Disposing Of An Old Laptop – What To Recycle, What To Keep

Trashed Laptop   Disposing Of An Old Laptop   What To Recycle, What To KeepLaptops are a treasure trove of parts that can live more than one life. Whether they continue a life as spare part or become the subject of a DIY tech project, you can get a lot of extra value out of your old hardware. And at the very least you can give a broken laptop to a recycling facility that will recover valuable materials like gold, copper, aluminum, and many more. Curious to see which parts you can easily extract yourself and re-use in one way or the other?

Laptops consist of a standard set of parts, which every manufacturer composes in a unique way. Hence it is almost impossible to give general advice on how to remove specific parts. And it’s often pointless to stock up on old parts for future use, as they won’t fit into newer laptop models. The video below demonstrates the partial dis-assembly of a HP Compaq nw8440 and gives you an idea of the valuables hidden inside a laptop and how to access them.

Since you most likely have a different laptop, please have a look into its manual, online at the manufacturer’s website, or search Google for instructions.

Battery Pack

Most laptop batteries are unique to one model and can be expensive to replace. So if your old battery pack has some battery life left, even if it’s just an hour, someone else with the same model might actually spend a few bucks on it. Give it a try, although it’s probably best to recycle it.

Laptop Battery Pack   Disposing Of An Old Laptop   What To Recycle, What To Keep

If you cannot sell your old laptop battery or if it’s broken, please dispose of it responsibly; batteries don’t belong into the trash.

By the way, there are many ways you can increase your laptop’s battery life, although it’s an ongoing discussion whether or not it’s a good idea to remove your laptop battery to increase its life.

Power Supply

What’s true for the battery also applies to the power supply. Since the connector changes with almost every model, you won’t likely need an old power supply again once that laptop is broken. Moreover, replacing a power supply is expensive. Those are ideal conditions for the second hand market, so try and sell this part.

If the power supply is broken or doesn’t sell, do consider keeping the the power cable (left). It might fit into another power supply or device of yours.

Laptop Power Supply   Disposing Of An Old Laptop   What To Recycle, What To Keep

Are you wondering whether you can re-use the power supply of an old desktop computer? Yes, maybe.

RAM

Memory sticks usually are easy to remove as shown in the video above. Note that there are many different types RAM. Not only do they differ in storage capacity (measured in GB) and clock speed (measured in MHz), but also in shape, which is reflected in the name (e.g. DDR2 vs. DDR3).

Laptop RAM   Disposing Of An Old Laptop   What To Recycle, What To Keep

Since memory technology doesn’t change that frequently, you might have other devices that can use the old laptop’s RAM. For example I doubled my netbook’s RAM from 1GB to 2GB with the old 2GB memory stick from my laptop, when I upgraded my laptop with a new 8GB RAM kit. If you no longer have any productive use for those old memory sticks, either try to sell them or build your own RAM disk.

HDD/SSD

An old hard drive won’t make you a lot of money. Besides, getting your data off it before sending it to someone else is a hassle. While an old hard drive shouldn’t be used to store any important data, it can be used to store non-essential data, for example movies or music.

Fortunately, HDDs or SSDs are easy to remove and re-use. Whether you find an IDE or SATA HDD or a SSD in your laptop, you can mount it into a 2.5″ USB case and thus turn it into an external drive. A 2.5″ laptop drive in a USB enclosure is exactly what you buy as external hard, only that you already have the drive and the USB adapter is cheap.

enclosure   Disposing Of An Old Laptop   What To Recycle, What To Keep

CMOS Battery

The CMOS battery is a coin cell that sits on the motherboard and powers low-level system functions while the laptop is turned off. This little bugger is to blame when your system no longer remembers the time or when the BIOS keeps losing its settings. Those batteries are used on all computer motherboards and in many other devices and are thus worth keeping. You will not be able to sell them for much, but it’s good to have one around for emergencies. Store it in a dark, cool, and dry place.

CMOS Battery   Disposing Of An Old Laptop   What To Recycle, What To Keep

Optical Drive

Much like an old hard drive, you can re-use your computer’s optical drive with an external USB enclosure. To get the right case, you need to identify the type of connector the CD/DVD/Blu-ray drive uses to connect to your laptop’s motherboard (IDE vs. SATA).

Display

The display potentially is the most valuable part, given it’s still in a good condition. But it’s also one of the parts that can be tough to remove. Be extra careful when removing and subsequently shipping it, LCDs are extremely fragile.

CPU

In terms of value, your laptop’s CPU is head to head with the display. This is definitely a part you should try and sell, given it isn’t permanently smoldered onto the motherboard. If you are lucky, you will find that your  laptop’s CPU is mounted into a socket that sits on the motherboard. But first you probably have to remove the passive cooling system that sits on top of it. Be careful when disassembling the cooling system and removing the CPU. Try not to touch the CPU’s pins, but instead hold the unit around the edges.

CPU   Disposing Of An Old Laptop   What To Recycle, What To Keep

Other Parts

There are many more parts that you might be able to extract and play with, including the keyboard, touchpad, webcam, card reader, or fingerprint reader. Many of those are cheap to buy new or simply don’t break, and thus won’t sell for much. Also keeping them doesn’t make much sense, unless you have a cool project in mind. However, if there are any parts that break easily on the specific laptop model you own, for example a hinge or fan, you might actually discover a niche market for that particular part.

Leftovers

There will be parts that you cannot re-use or sell, for example parts that are broken or parts that no one needs. This may include the battery, power supply, display, the motherboard, or the plastic casing of the entire laptop. Please don’t simply trash your partially plundered laptop. Whatever is left of it still contains valuable resources that can be recovered in a recycling process.

Worldwide, many companies and stores take back old electronics and make sure they get recycled. If you’re from the US, please visit the EPA website for information on what you can do with old electronics. Cities in most European countries offer recycling stations for electronic devices. In some places you might even have a local collection bin for household electronics.

Conclusion

Even broken laptops contain a lot of valuable parts. Some are worth keeping as a backup and others can make you a little money, which you can then invest into a new device. If you’re lucky, you might make more money selling the parts of your laptop, than selling the whole functional unit.

Note that a working unit can potentially be upgraded with new parts and is good for many cool uses. More RAM and replacing an HDD with a SSD can do wonders. So unless you are eager to try out this article, try to upgrade your old hardware and meanwhile be sure not to destroy your laptop ahead of its time. Finally, a computer that no longer turns on, isn’t necessarily broken beyond repair. Before you go ahead and pick it apart, try to troubleshoot where the fault lies and you might be able to fix it.

What are the best things you could extract from an old laptop and did you use any of the low value parts for a cool project?

Image credits: Trashed Laptop via Shutterstock, CPU via Shutterstock

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43 Comments -

Nick Hadler

I would say the monitor is awesome to have. Its a small screen and you can mount it on to other things. It’s also great for DIY stuff.

triavalon

Depending on what breaks, there are lots of ways to practice the second R (Reuse) before Recycle. For instance, my little netbook has suffered some falls which have busted up the case and the hinges on the screen, slowly damaging the ribbon cable within. Sooner or later the screen will die, but I have a plan. I’m going to take the SSD from it and move it to my desktop for speed. With the screen gone and the hard drive removed, but everything else working, I’ll sit it next to my TV as a streaming box, booting ubuntu off a flash drive, with full access to any streaming site I can find, unlike most streaming devices relying on apps and device-access memberships. Everything, except the busted screen, will continue to be used, and with the SSD being moved to a computer that needs it for speed and not durability, maybe for a better purpose.

Tina Sieber

Brilliant plan!

Pooky Joralyn

Do you know how to make a laptop’s LCD become a standalone display?

Pooky Joralyn

I have an old ThinkPad and have no idea how to put it to good use, and it’s still working anyway

dragonmouth

Which one do you have? I have a T21 and T40, with the T40 needing some work.

Pooky Joralyn

Mine is R51.

dragonmouth

Thanks for the link, Tina.

Kirby

You could build your own exhaust fan for the bathroom, whether from laptop fans or desktop fans. You just have to have a converter to change regular household ac to dc then use it to power up your fans mounted on a frame then attached to an opening on the wall.

I also salvage those screws to replace any missing screws from other devices if it fits.

Tina Sieber

That’s a weird yet cool idea, Kirby.

Kirby

I saw it in my friend’s house actually. His dad was the one who built and installed it. Cool dad.

Guy McDowell

Those little fans move a lot of air. They can be used to help circulate air around a woodstove, or to vent air out of an area that’s too warm, like a greenhouse.

Kirby

Yep, imagine what a whole set (4-10 fans in a frame)would do.

Keith Swartz

Wow! This is what I call a DETAILED laptop salvage yard STRIP DOWN! Thanks, Tina. I am really impressed. Thank you & MUO!

Kcalpesh Ajugia

I might want to use that laptop screen to make a DIY projector :-D Nice article…

linkz kigho

Everybody is wanting a gift but non seems to be heading to the store.lol

Tina Sieber

What do you mean?

Eric Gay

A friend of mine was out fishing on a local lake one day and snagged his line on a Toshiba laptop that someone had lost overboard. Since it obviously woudln’t run as is, he asked if I wanted it for parts. Most of the electronics were corroded and dead, but I was able to pull the P4 mobile CPU and it’s been running in a low-end file/media server for 4 years now without a hitch.

phogey2

thx,good bunch of ideas. I gave my grandchildren an old desktop & we sat down together. we named parts & i think in general it gave them a new respect for computers. i showed them they could make repairs swapping out old pts for new.they are 7,8,10yrs old.

null

I keep the hard drive, but the rest is usually outdated.

Lawrence Zeitlin

Given the low sales price of many new laptops, removing parts from an old laptop to sell is hardly worth the hassle. The real danger is leaving valuable personal information on y9ur old laptop before trashing it. The best bet is to throw the old laptob under a bus, leave it on a railroad track, or drive over it a few times with your SUV. Perhaps blast it a few times with your shotgun. Then dieposit the mangled remains in the recyclable bin and buy a new machine at Best Buy.

Tina Sieber

Lawrence,

It is worth the hassle, both for the environment and for your own purse.

You don’t need to destroy the whole laptop to protect your privacy. Personal data are stored on the hard drive only. You can take out the hard drive and re-use it. You can also delete and overwrite the data before selling it. Or to be absolutely safe, you can physically destroy the hard drive and then make sure it’s recycled. For security reasons, you’d rather want it disassembled into its various parts and melted down for the metal, than end up as a whole in a landfill. Only recycling ensures that your hard drive is truly destroyed and causes no harm to either your privacy or the environment.

Regardless of what you do with the hard drive, you can still re-use, sell, or recycle the rest of the hardware. Destroying the whole laptop is a waste of resources, a waste of money, and if sent to the landfill or an incinerator, it’s also a problem for the environment.

In addition, leaving it on a railroad track is a serious threat for the train riding over it and could earn you hefty fines or even time in jail. You don’t want to be responsible for damaging someone else’s property or threaten their well-being, so don’t do it!

Onaje Asheber

I will try to build my own RAM disk. Thanks!

Sangram Anand

Nice article. Thanks for sharing..:)

Robert Brock

It is amazing all you can do with an old laptop or computer. Better than mucking up a landfill for the next 100 or more years.

Ben J

Good info for most people. Even some of the recyclers will pay for parts of the computer, mostly parts that have precious metals in them.

Tina Sieber

True, although they probably won’t pay for single parts. But if you can deliver buckets full of sorted parts, then I’m sure you can get some cash for it.

Chris Marcoe

I’ve got an old laptop I was going to get rid of, but I asked for some ideas on Reddit and got some that are great. So, I’ll be repurposing it as something useful.

Tina Sieber

Chris,

What other ideas came through Reedit? Can you share the thread with us? Thanks!

Chris Marcoe

Of course I’ll share. http://redd.it/1b2dzy

Some of the ideas were:
Having a web-enabled photo frame for the g-parents to access pics of the kids
Making it an owncloud, using https://owncloud.org/
Linux + MediaServer = Heaven.
Make it a DNS server

And several other ideas. I think I am going to be putting Lubuntu on it so I have a linux system in the house to learn on. (I’m in an ITS program right now. So, I think it might be something I need to know at least a little about.)

Tina Sieber

Very cool ideas. Thank you for sharing!

pawel

i wont a free laptop

Biobaku Collins

Recycle your old laptops pleasee

Clyde Atwood

Great article! I have used parts that I keep from older machines that can still find use in some systems.

James Van Damme

If it still works, put Linux on it. You’ll probably be shocked on how fast it runs.
I have an 8 year old Toshiba sitting here, 256MB ram, running Puppy. I can’t edit movies, but it does everything else I need.

Tina Sieber

Great tip James! Nothing like an old computer to try new things. :)

James Van Damme

Of course I put Linux on my new computers too!

Jonathan

that is a good idea to recycle our laptop or at least sell apart… some people say that you could extract gold from your motherboard, pure gold, but i guess you need a ton of motherboard… or maybe you could invent something using your old laptops… or create your own laptop using old part? sounds good…

Tina Sieber

Electronic waste contains a lot of precious metals, not least gold. The booming recycling industry has long figured out how to recapture gold and they are fine tuning their methods for many other rare metals.

Philip Yusenda

Nice idea!
Now where did I put those dead laptops…

DUANE WINTEMUTE

Thanks for the extra ideas, would have never thought of external cd/dvd, mind you where I’m situated things like that are not carried in stores.

Mel

Here is a question that I hope you can answer. Before I ask the question let me give you some insights of the power section in my laptop. I know that you shouldn’t leave the ac plugged in as the battery can be affected by lessening it’s life. I also know that removing the connection to the laptop while it is plugged in can cause sparks and possible damage to the connector. Is it ok to remove the ac plug going into the dc adapter and can that cause problems? To remove the battery is the answer and then the laptop can have direct power. It will be directly turned off when powering down. However for the battery to last, you have to re-install it every few weeks, charge it up and then when using the battery, it has 20% charge and again remove it. Doing this over a period of time, would it cause connection problems? It is very cumbersome to remove the ac which goes into the socket of my power strip all the time. Any suggestions will be appreciated. Thank you for your help.

Mel