I took a chance on a cheap Pi on Ebay

The great thing about the Raspberry Pi is that they are relatively inexpensive. A new Pi 3 can be bought for around £34 (Model B+ from The Pi Hut). But I saw a lot on EBay listed as "for parts" or "bricked" going really cheap. I few of them even stated there are instructions on the Raspberry Pi website (or associated forums) on steps to take to debug and fix issues. They just didn't have the time or inclination to undertake the task.

I, however, fancied a little challenge. Best case, I get a fully working Pi. Worst case, I end up with a cool paperweight.

I spotted a Pi 3 Model B listed at £9.99 (with free delivery) or best offer. Great, I'll negotiate. Opening gambit, £6.50. Five minutes later, offer accepted. It was listed as "no display or dead". Worth a try. I don't care about the display, it's going to end up in my network cabinet and connected via SSH. This particular one, if it worked, is going to have Redis on it, and be part of my development infrastructure.

I decided that I'd set an evening aside to try and work through the issues if it didn't work, and see if I had paid £6.50 for a paperweight or actually grabbed myself a bargain bit of kit.

Then the day came and it arrived, ready to check...

A photo of the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B which I bought for £6.50 on eBay - top side only A photo of the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B which I bought for £6.50 on eBay - bottom side only

I took a close inspection of the board to see if there was anything obviously loose. Nothing. No signs of burning, popped chips, melted solder. For all intents and purposes, this looks like a perfectly good board. Good start.

Next up, a new MicroSD card to test the boot. I've previously had issues getting Ubuntu Core running on the Pi 3, so i figured I'd be boring and go with the simple Pi OS 32-bit. At some point I will try Ubuntu again, as well as giving Diet Pi a try, but as a first boot, I wanted something I had a good success rate with.

Card inserted. LAN cable inserted. Power cable inserted....

Lights on!

In a brilliant wave of excitment and disappointment, it all just worked. I was able to SSH into the device, update it, and install Redis.

I was only disappointed that I wouldn't get to try my hand at restoring a Pi this time round, and documenting that. I'm actually really happy it works first time. Then came the task of moving it to my network cabinet (which is becoming very messy!). I hooked the pi up with some spare cables I had. A couple of lights flickered, and the LAN port lit up nicely. Bingo! Or so I thought.

After a few minutes, I tried SSHing to the IP it had been given previously. No response. Looked at my router to find the device. It wasn't there. Oh, no! Maybe this is a ddodgy device afterall. I hauled it back up to my desk - because a Pi really needs hauling like a beefy 4u storage box. Plugged everything in. Working fine. The only difference was the power source. Ok, it needs more than the USB power hub I have can deliver. No problem, I'll plug the power cable into a socket adapter and use the mains. Try again, and nothing! The only difference, again, was the power cable. Swap cables, try again. Success!

It turns out that the space micro USB cable I have isn't great for Pi devices. But the one I use to charge my bluetooth headphones and speaker is brilliant. I've not got the lesser cable on my desk for my headphones and speaker (it works fine) and the good cable powering the new Pi 3.

So, I took a punt on a Raspberry Pi which was advertised as being "no display or dead". It could have backfired, but I ended up with a working device for around 20% of the cost of a new device. My advice, if you are going to try buying Pis advertised as "dead", is get an official Pi power supply to start your checks with. I was fortunate to have a good quality cable to work with. I suspect a lot of dead devices on Ebay are actually just being used with poor power cables. Some will be genuinly broken, but as people are throwing out micro USB power cables when they get new electronics (which have USB-C ports), they aren't going to have many cables to pick from to test.

I got lucky. I could have had a complete brick and wasted the money. Maybe that will be the case next time. But is is possible to get some Raspberry Pi wardware for not a lot of money if you are careful. I also got it really cheap. I usually see the Pi 3 go for £15-20 in a "for parts" state. Usually to people experienced in fixing them, likely. If that's not an amount of money you can chance, then buy a Pi 3 new (or wait for the Pi 4 with 2GB RAM to come back in stock). They are great little devices.

My Pis

Current Pi count: 4
  • Timon (Pi 3) - Webserver
  • Pumbaa (Pi 4) - MySQL
  • Zazu (Pi 3) - RabbitMQ
  • Sarabi (Pi 3) - Redis

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