1GB of RAM it is not a pleasant experience. The only reason I can see for installing Windows 7 is that the initiative is backed by Microsoft – perhaps they insisted on W7 regardless of the hit on performance? It might also help explain why the prices appear so high.

XP still has 2 years of extended support from Microsoft – probably longer than the useful economic lifespan of these computers. In my opinion the best option would have been to leave XP installed. Even if it had half the RAM it would be a much better performer – XP was what these computers were designed for.

Alternatively, for people with little money or previous experience of Windows computers, why not just go the Linux route and use a tailored free distro like Mint or Ubuntu?

If the main aim is a ‘no nonsense affordable’ computer, Linux would be a quick means of getting online with minimum fuss, better performance on old hardware and improved security – important for novices.


Whilst the Go ON UK initiative seems a good idea to help the remaining 8 million people who are not yet online, I find these offers hard to recommend. In its favour it’s a ‘one stop shop’ for a novice thinking of going online and, to be fair, the website does have a load of useful info about computers, safety, security etc.

On the other hand, for standard users, the costs seem ridiculously high for what these computers are. Even those on state benefits (where money is likely to be much tighter) could find a better deal online or locally – perhaps with more of a warranty too.

The initiative has a laudable goal and is environmentally sound in reusing old clunkers (although I do wonder if they are destined for landfill in months rather than years) but it falls down in its implementation and I suspect the inclusion of Windows 7 is partly to blame – if so, it is a missed opportunity.