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back to article Who will rid me of these obsolete PCs?

I never would have believed that getting rid of one’s old computer gear could be the harder side of upgrades – until early last year when I bought a set of Wyse thin clients to replace an aging and mismatched desktop fleet. I briefly toyed with the idea of making some form of Franken-Beowulf-cluster out of the 40 or so working …

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Anonymous Coward

(untitled)

Why not leave them outside your door with a note saying "please do not steal", or something similar ?

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I remember...

Back in the day upgrading from an old IBM S36 - bigger than a chest freezer the thing was - the company (who I shall refrain from naming...) disposed of the huge chunk of metal for us - minus the 35kg each HDDs for reconditioning. When asked what was to be done with it, I was told they leave this kind of stuff outside the back door overnight and it would disappear!

Job done.

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Don't be surprised....

if the person who "removes" said item trips and falls while running away, and sues for injuries.

"Had an accident at work!" - I can just see the ambulance chasers lining up now.

I'd get my coat, but I can't seem to find it anywhere. I left it on that hook by the door......

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Wish I'd seen this a while ago

We had to get rid of 19" CRTs & boxes, laser printers, and a shitload more. Ended up paying the council to take it away.

At least I had the sense to remove the drives & zero them, unlike some people you read about.

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Anonymous Coward

Now see here!

"At least I had the sense to remove the drives & zero them, unlike some people you read about."

Just what are you implying by that? As the Department Head of Governmental IT, I demand to know exactly what you mean by that comment!

--

Coxure Braggart, DH GIT

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Market Value?

If you can't even give them away to charaties and have written them off as useless internally then surely their market value is closer to 0 than $140, I'm sure staff would be more interested in paying $1 or $5

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I wish!

Actualy, the way it seems to work here is that you have to dig up evidence relating to the market value of the item. Good examples would be print-outs of ebay auctions or kijiji ads for similarly specced equipment. That information then has to be retained for seven years.

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Go

Internal beancounting practices

Depending on your IT policy, you can make "simple" depreciation calcs. For example, we straight-line depreciate our kit over 3 years. Presumably at that point, it's zero-cost and avoids the whole "market value" argument, so as long as it's 3 years old, just give it to staff.

But then, IANAL or indeed a beancounter. The simplest answer has already been given above, which is leave it chained to a lamp-post. "Alright! I got me a bed.."

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Peppercorn

If the alternative is paying someone to take old PCs away, it makes sense to sell them for a penny (or that quaint UK legal tradition, a peppercorn). Get a signed contract from the buyer, especially if the kit is security-marked by your company. That way if the computer later gets illegally dumped, you wave the sale document at the enforcement agency as proof that it's not your rubbish. Also state sold as seen, no warranty. Of course the buyer will also want a copy of the contract, if only to prove legal ownership to a curious officer of the law, or to your site security on the way out!

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Camara

In Ireland we have a charity called Camara ( http://camara.ie ) who accept old PC's, put on an Edubuntu Distro they've brewed up themselves and then ship them off to schools in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Linux

um

Could you have just sold each machine for a dollar ?

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No

No, because then it could be argued that you're trying to get around the tax laws. If a company "sold" you a new car, or a new computer for that matter, for one dollar, they it's pretty obvious that it's tax evasion.

In this situation, not so much, but you still have to sell them for "fair market value", based on what similar computers are going for.

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not really

not if you can prove that it is market value. If you cant give them away then the market value for such items is negligible. Just find an ebay ad that expired for a simlar PC, note the price, that becomes a market value.

We did the same at work, we had a bunch of GX280's - no use to man nor beast. An ebay gx280 expired at £10. Jobs a good one.

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Go

I suspect that I won't be the first to suggest this...

I keep a stack of secondhand PCs around, with most of them being a Pentium II or newer. (Still, there are some 386, 486 and early Pentium boxes kicking around, and likely will be for a while.) They do come in handy when you want to try some kind of operating system, be it for desktop use, server use or even as a sort of purpose built appliance. They're also great if you see some beta release of software that you're already running and want to take it for a spin without risking your current configuration. I have an HP Vectra VA Series 6/200 Pentium Pro that makes a better Time Capsule than the one Apple sells!

The newer ones (anything with a Pentium 3 at 800MHz or better) also see use as "emergency replacements", because some computer is better than no computer. I do freelance consulting on the side and loan these out. If something happens to one of these, there is no big loss.

Yet as you pointed out, there are only so many secondhand computers that a person needs or can find something to do with.

There are companies (GEEP, Liquis and 5R Processors Limited to name but a few) that will come in and examine what you have, after which they will perform data destruction on it and remove it from the premises. From there, they will try to liquidate it and then recycle it properly if all else fails. Trouble is, this costs money if what you have isn't worth anything--or if what you have has some value but not enough to offset those parts that do not. They all do the same thing, turning the stuff out to eBay and letting it bring what it will.

Consider having an employees-only sale. I know of companies that do this and have some luck with it, selling machines for whatever they will bring.

You can do some of this yourself. Fire up your web browser, hit eBay and sign up for an account if you do not already have one. Make sure you've prepped the machines by at least wiping their hard drives and start listing 'em.

You never know what will happen. If you can be bothered to ship the computers, there can be money in it. I've had parts that weren't in perfect working order bring decent money...like $80 for a Pentium 3 board that worked but had damaged temperature sensors. I couldn't tell you why the buyer wanted it, but they did and were thrilled to get it. Chances are you won't have to spend much if anything on packing, because you've probably got a small stockpile of cardboard boxes, air pillows and the like already around.

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VM

You can use a virtual machine for testing an operating system.

These old machines often have pretty bad energy efficiency.

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@The Unexpected Bill

I have 15 Identical Pentium IIIIs. 11 Years old and <3. More on that, later...

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Energy Usage

Well...

I have a Kill-A-Watt plug in electrical meter and I know how to use it. (Sounds like a "B" movie plot.)

Having heard that before, I sat down with a few older machines and the power meter. First thing I found is that nameplate readings were almost universally high. Only one or two machines had power draw in excess of their nameplate rating, most were quite a bit lower, oftentimes under 40 watts. Even when some of those machines were filled with expansion cards and disks I could not make them reach the nameplate ratings.

Now I'm not a "raging greenie", but I don't advocate unnecessary energy use. It bugs me to see lights and computers left on when they needn't be.

For the Vectra already mentioned, pushing two SATA disks, one PATA boot drive and with most of its PCI slots filled, power consumption was a steady 56 watts with the SATA disks both working. By comparison, a Linksys NSLU2 and two hard drives pulled 46 watts under similar use.

I suppose that in the end it is a matter of choosing "horses for courses" but power consumption may not be the factor that you think it is between a more modern dedicated device and an old PC.

Virtual Machines are nice, but sometimes you want a real computer for a given task. I find that some things don't behave too well under VMs and others don't run at all. Plus, if I have to take the host computer down for any reason, including spectacular VM breakage, that may cause a problem.

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Happy

It will be interesting to see what you come up with...

I'll look forward to hearing about that. Hopefully they came to a good use or found a good home.

Another reason for keeping some old systems around just crossed my mind, because it has happened in the past on this end: A couple of times per year, someone will come to me and say "we need to have a demonstration/training/whatever of such-and-such software right away!" followed by "Can you secure ten workstations for this?" Or "we need a server for such-and-such a temporary project, have you got anything?" They've known that they needed this for six or seven months and I don't find out until right when they're ready to tell me, about a week before they need the stuff. It's your typical IT business...

Of course, there is no time to get a bunch of machines ordered, and even if there was, I'm in one of these IT situations where I have to make do with what I have unless I want to run through a 99-step program to get new stuff. Frequently it just isn't worth the trouble as compared to dusting off some machines, loading them with software and taking it from there. For line of business stuff, the older systems work fine.

That said, I still very much agree that finding a home for lots of suddenly unnecessary machines can be a problem. I don't think there is one good answer to the problem, but out of several possibilities, most of which were mentioned here, I always find one that works. I hope you can find something that works on your end.

(By the way, I mentioned selling the machines at an employees-only sale because you mentioned that simply giving them away would incur a tax liability. I don't know Canadian tax law at all, but maybe if you got something from them, it would defray whatever tax liability there was? Thought I ought to mention that, in case it seemed like I hadn't read the article.)

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The name plate is not the power consumption

Which name plate are you reading? On those power supplies that say "350 watts" in big letters, that's the DC power capacity, not the AC power consumption. Even those so-called "1 kilowatt" power supplies only consume about as much AC power as a common light bulb.

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DC vs AC Power Capacity

I have news for you. A kW is a kW whether it's powered by DC, AC or recycled cow-farts. It's one of the universal laws of physics. Of course a power supply will draw more power from the mains than it can deliver at the DC levels as they aren't 100% efficient (good ones can be over 80% efficient).

So an 80% efficient power supply delivering 300W of DC power will be drawing 375W from the mains with 75W disappearing as heat (less the odd few watts used by the cooling fan). In fact it's pretty near impossible for any power supply to reach it's actual rating as that would require each of the separate DC ratings for the various voltages available to be optimised.

So if a 1 kW power supply is only drawing the power of a 100W light bulb that's only because the DC side is delivering perhaps 80W.

Nb. it's important to note that the difference between the rated power output and the rated power consumption. If you want to be picky then you can get into power factors, but that's not a subject that the average user needs to get into.

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Badgers

Nameplate rating...

Point taken, but when I say "nameplate", I think a lot of people would agree that I'm referring to the one on the computer as a whole unit, on the exterior of the case.

Or perhaps that is just me.

Anyway...to give some numbers. I have a Macintosh Centris 650 right here, whose back label says 6A/120-240 volts AC 50/60Hz. 6 *amps*? Really? I don't think that's even remotely close to reality, even in a fully stacked up machine. (Assuming a 1:1 relation of voltage to current--not always true on AC, but it saves me nasty math that I'm not even going to feign understanding--that's 720 watts at 120 volts, a figure which may be worse when you consider that nasty math I wasn't talking about.) It's not even mentioned that the current draw will basically be half this value on 220/240 volt systems.

Therefore, based on some educated guesses and real world experience(tm), I postulate that most of the figures are grossly inflated from fact.

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Boffin

Nup

No, that's completely incorrect. Power is power, regardless of if its AC or DC. 1000Watts = 1000 Joules per Second. 100Watts = 100 Joules per second. You cannot get energy from nothing. I think you might be confusing power with current.

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"Common light bulb."

CFL or Incandescent? My house is all CFL moving to LED. I am not even sure you can /buy/ incandescent house bulbs any more. So you are claiming the waste power of a PSU is 14W or less on a 1kW PSU? In what universe? Even an 80 PLUS Platinum couldn’t claim that!

Now, I am always on the lookout for more energy efficient gear. You make a bold claim by saying “…those so-called "1 kilowatt" power supplies only consume about as much AC power as a common light bulb.” I would honestly like to know where you can get such a beast, if they indeed exist.

Also: you claim that “On those power supplies that say "350 watts" in big letters, that's the DC power capacity.” I would like to know which PSUs you use where you can reliably count on getting 350W DC on a unit stamped “350W.” Is that after 5 years of capacitor aging, or right off the shelf? Off the shelf, the best I’ve gotten is 98% of rated capacity, with degradation to 85% rated capacity with 5 years of capacitor aging.

I have always specced my PSUs such that system load = 80% of PSU capacity, and banked the PSU pull from the wall at 110% rated maximum. If you use alternate calculations, or know of better PSUs than 80 PLUS Platinum, please let me know!

I have had the best luck with FSP PSUs.

http://www.plugloadsolutions.com/80PlusPowerSuppliesDetail.aspx?id=37&type=2

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Unexpected results

I'll try to dig out a reference, but in the last year, one of the UK magazines (or it might have been the UK PC World online magazine) did some testing and found that putting overspec'd power supplies in systems actually reduced the power consumption. So, if you had a system requiring 450W, putting in an 800W power supply resulted in less power used than a 500W power supply in the same system. They published the measured consumption figures, and these showed a considerable difference.

It was reasoned that a power supply is most efficient towards the middle of it's rated capacity, and efficiency falls off as you reach the limit. In addition, the power supply is more likely to continue to cope even as it ages.

I measure that my 24x7 firewall, which is currently a AMD K6-II (remember those?) clocked at 550MHz only consumes about 85W measured with an in-line consumption meter, so older kit really does consume less and could be less than a 100W filament light bulb (and my 2GHz P4 T30 Thinkpad only uses about 45W even when charging at the same time as it is running). My kids recent gaming rigs draw more like 500W, though.

Don't think I would like to use the K6 system as my workstation, however.

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Power supply efficiency

It can also be a huge waste of energy to put a high-wattage PSU in a low-wattage system. Some designs of PSUs have to resort to dumping a certain number of watts as waste heat, if the attached electronics don't demand enough watts!

Another factor can be the relative demand for power at 5V and 12V. This can make it energy-inefficient to recycle an old P3-era PSU into a modern system, because the balance of a typical system has changed and PSU manufacturers have adapted their designs appropriately.

Not many people chase down the exact technical specification of their PSUs. I wonder how many manufacturers bother? Most people just get whatever PSUs the manufacturer of their PCs chooses to use.

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Boffin

Re Nup on AC

Sadly, your pithy "Power is Power" explanation is a tad over-simplistic : in AC circuits we have reactive currents as well as resistive: the former do not result in power dissipation. Hence the importance of power factor when specifying many higher-power electrical devices. Of more relevance to the SMPS example given here is the nature of the mains current waveform, which is highly non-sinusoidal, and thus the rms current x rms voltage equation does not yield true (i.e billed) power consumption. The typical error factor is in the range +50 to +100% .

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Never at the right time

Whenever I want an old PC for a family member there are none going free locally. When I've just bought new, someone offers me a perfectly good PC....

At work we pay someone to dispose of old kit, which I always find to be a waste of money as we use to erase the drives and give them away naked and ask the person who took them to take responsibility for them.

Personally I find my local local LUG is a good place to off-load older kit, there is always someone looking for something.

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Salvation Army

Trevor: the Salvation Army usually recycles old PCs, at least they do in Vancouver.

I gather they make a little money from it.

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@skelband

Thanks! I will look into this.

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Freecycle

Post them on Freecycle or equivalent with a subject line like...

"OFFER: 40 older computers (P4 and similar) - good for kids"

...and they'll be allocated in 10 minutes and gone in a day - guaranteed.

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@Jeremy 2

Worth a try. Edmonton's freecycle community isn't exactly something I would call "vibrant." Oddly enough, there is still a Usenet group (?!?) still active in these parts named "edm.forsale." I might actually have some lucky there...but the last time I played around with that usenet group, the crowd was fairly picky. Wanting complete documentation on such "give-away" prizes, etc. Worth a boo, though!

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Linux

Those Radio Hams snap up old gear too..

check out http://rac.eton.ca/events/upcoming.php for local Hamfests/Fleamarkets - amateur radio software still exists for DOS based systems, altho a lot of Linux stuff is out there and doesn't require high spec hardware. Local hamfests/rallies in the UK always see a bunch of vendors selling old PC kit - and generally the vendor leaves with a lot less hardware and more cash than the start of the day.

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Other uses

Computer sculpture? Anyone do art in Edmonton?

Anyone like to jump over piles of things with a 4x4 or bike?

Use the cases to house something else?

Hire out for 90's TV drama use?

Goal posts?

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Vancouver

Don't know where you are in Canada, but if you're around Vancouver, best option by far is to give them to Free Geek:

http://freegeekvancouver.org/

they may well be able to put you onto good organizations elsewhere in Canada, if you're not in Vancouver. For large chunks of machinery like yours, I think they will even organize a pick-up.

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One of the few advantages.

One of the few advantages of leasing, you can tell the company you're 'renting' the kit off to come collect it when you're on the upgrade cycle.

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Recycling electronics sucks

A working PC is easy to donate to charity ... except charities won't accept PCs that are "too old". By "too old" they mean 2 to 3 years. Sorry but I don't replace my entire, working PC every 2 years.

If you've got an old PC with a broken motherboard you've not got much choice but throw it in the bin. or that bag of old ISA/PCI cards and misc pcbs.

Our local waste centre recycles "electrical items with a 3 pin plug" but anything else they aren't interested in. The old computer speakers I placed in the "electrical items" bin got removed and thrown in the general rubbish.

I thought the council was bound by the WEEE regulations but obviously not. Rather than drive my stuff to the tip only for it to be thrown in land fill I just chuck it in the wheelie bin and save myself the petrol.

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Anonymous Coward

Ebay?

Pallet.

Sell as a job lot.

Buyer collect..

Job done.

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Ditto.

Surely the easiest way.

Not sure why people pay companies to take this stuff away when you can get people on ebay to pay you to take it away.

I've mainly been using it to shift a lot of faulty computers and other electronics. Yup - people are even willing to buy and collect faulty old computers!

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Sometimes the UK education system is way too picky

We recently tried to give some of our old PC's to education so that they could be donated to children with no computers at home. They wee refused because they 'Would not be to the same specification as the systems they use within the school"

WTF??? Surely a PC would be better than no PC at all!

Sometimes you just can't give stuff away

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Parents

"Surely a PC would be better than no PC at all!"

Trouble is anyone who can't afford £300 for a PC, even less for a second hand one, can't afford to have the internet. So giving them a PC isn't much help.

Also the reason some children haven't got access to a PC is because their parents are crap and choose to spend their money on other things (fags, bingo, Sky etc). Nothing is going to change that.

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And sometimes their parents are good...

...and choose to spend their money on food, clothes and heating. Some children who don't have access to a PC are not the spawn of chavs who couldn't care about their children. PC's and the internet are not the be all and end all of modern life, in fact many people get along just fine without them.

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Unhappy

Windows license

You also have very restrictive conditions on the Windows license. Unless you can pass on all the documentation and original media, the Windows EULA does not allow you to transfer the Windows license. And what good to lower-income households are computers without Windows (yes, I am a Linux advocate, but I am realistic enough to know that most people currently don't want Linux, unfortunately).

I'm sure that this is often conveniently overlooked, but any organization involved in re-deploying old systems will not risk crossing Microsoft and their lawyers, and will avoid most old kit unless they are putting Linux on it.

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Free sky Broad band

OK, they have Sky (and the sports package too) ... even with basic sky they get free broadband...

ok, it's so shite you'll need a month to download that bootleg dvd, but then they'll still be able to sell it down the market... then they can buy that 52" plasma, Xbox and other stuff that they all seem to have,

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Only in an LLU area

If I were to switch to SKY broadband, even though I would qualify due to my package, it is not available where I live. I can buy the paid service from SKY, but this is delivered using BT Wholesale just like every other provider in the area.

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Western Canada - Electronics Recycling Association

hi,

I have not dealt with them but http://www.era.ca/ the Electronics Recycling Association is in many cities in Western Canada and has lists of needed equipment for listed charities http://www.era.ca/index.php?page=charities

I would suggest physically destroying all hard drives to protect confidential data.

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Anonymous Coward

re: physically destroying all hard drives

Because a PC with no hard drive is so much use to a charity, right? Just run something like DBAN and nobody short of the NSA is going to read your precious data, even with the quicker options.

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Shirley...

...they'd depreciate to zero in 3 or 5 years, so there should be no accounting issues with giving them away?

I can imagine there'd be electrical safety issues to manage, however - AIUI this is why many charity shops no longer accept electrical/electronic goods.

Otherwise, Freecycle/geek or Ebay or an employee auction/lottery would seem to be the best ways to go.

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Anonymous Coward

Depreciation

is not linear when it comes to depreciating asset value. Each year, the depreciation is based not on the initial purchase price, but the residual value at the end of the previous year.

Say you depreciate computing kit by 25% p.a, and the initial value is £400

After one year, it's value is £300, after two, it is £225, after three £168.75, after four it is £126.56.

This means that it will never drop to zero, and will only approach zero after decades.

And at least in the UK, if you 'sell' an asset, you are required, as Trevor said, to try to get 'market value' for the asset. One thing I found that I could get away with was declaring the kit broken and of no residual value. This allowed me to dispose of small amounts of kit without getting involved in taxable benefits. My accountant would accept this, and write the annual company report in such a way as to allow the kit to drop off the asset register without declaring where it went. I doubt that you could do this for large amounts of kit, though.

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Boffin

RE: Depreciation

Whether depreciation is linear or not depends on which calculation method your organization chooses to use (which depends on which methods are legal in your country.) Straight-line depreciation is based on the initial value and does allow for a 0 or negative salvage value. You've described the declining-balance method.

Hardly definitive, but a good starting point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depreciation

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I can only comment on the UK

and this inverse exponential is how I was told to run the residual value of my asset register by two different accountants.

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