After Hours

10 things to do with old computing equipment

When equipment reaches the end of its useful life, IT must either dispose of it or find it a new home. Here are several good ways to handle the situation.

Few companies amortize their computing equipment for more than three years of useful life. So once computing assets reach the end of the line, what do you do with them? In 2013, some best practice answers remain the same, but others are new. Here's a checklist for dealing with old IT equipment.

1: Meet your green requirements

In some industries and geographical areas, companies are now required to demonstrate adherence to green standards and environmental sustainability. One way to show compliance is by having environmentally effective policies for disposing of old computing equipment. In doing so, you also contribute to corporate sustainability compliance. There is value in that.

2: Work with local schools

Corporate IT can partner with local schools by donating good but used equipment that they can use for technology projects. Some companies take this goodwill effort even further by partnering with schools in tech development programs that include student internships with the company. "Proven" interns from these programs can make excellent IT hires. The company also develops a great reputation in the community.

3: Use older equipment for training and testing

Especially in thin client application environments that don't depend on compute-in-the-box (think cloud), older equipment is ideal for training, which historically operates on thin budgets and is always looking for a resource infusion.

You can also use older equipment for testing purposes, as long as your test results will accurately emulate the production environment they are targeted for.

4: Cannibalize

Some older equipment can be used as spare part sources if there is enough version compatibility between the old and the new equipment. Replacement disk drives are a great example.

5: Work your trade-ins (lease/buy)

Never underestimate your ability to trade up to new equipment by turning in your old equipment. You can secure a discount that may be as much as one-third of your new equipment retail price. If you lease equipment instead of buying it, a mechanism in the lease contract allows you to get credit for older equipment on the lease that you are exchanging for new.

6: Sell to the third-party market

Especially for power servers, mainframes, and disk drives, you can usually find a third-party reseller of older equipment that will buy it from you (only to resell it to another company). However, to qualify your equipment for this market, you must first recertify it with its original vendor. In the equipment recertification process, the vendor examines and (if necessary) repairs the equipment to make sure it is production-ready.

7: Cycle down older equipment to low power users

In most companies, the high power users are in areas like finance and engineering. Users requiring desktop or laptop computers with fewer bells and whistles might be in the warehouse, the factory, or in work locations where there is a lot of environmental interference (dust, etc.), which you don't want to subject your newest equipment to. Many companies have a downward rotation cycle they apply to desktop and laptop computers that cycles these assets into lower-power user groups after a certain timeframe. By using this strategy, companies can often extend the lifecycles of these assets for two or more years.

8: Sell or auction older equipment to employees

Many employees look for inexpensive laptops that they and their children can use at home or at school. If they can purchase a nice computer that might not be the latest and greatest but that still works and fits their budgets, they are happy to take an older piece of equipment off your hands.

9: Donate to charities

Charities are always looking for free computing equipment that can run their operations. However, never approach them with an eye toward dumping off equipment that is so antiquated it won't support Internet or run a current word processor or spreadsheet program. In fact, many charities have wised up to the old "dump it" approach and now set minimum standards for accepting older equipment (e.g., "must at least run a Windows 7 operating system").

10: Sell for scrap

Companies used to give away old equipment to recyclers. But in today's lucrative scrap metal market, the goal instead should be to sell this equipment to scrappers.

Additional reading

About

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

64 comments
Worth2Cents
Worth2Cents

We tried just about all of these when we were purchasing PCs. Boy! What a headache. The company kept everything in service for as long as they could. Listening to users go on about wanting better and better resources, every day, made "service with a smile" harder each day. Schools didn't want our old junk -- Some even told us that. Who could blame them? They were upgraded to the max years ago, and simply couldn't support the newer software. At first employees jumped at the chance to buy their own office computer. They were used to it...Until Legal came down, waving software licensing agreements in our faces. What were users going to do with a 7 to 10 year old PC with no software on it?! And of course, the Techs took the heat on that, too. We lease now. Everyone gets a new PC every 4 years, and only by divine intervention did management finally say, "Wait your turn, no skipping." Because those with clout were grabbing the new stuff, leaving the Admins and lower ranks to fight over the better hand-me-downs. I had one guy skip ahead to get the newest PC. Two months later, the specs changed, and now he wanted that one! Dude spent 75% of his time out of the office...Just plain greedy.

a.portman
a.portman

Don't Some schools just can't say no to obsolete computers. They then get stuck with a mismatch of equipment to support and eventually dispose of as well. Now, if your local school has a technician program, there may be something, but after 15 years of dealing with other people's obsolete computers, no. 2: Work with local schools Corporate IT can partner with local schools by donating good but used equipment that they can use for technology projects. Some companies take this goodwill effort even further by partnering with schools in tech development programs that include student internships with the company. “Proven” interns from these programs can make excellent IT hires. The company also develops a great reputation in the community.

ananthap
ananthap

Employees usually prefer different configurations for their PCs since their family use is also for multimedia, games, etc They would - in my view - prefer to get a good piece in consultation with their adult family members and without being obliged to the organisation. Part of their reasoning is explained in point no 9. Nobody likes hand-me-downs and that too from a quasi-official list. It's a different matter that the same employee will pester the IT-techs with problems on their personal machines all the time. OK

ShaneD
ShaneD

I collect everything until there is no more space, have all data wiped by my helpdesk staff and then donate all the equipment to charities that provide computers to the underprivilaged. I tried the Sell/Give to staff thing, however I found they then assume it means they get free helpdesk services for it for the remainder of its life (even if told this is not the case). It just causes difficult situations and wastes a lot of time.

jk2001
jk2001

I keep hearing about "power hungry" old computers, but the current multicore computers use more power. The CPU alone uses more than 100 watts for most processors. I got a quad core that advertised as low power at 95 watts, and the computer burns 140 watts. The old P3 uses around 40 watts. So the computer probably burns no more than 100 watts. The only new PCs that use less power are the mini itx computers and laptops.

cbigham
cbigham

After removing the hard drive, we take PCs and also CRTs, printers, etc. to our local Goodwill (by the truckload). They do not charge to take them (call ahead first) and they rebuild units from all these parts. I assume they are sold to make money for the organization.

vjf
vjf

In Vancouver, BC, and hopefully other large cities too, volunteer organizations have been set up to educate new users about computers while re-using old computer equipment. It's absolutely worth checking to see if there is any kind of organization like Free Geek (http://freegeekvancouver.org/) in your city.

jelabarre
jelabarre

What to do with them? Give them to me . Seriously, the machines I'm using at home are probably equivalent to something the rest of you got rid of 2-3 machines back...

jk2001
jk2001

I'm in a big city, and I like using Craigslist. First off, we use the gear until well past its 5 year depreciation, so it has nearly zero donation value, and generally has little useful value to any nonprofit organization. Second, if we send it to e-waste, it'll be parted out and recycled, which kind of offends me, because the computer still works. What I found is that there are a lot of poor people who are refurbishing computers and selling them for around $50 to $75 for complete systems, usually with CRT monitors, and usually with a desktop Linux or Windows XP (maybe cracked). As you can guess, they sell to other poor people, and seem to provide a little tech support. This is a market that exists below the level of thrift stores and Goodwill, believe it or not. My employer doesn't like this, so what I do is take the gear home, prepare a receipt so I can verify it was disposed to someone else, and then put up an ad on Craigslist "free" section. I leave instructions about filling out the paperwork (leave your name, email and phone on the receipt), and leave the equipment out on the porch. They show up and take it away, usually within a day. Around half the takers are refurbishers, and the other half are hobbyists. In fact, I'd put myself in the hobbyist class, because I take these old machines and turn them into NAS boxes, backup units, servers, etc. too.

dcarr@winning.com
dcarr@winning.com

If the p/c or Laptop you are donating would run Windows 7, then why in the world would you be getting rid of it????? That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever!!!!! OLD equipment is the topic. I think that means it is most likely has an older slower CPU, smaller capacity HDD, maybe 1 or 2 GB of RAM. So, it could possibly be upgraded to run WIN-7. Maybe not cost effective to do so, so you donate it. The charities who won't accept a system that will not run WIN-7 (out of the box) are not going to get many, if any donations. Who are these charities that will not accept anything less then WIN-7 machines??? I will avoid wasting my time going to them with my donations, and continue to donate perfectly acceptable machines to the charities who appreciate it.

Zzznorch
Zzznorch

I work with an educational charity and frankly, some of the stuff we have been given is absolute garbage. A charity is not a cheap disposal service that also gives you a tax write off. Five years ago I spent many hours trying to get some donated computers working that still had "Certified for Windows 2000" stickers on them. That was 2008 making these computers dinosaurs. In then end, many had to be disposed of on our dime as they just could not be made to function well with Windows XP SP3 running antivirus software.

abridgessmith
abridgessmith

We posted this article in Spiceworks and ran across a guy in NJ who does IT for a small school district. Long story short, now we're trying to help them rebuild their computer lab! gofundme.com/20x62o

g01d4
g01d4

We always kept a few very old computers to run legacy software, mostly in the lab. It was more cost effective to keep the old hardware (not just computer of course) then to upgrade.

mis
mis

I was with a volunteer group associated with a National Guard unit. We formed after the unit was sent to Iraq. Those of us with computer savey started taking donated computers, mostly from area employers and repurposed them. We would clean off the disk, reload an OS (originally Win98) and set them up so families who had a member deployed overseas (1st Iraq then Afganistan) but had no computer at home could use them to email their family members. We also sent a number of those computers along with Guard members to take to the overseas unit and they set up an email center within the unit. It wasn't long before word got out as to what we were doing and we started to hear from people across the country. Since we had given to everyone associated with the local Guard unit a way to email their loved ones', we started to give to other units around the state. People started to donate money so we could refurb the equipment when needed and local trucking companies made room (donated space) on their trucks if they were going near a Guard unit that had requested computers from us. ISPs also donated access up to 1 year to the family that we gave equipment to. I am a vet and it really felt good to help the families of those who are serving. Our group is no longer active but you could always check with the local unit to see if there is a local volunteer group doing what we did. Just another thought on what to do with your old equipment. Bruce

jonrosen
jonrosen

First thing that came to mind, was empty out an old Mid or larger sized tower case.. line it with some plastic. and funky makeshift pot for plants :D

ssanders
ssanders

If it is too old to use even for spare parts, and if you want to have some fun and make sure that no one will ever be able to pull any data from the hard drive, it can be fun to take an old desktop or laptop somewhere out in the country (make sure it's legal and you or a friend or family member owns the property you're on), and set up the PC on a tree stump or on the ground and use it for target practice. I did that to an old HP pavilion that was more than 12 years old and completely worthless. Other than cleaning up the mess, it was a lot of fun.

mul88tiii
mul88tiii

There is a great place to donate used computer equipment in Santa F,e NM. Its a non profit called Cybernetworks New Mexico - just off Cerrillos near St. Mike's. phone number is 505 983-2577.

LesNewsom
LesNewsom

I am all for recycling and repurposing equipment, but I think there is a degree of liability if used equipment is disposed of improperly by the "new" owner. Everything has a serial number and can be traced back to the original purchaser. If that laptop, desktop or monitor I donated or sold is found in the mud, I would hate to be on the hook for cleanup. Perhaps a papertrail is the best that we can do?

ckelly
ckelly

The local schools have better equipment than we do. We run our networking equipment till it's so out of date the recyclers hang up when I give them part numbers. Just about all of it ends up in the local scrap/recycling center. We make sure we get every dollar out of our stuff!

V.H. Scarpacci
V.H. Scarpacci

In Southern New Hampshire there is an organization that will take your PCs, fix them up and give them to low income families to use. If training is required they do that too. Look for organizations like this in your area. http://ctac-nh.org/

hometoy
hometoy

Because work does a raffle every few years, basically when the server room gets cluttered with old systems, I haven't had to purchase a new computer for myself since 2000!

Madsmaddad
Madsmaddad

Set up a share Means 'Map Network drive' from My Computer Icon.

Madsmaddad
Madsmaddad

Yes, the reply doodah just keeps cycling On a home network I would do this, but at work it would need to be more formal. Of course, all this must be secure behind a firewall. Take your old PC, strip down the OS, Share the folder where you want to store everything. Keep a means of backup. On Network computers (NT, XP) set up a share to this folder. I don't know about Vista, w7 or W8. Or from Linux, SMB to it. Job Done.

cd613
cd613

take out the gold sell the aluminum

krisdevs
krisdevs

We can use the old monitor with laptop as external, dual monitor a substitute for black board & we can also use the regular keyboard with laptop.

cbeckers
cbeckers

This is a great list...and a great reminder...for those of us who are still housing old, no longer used personal (that's with a lower case "p") computers at home.

tgreenfield
tgreenfield

This might sound like a good idea, but it has a number of drawbacks from an operational perspective. Different equipment often requires maintaining slightly different SOE builds for them. If you have a range of different hardware types you will find that the additional labour maintenance costs easily outweighs the saving made in re-purposing the older equipment in a lower demand environment. Bear in mind that today's equipment is heavily commoditized and has a much lower unit cost than 10 years ago. Older equipment re-repurposed in this way often requires rebuilding or re-imaging. This isn't mentioned in the blog. Older equipment can have unexpected failures that result in high levels of support time to recover needed information. How many times have you had to recover some one's email archives from a failed local disk because they need them urgently? Or have to suddenly find another PC because the dust in the environment has caused seizure of a cooling fan, wrecking the PC? These are all more likely to occur in re-purposed older hardware. Believe me. This is a common practice in manufacturing plants. The cost of lost production can easily wipe out any saving made in minutes. False economy in these situations.

lacrumb
lacrumb

I have a IBM ThinkPad 600 that is running Windows 98 and Smarthome for home automation. With Smart Home software and USB connection to a Smarthome 1132CU and other hardware I can control not only yhe lights in the house but also the watering og the yard.

333239
333239

I'm not so sure about how good old PCs are for a NAS solution. Firstly do you really want to trust your data to drives and power supplies that are on their last legs? Secondly older PCs tend to be power hungry and they are powering a lot of additional stuff you don't really need in a NAS, plus NAS drives tend to be on 24/7 so power costs quickly mount up. If you don't care about either of these then fine, but you can get very functional, low power 'home' NAS boxes for a lot less than the price of a desktop PC.

sarah-j
sarah-j

Great article! One thing to add is to make sure data security is considered at every stage of the IT lifecycle. Here's a nice article highlighting the data risks involved http://www.simsrecycling.co.uk/News/Is-there-a-Data-Security-Gap and some great resources from Data Privacy Day 2013 here http://www.simsrecycling.co.uk/Data-privacy-day-2013 Sims also work with all types of customers to create tailored secure and environmentally friendly IT disposal strategies, so can advise you on the best route for you.

Rob C
Rob C

Rauno, The Reply button is not working, just keeps cycling. All I am wishing is to be able to have any of my PCs get access to some files in a central location. My post called 'NAS' was my attempt to get help to do that. In your post you talk about using old equipment as a 'File Server'. It sounds like that is what I want. Should my post have been titled 'File Server' instead ? Are they different things ?

Rauno
Rauno

I think it is best to anticipate what to do with a old equipments when you purchase them. By adding a few percent to the price, you can extend the afterlife of hardware by several years. For example, I built a desktop in 2004 with space for additional RAM, low power mother board with integrated graphic chipset and SATA capable: 1) An additional powerful graphic card allowed my little brothers to play until the left to University (3 years); 2) With more RAM, my mum could still use office software (4 more years); 3) Without the energy hungry graphic card and with big SATA drives (originally with PATA because of availability and price) it is now a happy file server (2 years and still running).

MichaelCarr
MichaelCarr

Seriously, tell me what you're using and where you live. I still have lots of older systems retired by customers and "free to a good home." But you didn't provide any details about what you have and where you are--so I, and all other readers, have no way to know if I/we can help you.

jk2001
jk2001

Really old computers shouldn't go to nonprofits and charities, at least not for their own use, because organizations need computers that can run current software and network. They need to be able to use current websites. It's better to give these to people who just need a computer, and are so lacking in a computer that running Windows 2000, or a small Linux like Crunchbang, is still a benefit. Generally, these people will eventually be fed up with the slow computer, but it'll be an educational experience that can spur them to save the $350 to buy a new low-end computer.

jk2001
jk2001

It's easy to forget that there are people who don't have personal computers. I have several at home, but found out some cowerkers don't have one. Yes, they might get a video game, or have a smart phone, but the whole PC thing just escapes them, unfortunately.

jk2001
jk2001

I gave away 10-year old Celerons a few years back, and there were takers. Now, around half ended up going to nonprofits that just sat on them because, well, they didn't have the labor to set them up, and so forth. The other half went to people I can only call "desperate for a computer" or really wanting a second computer or doing a small DIY refurbishing business. When someone is taking your computer and a CRT on the bus, you know they really need it. I found these people through Craigslist, believe it or not.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Primarily with FF 18 (assuming that's what you're using). You can get around it by right-clicking the Reply link and selecting "Open in new tab" (or window). At least that's how I did it before I decided to roll back to FF 17.0.1. TR wasn't the only consideration for me, though, there were also work-related issues.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

A neighbor here recently threw out an Old Nonfunctional Computer for a curbside collection as it didn't work it didn't have any sensitive data on it. I suggested to him that maybe I should pull the HDD and wipe it then securely dispose of it. He claimed that it wasn't necessary and then insisted that I couldn't recover anything off it. He actually insisted that it was safe. 3 hours latter when I handed him a copy of his CV, Bank Account Details and a copy of his Wifes Medical Records that had been sent to her he felt slightly different. The machine was a Duo Core with 2 GIG of RAM and a 1 TB HDD worked perfectly and only had a corrupt OS but as it didn't open the Windows Desktop it was broken and not repairable to it's owner. The people who owned that system are still using it today and think a lot differently about all of their Electronic Devices that connect to the net. In the case of Business it's far more important to do things right. ;) Col

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

In the Blog and absolutely no reference to it in Leasing Hardware means that it's not Important till after you have a leak. Then all Hell Breaks Loose and difficult questions are asked as to how did this happen. The reality is with any Hardware you dispose of and certainly all hardware that you lease you need to Wipe and reload it with a Base Install. Sure it's not going to stop someone recovering the data on the drive but it's going to make it a lot harder and time consuming. Just how long does it take to wipe a Drive before disposing of the machine? From my experience after appearing as an Expert Witness in a Court Case over this it's money well spent but maybe that's just me. :^0 However the reality is that once you decide to dispose of any computer hardware no matter where it was previously used there are Security Issues that need to be taken into account by Experts in the field. When you start to allow End Users who are department heads to decide what happens to their Old Hardware you'll end up in a situation where they decide to sell them at the highest price possible to return to their General Revenue Budget to spend as they please. As Labor costs are so high they will run FDisc on the drive and then wonder how their Data gets loose in the wild. One Government Department here went one step further they didn't even run FDISC on a machine because it didn't come from any form of Secure Environment it was a General Purpose System used in an office with no sensitive data at all on it or anywhere near it. They didn't even clear the Address Book which had the State Premiers [i]read that as State Governors for our US readers[/i] E Mail Address in it and when he started getting emails with demands for funds he got slightly more than a bit peeved off. You need to treat everything as from the Most Secure Environment possible and treat them accordingly. This costs money but a lot less than what the consequences are when you loose important data. ;) Col

jk2001
jk2001

P3 and P4 class machines use less electricty than the multicore systems. When you build a NAS, you buy new drives. Well, I buy new drives, for obvious reasons. The cost to run one is around $25 a year.

Rauno
Rauno

NAS are a specific type of file server with hardware dedicated to servicing files and no other functions. For example, I sometimes browse the web with my server. Wikipedia explains well the small difference: "NAS devices specifically are distinguished from file servers generally in a NAS being a computer appliance – a specialized computer built from the ground up for serving files – rather than a general purpose computer being used for serving files (possibly with other functions)." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File_server)

wjwood64
wjwood64

NAS, generally is considered a type of "plug-in" file server (oversimplified here). Power hungry or not, the energy "savings" are not significant enough with newer equipment to offset the COST of the newer equipment. On top of that, with the recent IRS clarification that computer purchases can NOT be expensed but must be capitalized over 3 years you get an additional financial ding. As for the concerns about hard drives I would have to ask, how many here, in their years in IT have had one fail? Of the ones that did fail, out of how many total hard drives? And how long did it run? It is *very* common for them to last many years with no problems. And that's why you have backup anyway. If you are recycling several computers you can cannibalize them for their hard drives and use RAID for fault tolerance. This way even if something happens to one drive nothing is ever lost. As for RAID, even WinXP supports software RAID, just not on the OS partition. You COULD use WinXP as a file server but I would NOT recommend that. Because MS is discontinuing support it could become a serious weak security link. I would look at some of the lightweight Windows Server versions (Win 2008 Standard) or possibly Linux if you are comfortable with that. Again, with ALL things file server and data related backing up is a critical issue. ============== One other good use for old PCs is as a print server. For that you could even use WinXP as long as you were not doing data storage. While not impossible it would be difficult to put a malware payload into a print queue that would affect the print server. So WinXP could be used for some time after support is ended if you isolate the usage to a shared print / print server box. Just some ideas...

Madsmaddad
Madsmaddad

I know it used to work. My PC automatically upgraded Firefox. Cheers,

jk2001
jk2001

The most common failures are the power supply and hard drive. And they aren't getting more reliable - they are getting less reliable in my experience. I'd guess around 10% to 20% of the hard drives I've owned or were responsible for fixing have failed before the disk was upgraded or the computer was considered obsolete or unusable.

rwwff
rwwff

Errrr, I have 27 dead hard drives on my bookshelf next to my workstation. Just cause you're lucky, doesn't make hard drives immortal. They are however, much more reliable than they used to be, that's for certain. To scale, I have 21 hard drives spinning in my office at the moment; so my exposure is larger than average, but its not a one in a million thing either.

wjwood64
wjwood64

Did all 27 of these drives fail on your personally, or at an organization you work for? What period of time did they fail? And out of how many TOTAL drives that were available over the ENTIRE time period? In other words, was it 27 drives that failed out of 27 (NOT!) or 27 out of a total population, or the entire period of time you collected them, of 27,000? It makes a difference.

jk2001
jk2001

I think recylers would pay for those disks. They extract the aluminum and palladium and gold.