Need a desktop or laptop computer? Here are free or cheap options for you

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Computers and other digital devices are expensive but they have become a necessity for modern living. An internet-connected device is essential for school, work, even recreation especially during this pandemic.

If you’re looking to buy one but you’re on a tight budget, consider these options:

Free options

  1. Library

    Need a computer in a pinch? Most libraries in Manitoba allow members to use desktop computers and wi-fi for free. You can also print documents for a small fee. You can ask librarians for assistance if you need to use a computer to search online for information or jobs, send an email, format a resume, or send out an application. Look for the nearest library from this directory: Manitoba Libraries. Call or ask ahead to check if you need to reserve in advance. Also ask about other COVID-19 protocols.

    Need a library card? Read this before you go and apply. You can also call the library nearest you to ask about requirements and how to apply.

  2. Community Centre/Newcomer-serving agencies

    Some community organizations have programs that include public access to computers. An example of this is Family Dynamics’ Family Resource Centres all over Winnipeg. These centres are open to those living in the subsidized housing communities and surrounding areas (near the centres). If you don’t live near these centres, you can ask the regional settlement centre nearest you for help or a referral to organizations offering the services you need.

  3. Sign up for Computers for Life

    Computers for Life is a digital literacy program for Manitoba immigrants. It is specifically for those with limited English (CLB 1-4) and with no computer experience. Eligible participants would need to enroll in a four or six week course to learn basic computer skills. They receive a free or low cost desktop computer when they complete level 1 (there are 2 levels). Child minding and interpreters are also provided.

  4. Request from ERA

    The Electronic Recycling Association is non-profit organization that refurbishes electronics donated by individuals and organizations across Canada. They started a laptop lending program at the start of the pandemic to help families in need. But with the help of Canadian businesses donating laptops to ERA, they began offering budget laptops ($80 for students and low-income individuals) and free laptops for low-income families (up to two free laptops).

    However, due to the high volume of requests, the program is currently on hold. But you can still submit your request on their website (ERA) if you’re willing to wait.

Practical options

  1. Computers for Schools Manitoba/Tech Manitoba

    If you’re a currently enrolled college or university student, adult education student, or if you are home schooling you can apply for a free or low-cost desktop or laptop computer, as well as computer software from Computers for Schools Manitoba. You can even have it delivered (for a fee). Check their price list here. Computer peripherals such as printers, scanners, and switches are free.

  2. Refurbished computers

    Some devices are returned to a store, repaired if necessary, inspected, and sold again to the public at a lower price. These are called “refurbished” products. Getting a refurbished computer can be a good choice because these devices are thoroughly checked and inspected, plus you get a sizeable discount. However, you might have to live with minor scratches and blemishes. To get the best refurbished products, check out online listings from major electronics stores like Best Buy or The Source. You can compare prices and even order online. You can also visit the store and ask the sales person for recommendations.

  3. Used/Second-hand sellers

    Many people sell their used or slightly used electronics in online marketplaces. Go to sites like Kijiji, Craigslist, eBay or Facebook Marketplace to see such listings. Aside from the lower price, the great thing about second-hand computers is that they are usually good to go – most have an operating system or basic software already installed. They can also come with free accessories like a mouse, mouse pad, even a printer. Also, if the seller didn’t say that the price is fixed, you can negotiate for an ever lower price. This means additional savings for you.

    But make sure to inspect the device thoroughly before you buy. Ask for photos and necessary product specifications to see if the product fits your needs. Here are some tips to evaluate second-hand electronics:

    • Research the model online – Look for product reviews and pay attention to common complaints. Does the battery conk out after two years? Does it have upgrade or compatibility problems? Has it been phased out? This is important especially if you need to replace accessories or spare parts.
    • Perform a test – Do basic tests like turning it on and off. Observe how much time it takes for the computer to boot. See if the charger is working. It’s a red flag if the seller refuses to conduct a test and tells you “they’ll vouch for it”.
    • Look for external signs of damage – A few nicks or bumps will be alright. But say no if the cords are frayed or bent, if there are burnt parts, there are foreign objects stuck inside, or if the fan is not working (the device will feel extremely warm to the touch when it is on).

    Remember, it will be safer for you to see the device in person first before paying. While there are many honest sellers online, there are scammers too. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

With thanks to Bedel Shafea, contributor
Sources: Refurbished,; What to look for when buying used electronics, Torrey Kim, The balance; and How to sell and buy secondhand things online without getting scammed, Elissa Sanci, New York Times Wirecutter. Accessed September 27, 2021.

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