/ 20 August 2008

How to recycle your PC

Getting a shiny new computer often means figuring out what to do with the old one. And dispensing of an old or unneeded computer is no trivial task.

You can’t simply throw a PC out with the rest of the garbage. It’s illegal to do so in many places, and even if it’s not where you live, it’s environmentally unfriendly — not to mention potentially dangerous if someone obtains your old data.

So it pays to think carefully about how you’ll dispose of your old computer equipment. The good news is that you have plenty of options — and an opportunity potentially to make back some of the cash you spent on the new system.

Repurpose the old PC
First, figure out whether you really need to get rid of your old computer. Old machines can be great for dedicated tasks, such as backing up newer machines. The Windows Home Server operating system, which at its core is designed as a complete back-up system, runs well on older technology.

Slap Windows Home Server on to your old computer, hook it up to your in-home wireless network, and the old computer will go to work making sure that all of the other computers hooked up to your network are backed up each night. No intervention necessary.

Windows Home Server is available in an OEM version from popular online retailers such as Amazon.com for $149. Install it on an old computer, and for less than the cost of a decent external hard drive you can kiss your back-up worries good-bye. If you have enough hard-drive space in the old computer, you can even use Windows Home Server to store multimedia files so that everyone in your household can access them.

Resale value
Maybe the best way to recycle your old PC is to sell it for cash.

eBay or another online auction site is your friend in this regard. Name brand computers — those from the likes of Dell, HP or another well-known PC maker — generally hold their value better than computers from local shops, and notebook computers are always fairly easy to unload.

Even if your old computer is damaged, you might be surprised to find that you can still get a fair amount of money for it. Damaged notebooks, especially, are frequently bought and sold on eBay. Those who buy them are generally parts dealers who intend either to fix them up and resell them or break them down into individual parts and sell those for a profit.

Salvage parts
Another option is to open up your old computer and salvage parts that could still be of use. Although you’re unlikely to be able to use all of the parts of an old PC — the motherboard and video cards, for instance, may be outdated or unusable — some components can be reused with relative ease.

The internal hard drive of your old PC, for instance, can be inserted into an external hard-drive case — available at most online retailers for about $10 — and turned into an external storage device, suitable for backing up or archiving files.

The memory (RAM) modules of the old PC may be of use, as well, in the new PC, assuming both computers take the same kind of memory. And the optical drive — CD or DVD reader or writer — can be used as a second drive in a new computer. The rest of the parts you might be able to sell on the second-hand market, again using eBay.

Give it away
You might also consider giving the computer away. What’s old technology to you might be perfectly usable to someone else. If there’s no one in your family who might benefit from your old computer, consider donating it to a local school, library or other organisation.

Your donation may even allow you to deduct from your taxes the market value of the machine, depending upon local laws.

Also, there are a number of organisations around the world that now specialise in finding good homes for old computers. A quick Google search for donating computers in your area should turn up some options.

Keep in mind, too, that some PC makers now provide a free recycling service for their customers. Dell, for instance, will recycle your existing computer if you purchase a new one from the company. The old computer does not have to be from Dell, either.

Take precautions
Regardless of how you dispose of your old computer, though, be sure to erase the hard drive completely before passing it on. That includes deleting any personal information as well as licensed software.

Once your computer is out of your hands, you just won’t know where it might end up, and there are plenty of folks out there who know how to recover even deleted data from a hard drive.

The best way to securely erase all of the information on a hard drive is to use a tool designed for the job. The free Eraser tool, from Heidi Software, overwrites all data multiple times using a special algorithm. — Sapa-dpa