(NST File Pix) Some businessmen have found out that it is worth trying to refurbish computers seized from gambling dens because their parts have been cannibalised.
(NST File Pix) Police getting ready to destroy computers seized from gambling dens.

A COLLEAGUE from the Sports Desk brought up an interesting observation the other day.

Referring to a news report about the destruction of RM4.4 million worth of gambling machines at the Subang Jaya Municipal Council impound lot recently, he pointed out that it was a waste to destroy all those computers.

“Wouldn’t it be better to send them to schools, where teachers and students could use them in the classroom? It would be so easy... just format the computers,” he said.

Formatting a computer is to erase all of the data on its hard drive, and reinstalling the operating system so that the computer is restored to factory defaults. In other words, almost brand new.

And so, we set out to do the math. (That’s right kids, math DOES come in handy even when you’re grown up)

RM4.4 million worth of machines, assuming RM2,000 per basic computer, works out to about 2,200 machines. At an average 40 students in a classroom, that’s 55 computer rooms for our schools.

According to the report, the police confiscated 60,669 computers modified into gambling machines between January and Dec 27 last year. That’s close to 1,517 computer rooms, more than enough to have a computer room in every primary school in Perlis, Kelantan, Pahang and Terengganu.

Unfortunately, the reality can be very different from theory (Another valuable life lesson, kids).

According to a young man from one of the numerous companies selling refurbished PCs in Kuala Lumpur, they have in the past tried to get hold of such confiscated machines in the hope of giving the computers “a new life”.

“It was not worth it,” he summed up to me.

It turns out that the biggest obstacle is that most of these machines are only empty shells. The insides — the processor, motherboard and hard drive, which make up the “brain” of the computers — are missing.

“They have been completely stripped bare or the important components are gone,” he added.

At what point the extraction occurred is subject to speculation. Maybe the gambling den operators were tipped off before the raids and removed the components themselves, or it was done at some other point of time. The parts, obviously, have some value.

On mudah.my for example, processors fetch anywhere from RM30 up to RM450, motherboards are listed for as much as RM950, and hard drives between RM150 and RM300 a piece.

Where the parts are still intact, there are cases where the price quoted for the young man and his associates to procure them are so high, that it does not make business sense to proceed.

After all, their business model is to sell refurbished PCs at affordable prices to those who cannot afford brand new computers.

The computer screens pose another problem, the young man said.

Most are LCD screens and have been used non-stop as these gambling dens operate 24/7. Prolonged use of LCD screens can burn the pixels and lead to burn-ins, where images (like logos) remain “burned” on the screen because they have remained stationary for too long.

“LCD screens are not designed to be used non-stop like that. Most of them (the LCD screens from gambling dens) are not in good condition,” he said.

Slightly disillusioned by the hard truths at that point, and about to give up on the gambling-den-machines-to-usable-PCs transformation plan, the young man offered a glimmer of hope.

There are some banks, he said, that donate their used computers every few years to be refurbished and put to use by those who need them. This is part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR).

However, the number of computers involved is still small. Perhaps more banks and other businesses that replace their machines regularly should take up this noble cause.

In the meantime, where gambling den machines are concerned, if there are loopholes in the process and unscrupulous elements are stripping the components from the confiscated machines (for profit most likely), the authorities should urgently look into it.

It would be the right move — from an environment, conservation, and charitable point of view — if those PCs could be refurbished and reused for a worthy cause. Even machines that started out “bad” can become “good” in the end.

The writer studied journalism at the University of Toledo, Ohio. He has been with the NSTP group for more than two decades, the majority of them at Business Times. He has a wide range of interests in movies and music, plays golf and the drums.

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