Hardware

10 things you can do with unwanted computer equipment

If it can be used, use it. If it can't, get rid of it. That's what veteran tech Jeff Dray advises when it comes to your stockpile of obsolete equipment. Here are his suggestions for dealing with the accumulating junk in the most beneficial ways.

If your equipment cupboard is anything like the ones where I've worked over the years, you will have a good-size room stuffed with old cases, dead keyboards, broken mice, and a selection of superannuated monitors whose primary function seems to be to provide opportunities for you to stub your toe or trip.

Clearing out this mess will give you back valuable space, may benefit others, and could even net you some money. Just remember: If it can be used, use it. If it can't, get rid of it. The office space it's occupying is worth a great deal more in financial terms, and the benefit of having the kit used is even better.

Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.

#1: Be realistic about what you have

Old keyboards are no use to anyone. If they work, use them; if they don't, it's not viable to try to mend them. You can get a good keyboard for £5 and a usable one for £2.50, so when they fail, get rid of them. The same goes for mice.

My experience is that most kit cupboards are crammed with things that have been taken out of service and put out of sight, out of mind. Working PCs can be used; those old Wyse terminals and Winchester drives are really not going to be of any use to you or anybody else. Segregate the usable from the unusable and arrange to dispose of the latter.

#2: Regain valuable office space -- hire a dumpster and throw it all away

Tossing all the unusable junk can be beneficial: Just be careful about how you dispose of it. In Europe at least, there are strict rules about the way you dispose of old monitors, as they contain some poisonous heavy metals. When you see how much specialist disposal companies charge to take them away, you might want to consider giving the equipment a new lease on life by passing it on to a new owner and a new user.

#3: Donate it to a charity

Plenty of people want a PC but don't have the funds to buy one. Schools used to beg them from all kinds of sources, but these days, at least in the UK, they seem to have better equipment than businesses. Your local amateur sports club may need one to help with the membership list or newsletter. Again, they won't need anything powerful -- just enough to run word processing and a spreadsheet. Perhaps your company could improve its public image by setting up a scheme for providing needy people with computer skills. Does your company have a Web browsing area for employees, somewhere they can go to surf at lunch time, to pay bills, to check their personal e-mail, and so on? You might be able to turn an older machine into a communal PC.

#4: Use it as part of your test setup

Software needs to be evaluated before being rolled out, in case there are compatibility issues. A test session on a dispensable system might save a lot of tears later. You don't need the most powerful machines just to prove that something works. Old monitors that have a poor screen image can still be used on servers, after all; you don't spend all day in front of it.

#5: Use it for training

When you're training network engineers, it only has to work. Performance is not an issue; all you want it for is to be seen on a network. Outdated stock can have a second life in the training room; machines can be re-imaged, used for demonstrations, and for taking apart. If you wreck it completely, there's no great loss. If you have people studying for certifications such as CompTIA or the MCP range, having a PC that can be used exclusively for research and experimentation might be the difference between passing and failing.

#6: Break it down for spares

You never know when a part might just get you out of trouble. Reusing parts is good for the environment and for the pocket and might just enable a quick fix instead of having a system out of action for as long as it takes to acquire a small component. Having spare power supplies ready to use on the shelf is a good idea, but don't keep too many. There is a fairly small requirement for this kind of usage, but surely it's better to have a working graphics card to keep a user going, rather than have to send out for a new one.

#7: Break it down for sale

Selling or giving a PC away is sometimes not the answer. Data privacy is a big issue these days, and with the availability of data recovery tools, some companies aren't keen on letting whole units go. You can still recover some of your investment by taking components and selling them for a few pennies on eBay.

I got my latest graphics card this way, a card that last sold for about £80 cost me £10, including postage. You'll need to check your company's policy on disposing of old hard disks. One major pharmaceutical company I worked for used to sell off its PCs minus the hard disks. We had an anvil and a logger's hammer, which we used to smash the drives to kingdom come. We had to ensure that all the pieces would pass through a 2-inch hole before we could dispose of them. Great fun and superb therapy after a tough day!

#8: Sell it as a working system

At the right price, the old nail that the office struggled with might be just the thing that a writer might find useful. After all, WP is not a resource-hungry program. If the system isn't good enough to run applications, it can still be good to use as a file server, provided you ensure that the hard disk is sound and you fit a backup device. Plenty of people would buy up your old stock if they were given the chance. People will be glad to buy a working PC for a small sum, and those funds could be used to support a local charity.

#9: Give it to an employee for home working

Some workers do better at home, especially when there is a tight deadline and being in the office is distracting. But even though it might be good to avoid traveling to the office, it might be hard to justify the expense of a second PC for those workers. Sometimes, the systems that one department finds inadequate for intensive applications may suit less demanding users. Pass it on to them. We had a director who insisted on having every new refinement as it came to market. As you can imagine, we were updating his system almost on a weekly basis, and the new graphics cards, upgraded hard disks, and redundant memory chips often still had the price tickets on them when they went to the junk room. It won't surprise you to learn that most of those parts found their way into our systems.

#10: Make the most of the metal

Those empty metal boxes need to go somewhere, and maybe, if you have enough of them, your local scrap metal dealer may be interested. World metal prices are at their highest for years, so a truckload of flattened-out steel PC cases could bring you in enough cash to start off the Christmas party fund for next year.

While you're thinking about recycling, there are companies that will buy scrap circuit boards and recover the precious metals from them. I worked in a PC shop where any dead cards were dropped in a bin and collected on a monthly basis. The money we received from this source was used to pay a small bonus to all the shop staff. All we had to do was get another engineer to agree that a card was not serviceable and in it went. As we did a lot of builds, upgrades, and repairs, we used to fill that bin quite quickly.

11 comments
jennifer
jennifer

#2 is BAD advice! You should NEVER dumpster your E-Waste. In other words, reuse and recycle electronics instead of sending them to a landfill. About 2.5 million tons of TVs, computers, printers, scanners, faxes, mice, keyboards and cell phones are discarded in a year. The good news is that many manufacturers and retailers now have take back programs or sponsor recycling events. Look for end-of-life programs that take back and/or properly dispose of products once they have reached the end of their useful life. You may even get rebates or credits based on the value of the materials. Or you may be offered services such as compliance documentation and secure data removal. Many governments have passed legislation to require end-of-life programs and more are expected in the future. Even all eCycling is not created equal. The proper recycling and disposal of electronics is complicated by two facts: 1) E-waste generally contains substances that are toxic if not handled properly and 2) certain components (such as copper and gold components) of E-Waste are valuable. There are many eCyclers that care not about being green, but rather send E-waste overseas to be dumped or disposed of improperly. So, when looking for an E-waste recycler, reseller or asset management firm, first make sure they are environmentally responsible. Companies that have taken the The Basel Action Network???s (BAN) Electronics Recycler's Pledge of True Stewardship have been qualified to uphold environmental and social justice criteria. Companies that adhere to the EPA???s R2 Responsible Recycling standards that are in development, although less stringent than BAN???s, are likely to be reasonable choices. Finally, corporate take back programs, like those from Dell, HP, Staples and Office Depot, are also responsible choices for eCycling. To find a legitimate eCycler go to http:// www.ban.org/pledge/Locations.html. Many provide convenient mail-in service Want to recycle something else? Go to earth911.org and use their recycling search tool to locate collectors and drop-off sites. Never Dumpster E-Waste! Jennifer Kaplan www.greenhance.com

TheGooch1
TheGooch1

>so a truckload of flattened-out steel PC cases How much out-of-use computer equipment does the average home user have? Truckloads? The best things to do with this equip was demonstrated in the movie outspace. Take the old computer/printer/etc out to a dirt lot, and wail on it with a bat. remember when all of those words that you typed correctly but your keyboard did not understand so it mis-spelled them? Time for revenge!

Jaqui
Jaqui

use those old, overbuilt cases as the legs for a workbench. :p a lot of smaller non-profit groups will accept donations of old equipment, both for their use and for them to sell / scrap for the funds needed to operate. [ you only need to dban the drive a couple of times on max wipe settings and it's way to expensive to recover the data that was on it. ok, it will take a week to do it that way, but oh well. ] Those nice tower cases, the 24 to 30 inch ones do make great structural supports for side benches in the shop, and who cares if they get banged up. I know one person who used the emptied cases to build an entire storage shelving unit, the legs and shelf heights dictated by what cases he had. :D He removed as much of the system front as possible, and secured wood inside the cases, for small cubbyhole storage spots.. things like ram chips, modems, sound cards, graphics cards all fit really nicely into those.

pravin_c_shah
pravin_c_shah

Used computers in working conditions can be sent to Countries like India, China and near east,far east, african countries.

Former Big Iron Guy
Former Big Iron Guy

Of the last few machines that I have put into my SOHO network have all been refurbished professional desktops. They usually come with just enough memory and HD to run plus the OS. The business machines are also less likely to have consumer oriented junk-ware on them and also may have management package clients included (much more to be preferred than games or junk-ware.) By using this class of machine, usually 2-4 years behind the current "state of the art", but they are at the point where maxing out the machine is economical. E.G. on my current working machine, I put 4gb of good pc3200 ram, replacing the .5GB pc2700 that was shipped with the machine. The pc2700 went with more orphans to bulk up my testing machine, which originally only had .5gb pc2100. The pc2100 goes to the charity recycle outfit. Same thing happens with older slower, smaller hard drives and monitors, keep the best and bump the older stuff on out the door to the charity recycler. If I, or a client, has something that needs to be destroyed, e.g. a hard drive, a 8" hardened punch, safety glasses and a 3 pound hand sledge will take care of making the drive unusable and unreadable. It's real hard to recover data from a drive with holes punched through the casing and the circuit board. Several of the drive platter technologies will shatter when the punch goes through them. The destroyed device goes to the charity recycler also, since they have the disposal capability as part of their operation. Some charities that do this will charge a hazmat fee. The *one* thing never to do is just throw the surplus in the trash. Almost all electronic gear has something hazardous in it at some level, recycle in a responsible manner. F.B.I.G.

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

A few months back I took some cans to the local recycling center. There was actually a group of guys that were loading old computer equipment into their cars as fast as people were unloading it. I really hope that the hard drives were wiped clean.

ausvirgo
ausvirgo

Jennifer, if you read the body of #2 properly you'd have known that Jeff was not advocating sending the waste to a landfill. That said, the rest of your post looks really useful, although it probably won't help me much in Australia.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

There's still a lot of nasty materials that go into making our pretty gadgets.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

With creative software choices you can also reuse old hardware at your local underfunded schools. Heck, if the hardware is new enough to run the bloat of Windows you could even stick with what they're probably conservatively addicted too.

D-Ram
D-Ram

since our local and state "s'norom" have made disposal methods so rediculous all the recyclers here charge us for the "correct" disposal for all the components, including the cases. I had refurbished some and donated them to a local "charity" org only to find out the folks running the place, which could easily afford their own for personal use, were taking them home for themselves and their families. So now I just sit on them and when a plant or office employee wants one I sell it to them for little to nothing.

jheinect
jheinect

While most IT people know better than to trash systems without wiping or removing the hard drive, most home users and others don't think of it. They will probably delete various files (and hopefully remember to check/empty the recycle bin), turn the system off, and pack it up. They won't even think to remove their account info, or leave it set to boot straight to the desktop. Some of the systems will be picked up by people that don't have anything and can't afford to buy a PC, some by people that plan to strip/recycle and make money off the parts, and of course the ones who know how much profitable info could be lying on the drive waiting to be restored. Hopefully you saw people in the first category putting the old PCs in the car. I actually just stripped down 5 systems that I didn't want (old K6, P-II,III, AT systems), put the usefull parts aside, and placed the rest in a pile. All the hard drives are sitting on the side waiting to be wiped, even if they are no larger than 10 GB. I have a couple more systems to check, a dozen drives to wipe, and a few extra parts boxes to go through (looking for the junk like ISA cards and stuff which only works with Win9x that I'll never use again) and I'm off to the recycle center.

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