January 10, 2004
Q: What should I do with my old computers? It’s a shame to throw them away! — Joe
A: Every year after the holiday season there is a surge in the number of questions from readers about what to do with their old computers.
Most are looking for ways to get rid of them, but there may be several reasons why you may want to actually hang on to your machine.
Under no circumstances should you dispose of computers by throwing them in the trash. They are chock full of toxic waste and need to be dismantled and recycled properly.
For the donation option, my favorite organization here in Arizona is Az StRUT (Students Recycling Used Technology — www.azstrut.org).
Not only will they turn your donation into a usable computer for needy charities, they also will make sure that any unusable components get disposed of properly through their relationship with a recycler.
Elsewhere around the country, there are hundreds of organizations that provide recycling services. Start by checking with local and state agencies as well as schools to see whether there are sanctioned donation programs.
There are a number of national recyclers (including HP) that you can find through your favorite search engine, but many charge a small disposal fee of $5 to $15 for each item.
No matter where it ends up, make certain that you first securely remove any personal data files (home accounting, old tax programs, documents and spreadsheets, etc.) from the system. My favorite program for scrubbing data from computers is called Eraser, avail able for free at www.snapfiles.com.
There are a number of possible uses for an old computer that you may want to consider before getting rid of it.
If you are as much of a music fanatic as I am, you may want to consider turning it into an MP3 jukebox that can connect to your home stereo. By wiping the drive clean and reinstalling Windows (any version), you can relegate the rest of the space and processing power for the simple playback of music. A great MP3 player for older systems is Winamp (www.winamp.com).
For those who have a large collection of digital pictures, you can make the old system a simple "file server" for other computers on your home network or as a backup of your critical data.
If you are the inquisitive type, an old system is the perfect way to play around with Linux, the operating system alternative to Windows. You can get dozens of free versions of Linux at www.linux.org/dist.
If you have kids, it is nearly impossible these days to do homework without access to the Internet. Surfing the net and checking e-mail does not take much processing power, so an extra Internet connected system always comes in handy in families.
Keep in mind: Most old computers actually spend a year or two in a closet collecting dust before they get donated, which decreases the chances for them to be useful. As this will not likely be the last time that you are faced with this decision, try to get your old computer donated as soon as you determine that you have no use for it.