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.