How to securely donate old Windows 10 PCs

Many are looking to donate their spare computing devices to people who need them but can't afford to get them on their own. There is a safe and data-secure way to make your donation.

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Health and safety concerns caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic have forced many schools to switch from on-campus, in-person classroom instruction to online digital instruction. Fortunately, modern digital makes online instruction a feasible and workable choice—but only if the children involved have access to appropriate computing devices. Unfortunately, many children in this situation do not have that access.

Many people and small businesses with decommissioned older computers are looking to donate their spare computing devices to as many students as possible. While this sense of community involvement is commendable, donating old computers should always be achieved with data security in mind. For Windows 10 PCs, the data security process to follow before donating a computing device involves a couple of steps.

SEE: Hardware decommissioning policy (TechRepublic Premium)

How to secure an old Windows 10 PC for donation

Before donating any Windows 10 computer, you want to reinstall a clean copy of Windows 10 using the "remove everything" option. This process will leave an updated version of the operating system on the device but remove files, personal data, and all previous settings. This process acts as the foundational first step to securing your computing device for donation.

To get to the proper screen, click or tap the Start Menu button, select Settings and then select Update & Security. Now, select Recover from the left-hand navigation bar and then click the Get Started button to reach Figure A. You will want to select the "remove everything" option.

Figure A

figure-b.jpg

The process of reinstalling Windows 10 and removing all your personal files will take at least a few minutes. Depending on your device, it could also take more than an hour.

SEE: How to reinstall Windows 10 from the cloud (TechRepublic)

Once a clean version of Windows 10 installed, the next step toward ensuring personal data on your donated computer is securely removed is writing over seemingly empty areas of your storage devices (hard disks). This involves downloading and using a secure deleting application.

Microsoft provides a free secure deleting application known as SDelete in its Sysinternals suite of utility tools. SDelete is a command-line utility that you can use to write over unused portions of a hard disk or other storage device with random and meaningless ones and zeros. The SDelete utility does not delete files itself--it only overwrites the memory sectors of files located on the storage device that have previously been deleted.

The basic SDelete command to use for this purpose is:

sdelete -c C:

Other third-party secure deleting applications are also available.

SEE: How to securely and completely delete files in Windows 10 without third-party software (TechRepublic)

Where to donate old Windows 10 computers

There are a number of international, national, regional, and local organizations that would be happy to accept your older decommissioned Windows 10 computers (or any computing device). Each organization will use your donation differently ranging from refurbishing to recycling to donation to those in need. You should research each organization before making your donation, so you can predict where your devices will end up and ensure that their final destination matches your intentions.

Here is a short list of some of the more common international and national (US) organizations now accepting computing device donations:

To find local organizations in your area or region of the United States, try the National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER) or Earth911. Both websites allow you to search local zip codes for local organizations. Local government and schools may also conduct donation drives from time to time—check with the appropriate municipal and county websites.

Major computer manufacturers like Dell, HP, and Samsung, along with retailers like Staples and Best Buy, also have EPA-approved old computer collection, trade-in, and recycling programs that should be considered.

If you know a local organization looking for computer device donations, provide the contact information in the discussion below. Maybe you'll make a needed connection.

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