5 Ways to Get Rid of Old PCs

by Ronald Pacchiano

Selling and recycling may be the most obvious, but we look at five different options to dispose of old computer systems.

Whether you own or manage a small business with dozens of computers or you work at home with a single PC, at some point you'll need to replace your computer systems. When that time comes, what do you do with your old PCs? You have a variety of options -- selling, donating, upgrading, repurposing and recycling -- each with benefits and shortcomings. Let’s review the options.

How to Dispose of Old PCs

1. You Can Sell It

Our first choice is to sell old computers, since the proceeds could help offset the cost of new equipment. Depending on what your old hardware is actually worth though, you could find that selling is not a cost effective option. Let’s say for example that your system is worth $250. Online auctions have posting fees and take a percentage of the sale. PayPal takes its cut, plus you might get stuck absorbing some of the packaging and shipping expenses.

Next factor in the time you need to research the systems' value, place the ad, monitor the auction, and finally manage the delivery of the items. These costs come out of your profit, and you need to decide whether it's worth your time and energy.

2. You Can Give it Away or Donate It

While your older PCs no long meet your business needs, it's likely that someone on your staff would appreciate having it. While the thought of giving away once-expensive equipment may give you pause, there are advantages to it. For instance, the burden of removing the PCs from the office shifts to the employees, which means no moving, storage or liquidation fees to contend with. The computers will be removed quickly; freeing up space for the replacements, and -- bonus points -- it creates good will with your employees.

Alternatively, you could donate old PCs to a worthwhile charity or other non-profit group. Numerous organizations will take your old systems and refurbish them, ensuring that the equipment works well and runs legal software. Considering that most of these non-profit organizations will use these systems for email, Web browsing and basic office tasks, recipients should benefit greatly from your contribution.

Just remember, this isn’t a service for removing all of your antiquated hardware. Many groups won’t accept equipment that's more than 5 years old. They also prefer that you donate complete systems, with all accessories and original software.

In addition to doing a good thing, the hardware you donate qualifies you for a tax incentive. Business donors are allowed to deduct the un-depreciated value of the computers, while individuals can deduct the current market value. For more information on donating computers, check out Computers with Causes. You can find other organizations via the Microsoft Registered Refurbisher directory.

3. You Can Upgrade It

Of course, getting rid of old computers isn’t your only option, especially if they're only a few years old. You can extend the life of your aging hardware by investing in some upgrades. Most computers, particularly desktops, are designed to be upgraded. Memory, hard drives, graphic adapters, and in some cases even system boards and processors can be replaced with newer, more powerful components.

By investing in some smart upgrades you could significantly enhance your PC's performance, increasing its usability for years to come, and at a fraction of the cost of a new system. One of the easiest and most cost effective upgrades you can make, for both laptop and desktop PCs, is to increase the memory. Going from 2 to 4GB of RAM will produce a dramatic increase in overall system performance. Processor upgrades can also be beneficial.

4. You Can Repurpose It

As your computers get older, their usefulness as employee workstations diminishes. It doesn't mean they're junk, they're just outdated for that task. If you repurpose or change the machine's function within your organization, you can still get plenty of value out of it. For example, older systems like this make ideal general purpose PCs. These could be used in areas like conference rooms or lobbies where visiting clients could revise or print a document, check their email or simply browse the Web.

Don’t be concerned if the system looks worn out or outdated. Just place the tower in a concealed location, maybe behind a cabinet or under desk, attach a wireless mouse and keyboard to it along with a large LCD display and no one will ever know.

You could also use these computers to run an alternate operating system like Ubuntu. Ubuntu is an offshoot of the Linux operating system and has pretty modest hardware requirements. Therefore a system might be slow and underpowered when running Windows works quite nicely as an Ubuntu desktop or server.

If you’re not interested in pursuing an alternate OS, then you might convert your old PC into a Network Attached Storage device. NAS lets network administrators quickly and easily add additional storage space to their network environment without the need to take down or open their primary network servers.

These devices are relatively inexpensive and have far few features than dedicated servers do. However this simplicity is part of their appeal. NAS devices are the perfect solution for offloading archive data or storing traditionally large files, like system images, CAD drawings, videos or virtual machines.

My colleague, Joe Moran wrote a great article for Small Business Computing that outlines how to convert your old PC into a NAS device using free software. There are numerous other uses you can find for your old PCs; all it takes is a bit of imagination.

5. You Can Recycle It

Finally, we come to te obvious option. If your computers don't work or are more than 5 years old, then it might just be time to scrap them. Notice though that I said scrap and NOT throw out. This is because computers are not the same as other trash. They contain hazardous materials, as well as plenty of recyclable material, which needs to be disposed of properly.

Not only is this good for the environment, but in many states, it’s also the law. Check out the list of recycling centers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website or Earth911. You should know that many of these recyclers will charge you a fee for processing certain types of equipment, such as monitors and laptops.

A Security Issue

Regardless of which option you choose, it is imperative that you wipe your hard drives of all information before parting with them. Remember, just formatting or erasing your hard drive isn’t enough; you need to perform a proper security wipe to sufficiently destroy the data.

I wrote an article called How To Delete a File ... For Good that explains how to do this. Due to the potential liability of improperly wiped drives, some companies won’t even accept a system that still has a hard drive in it. Be sure to check with your local refurbishing/recycling center for details.

Ronald V. Pacchiano is a systems integrator and technology specialist with expertise in Windows server management, desktop support and network administration. He is also an accomplished technology journalist and a contributing writer for Small Business Computing.

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This article was originally published on Thursday May 19th 2011
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