I personally have gotten all of my computers from dumps which recycle electronics, the particular one which I go to has a large red bin where all of the computers are placed. however it's a little down and dirty. so far my best Frankenstein computer which has at least 4 computer's parts borrowed from it has a 3ghz P4 processor with 4GB of ram and a 250GB HDD the best of luck :-)
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Contact local government / school board, ask if they've got a job-lot you could take off their hands? L
If you're willing to sort through a lot of junk -- and go pick it up to avoid shipping costs -- propertyroom.com sometimes has bulk lots of computer equipment in unknown condition. Freecycle and so on. Note that anything you get free is likely to have limited memory and disk, even if it runs at a decent speed. Make sure you plan for that in designing your system, and/or figure that into your costs.
Assuming you want to build Beowulf cluster, it'd be a lot easier if all your hardware shared a common platform, adhoc arrangements of PCs will be a royal pain to work with. Steve