5 Things You Must Check Before Disposing of Old Computers

ComputerInside04   5 Things You Must Check Before Disposing of Old ComputersComputers are essential tools today. Software demands and hardware capability tend to grow exponentially. So if you want to stay on top of things, it’s a good idea to get a new computer every two to three years. Now what do you do when disposing of old computers?

Whatever you do, there are a few things you must check before giving away, trashing, or recycling a computer. Backing up information and securely deleting private data is one major concern. You may also be able to reuse parts or the entire computer. This article provides a quick overview of your options when it comes to disposing of old computers.

1. Backup Data

Obviously, you will want to keep a copy of your data. Here is a quick list of information you should not forget to backup:

  • Personal Files
    Pictures, Music, Movies, anything entertaining you have on your computer, don’t lose it. Same goes for any documents or files you have downloaded.
    The Best FREE Backup Software for your PC
  • Browser Data
    This includes bookmarks, saved logins & passwords, extensions, and other personal settings. It’s much easier to transfer the data than to set it all up again, don’t you agree?
    Backup & Restore Your Internet Explorer Browser Settings
    Back up your Firefox Profile with MozBackup
  • Email
    If you’re using a desktop eMail program like Thunderbird or Outlook, do backup your profile and take your conversations and your address book with you.
    5 Easy Ways To Back Up Your Microsoft Outlook Data
    Archive Your Browser & Mail Settings With MailBrowserBackup
  • Program Data
    Did you create databases, make specific settings, or save other data with any of the programs you’re using? Think of calendars, bibliography tools, image editing software, games, or music playlists. Any of that information can be backed up and transferred to your new computer. Usually, these data are saved under documents & settings or in the respective program files folder. The easiest way would be to backup these two folders entirely.
  • Fonts
    Have you downloaded and installed any additional fonts? They are likely compatible with your new computer, so save you the time of tracking them down again and just backup the fonts folder. In Windows, it’s found under C:/Windows/Fonts.

Is your computer no longer booting or is the hard drive dead? Check out the following articles:

2. Serial Numbers & Registration Keys

This point deserves special attention because losing a serial number or registration keys can actually cost you money. If you’re not sure where you stored that information, retrieve it before it’s too late:

ComputerInside02   5 Things You Must Check Before Disposing of Old Computers

If you purchased software online and downloaded the installation file, rather than having it on a CD, be safe and back that up, too.

3. Wipe Private Data

If you seriously don’t want to keep your hard drive or can’t be bothered to remove it from your old computer, make sure all your private information is gone. Your data in the wrong hands could result in¬†humiliation, financial loss,¬†or worst of all: identity theft.

Neither deleting files, nor emptying the trash, or formatting your hard drive is enough! To be on the safe side, you must shred and overwrite your data. Follow the steps described in this article: How To Completely & Securely Erase Your Hard Drive [Windows]

ComputerInside03   5 Things You Must Check Before Disposing of Old Computers

Some great suggestions on how to delete, shred, and terminally wipe your private information are also given in the replies to this question on MakeUseOf Answers: How can I clean a laptop before donating it?

4. Strip Out Useful Parts

Basically, all parts of your computer, if still functional, may be useful for you or someone else. So think twice before you trash anything. If computer parts are alien to you, read this article first: The Basic Parts Of A Computer & How To Upgrade Them [Technology Explained]

  • Monitor
    Keep it as a backup, set up a dual screen if your graphics card supports it, or hook it up to your laptop for a better screen.
  • Cables and External Devices
    Keep one set of everything as a backup. Nobody wants a used mouse or keyboard anyways.
  • Hard Drive
    Put it into a USB case and use as an external hard drive, hook up internally to your new computer, or wipe it clean before you give it away.
  • RAM
    If your old RAM is compatible with your new computer’s motherboard, you may as well use it. However, never mix different RAM modules. Read the answers to this MakeUseOf Answers questions for some leads: How can I upgrade my RAM and hard drive?
  • Power Supply Unit
    An often searched for replacement part.
  • Motherboard & CPU
    You won’t need that with your new computer. But someone else may use it as a replacement.

ComputerInside01   5 Things You Must Check Before Disposing of Old Computers

  • CD / DVD drive
  • Card Reader
  • Floppy drive
  • Graphics Card
  • Sound Card

Try to sell the parts you can’t use yourself on eBay, and give away leftovers via your local¬†FreeCycle.

5. Re-Use Entire Computer

This may be the most important point! Maybe you can actually still use your old computer. So check out the possibilities before you submit it to the trash.

If your old computer is still running, it can serve many purposes. If it can connect to the internet, you could donate the CPU time. Your could also give it to someone who needs it or turn it into an entertainment center. These and many more ideas are summarized in my article Top 10 Cool Uses For Old Computers And Laptops. Finally, if your machine is really old, maybe the local tech museum is interested in it.

Can you think of any more uses of old computers or parts or alternatives for disposing of old computers? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Image credits: speedy2, forwardcom, drizzle, Vyolett

The comments were closed because the article is more than 180 days old.

If you have any questions related to what's mentioned in the article or need help with any computer issue, ask it on MakeUseOf Answers—We and our community will be more than happy to help.

17 Comments -

Mohan Ramkumar

This is a great guide Tina. People don’t get the importance of points 1 to 3.

Brad

I picked up a copy of Windows Home server and turned my old machine into a server. It sits down in our utility room, out of the way, where it holds our music, movies, photos, etc.

Aibek

this is a great way to make use of the old hardware

Josh Fox

Some stuff to add for reusing could be a torrent box for managing torrent downloads and uploads or a web server if you do web development or want to use a web based OS like EyeOS on your local network.

Tina

Thanks for the great suggestions, Josh!

Nat Jay

Last time my hard drive crashed and couldn’t be recovered, I simply removed it and gave away the rest of the machine to the youngsters in the family. They now use it as a backup server to their home-hosted web projects.

Tina

Good move! But what did you do with the hard drive? Are you still keeping it or did you physically destroy and then dispose of it?

Nat Jay

I had to physically destroy and dispose it off. The drive ran flawlessly for almost 7 years, and one day wouldn’t boot up. All recovery options seemed futile and I still had important financial data on it. So the only option was to physically break it up. It was harder than I thought.

Jasmine

You could run your old hard drive through a demagnetizer. :)

Tina

Brilliant idea!

Aibek

second that!

Aibek

actually a couple of weeks ago we wrote an article about this.

How To Turn Your Old Windows PC Into A Remotely Controllable Torrent Box

2dougmac

I’d also recommend using System Information Windows, from Topala Software Solutions, so that you can let the recipient of your computer know what its specs are. I’ve found it helpful to be able to describe in detail the computer so they know what they’re getting.

Also, it’s helpful if I want to install a different OS, to get a better idea of what might be compatible (esp. with some of the really old systems that I tend to run up against).

I’m not affiliated with this company or product; I found out about it on MUO (I think).

2dougmac

I’d also recommend using System Information Windows, from Topala Software Solutions, so that you can let the recipient of your computer know what its specs are. I’ve found it helpful to be able to describe in detail the computer so they know what they’re getting.

Also, it’s helpful if I want to install a different OS, to get a better idea of what might be compatible (esp. with some of the really old systems that I tend to run up against).

I’m not affiliated with this company or product; I found out about it on MUO (I think).

Saikat Basu

Great post, Tina. There are in fact lots of DIY hacks which can be done on old computers. Like turning it into a Digital Video Recorder, a wall mounted screen, a retro gaming rig, and if you really want to break it down, make a cool coffee table with the PCB and a few LEDs. Sites like http://www.makezine.com and http://www.Instructables.com have a host of DIY projects.

Saikat Basu

Great post, Tina. There are in fact lots of DIY hacks which can be done on old computers. Like turning it into a Digital Video Recorder, a wall mounted screen, a retro gaming rig, and if you really want to break it down, make a cool coffee table with the PCB and a few LEDs. Sites like http://www.makezine.com and http://www.Instructables.com have a host of DIY projects.