How to Safely Get Rid of an Old Computer

Three Methods:Reusing Your ComputerSelling or Giving Your Computer AwayDisposing of Your Old Computer

Computers pose several unique challenges when the time comes for their disposal. Like many electronics, computers contain heavy metals that can become environmental hazards when disposed of improperly. Additionally, computers often contain a wealth of personal information in the form of passwords, account numbers, and the like that no user wants to fall into the wrong hands. Luckily, there are several easy methods that allow you to shed that space-wasting old computer without harming the environment or exposing yourself to the possibility of fraud.


Things to do Before Disposing of Your Computer

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    Back up important personal data. Once your computer is gone, it's (most likely) gone forever, so be sure that you've made copies of any and all files on the computer that you'll need in the future. Be conservative - it's always better to back up too much information than too little.
    • You may use a USB stick or an external hard drive to store your important information - both of these are available at electronics stores. Additionally, a storage method that's become available in the last few years is the use of cloud drives, which can be free to casual users with the registration of an account.
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    Permanently remove all personal data from the computer. Once your important information has been backed up, it's wise to delete it from the computer so that future users or identity thieves can't access it. Deleting data by putting it in the recycle bin or your computer's equivalent can actually leave it on your hard drive in a form that's possible for savvy individuals to recover. This means that, usually, rendering your computer completely free of personal information requires formatting its hard drive.
    • Formatting a hard drive is irreversible and will essential make your computer a "blank slate" - free of not just your personal data but of basically all data - so make absolutely sure you're done with your computer before doing this.
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    Choose an option for disposal. There's no one "right way" to get rid of an old computer - depending on how well it works and your own computing needs, you may choose to re-purpose the computer for another use, sell it or give it away so that someone else can use it, or allow it to be recycled and/or disposed of in an environmentally safe way.
    • You may also wish to physically remove certain parts of the computer, like the hard drive or video card, so that you can use them in the future, but only remove parts from the inside of your computer if you're confident you can do so safely or you have access to experienced help.
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    If reusing, selling, or giving away your computer, clean it. If you don't believe your computer has reached the end of its life, take this opportunity to give it a fresh start by thoroughly cleaning it. Wipe the exterior and the screen with a slightly damp (not wet) rag or mild chemical wipe. Be sure to pay attention to the gaps in between keys on the keyboard, which can become disgusting with long-term use. Use a Q-tip to clean these hard-to-reach spaces. For a deep clean, open the computer's inner compartment and use compressed air to remove dust.

Method 1
Reusing Your Computer

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    Use your computer as a small file server. One new use for your old computer is as a file server for your home or work place. Basically, your reconfigured computer will act as shared storage for the other computers in your home. This option is a great idea for homes with several computers that all need to access the same data. It's also great in terms of energy efficiency, because, since the computer is acting solely as storage space, you won't need to use its monitor, keyboard, or speakers.
    • Several free open-source programs exist that allow you to convert your old computer into a server. One example of such a program is FreeNAS. These programs are available for download from the internet.
    • For extra storage space, you may want to install an extra hard drive or two.
    • You may also want to install a basic, streamlined operating system (such as Ubuntu) on your file server.
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    Keep your computer as a backup. An option related to the one above is to use your computer not as storage space for new files, but, rather, as a backup for your new computer. In other words, keep it around so that you'll have a functional replacement for your new computer if it should break or suffer an error. If you choose to do this, you will not even need to remove your personal data from the computer - you can just disconnect it and leave it in the closet until it's needed.
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    Consider installing a lightweight OS like Linux. Another method for getting some use out of an old computer is to install an operating system with exceptionally low system requirements. This allows you to continue using the computer for certain minor purposes - basic word processing, web browsing, simple games, etc. Linux is a free, popular, no-frills operating system with many different variants are often used for this purpose. For example, a Linux system called Puppy Linux is a variety of Linux that has especially low system requirements.
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    Use your old computer as a router. Depending on the wireless capabilities of your old machine, you may be able to re-purpose it as a wireless router so that you're able to enjoy internet on your smartphone, tablet, or another computer. Many computers have the ability to act as the broadcasting hub for a wireless network. If yours does, be sure that a firewall is installed for security purposes before using your computer as a router.

Method 2
Selling or Giving Your Computer Away

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    Attempt to sell it. All that you need to make a posting on an online auction site like eBay are the technical specification of your computer and a few pictures for good measure. You may be surprised to discover that people out there are actually willing to pay money for relatively old machines. For instance, certain types of hardware from the 80's and early 90's may be considered "vintage" and thus fetch a reasonable price from collectors.
    • If your computer is so old as to be rare or remarkable, you may actually be able to sell (or donate) it to a computer museum where it will be preserved for its role in history.
    • Also be open to the possibility of selling your computer's parts, rather than the entire machine. If some of your computer's components are higher-quality than others (i.e: after-market video cards, memory, etc.), it may be well worth the effort to remove and sell them separately.
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    Give your computer to a friend. Before you throw your computer out, ask around to see if any of your friends are looking for an older computer. Tech-savvy people sometimes reconfigure old computers for use as file servers or e-mail stations. They may also be able to scrap your computer for parts, taking what they need and properly disposing of the rest.
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    Give your computer to someone with minimal computing requirements. Your old computer may be insufficient for your purposes, but, to someone who's not used to modern computers, it may seem borderline-miraculous. Consider giving your computer to an elderly user like a parent or grandparent. Old, slow computers are perfect for the types of basic tasks that elderly relatives are likely to be interested in. When you have time, try teaching him or her how to use e-mail and surf the web - you'll be doing him or her a favor and ensuring that your old computer isn't going to waste.
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    Contact a school, non-profit, or philanthropic organization. Many organizations that exist primarily for the public good have programs to make use of older computers. Contact a local school, church, youth organization, non-profit, or charity and ask if they're willing to find a use for your old computer. There are a wide variety of charitable uses for computers. For instance, some charities will recycle or refurbish computers, then give them to the poor, while others charities will send the computers to schools in undeveloped areas of the world.
    • As an added bonus, you will sometimes be eligible to receive a receipt of your donation for a tax deduction.
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    Give it to a willing stranger. When all else fails, giving a functional computer to a complete stranger is still better than putting it in a landfill. You might try putting a sign on your computer saying something along the lines of "Free old computer - good for parts or case," and leaving it by the curb on a dry afternoon. Or, you might try making the same offer on an online classifieds site like Craigslist. Finally, you can try taking it to a local swap-meet or flea market and fetching whatever price you can for it.
    • Be extra careful when giving your computer to a stranger, as you have no way of knowing whether they have malicious intentions or not. Be absolutely sure that any personal information has been removed from the computer before giving it away.

Method 3
Disposing of Your Old Computer

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    Contact the manufacturer. Today, most computer manufacturers offer some sort of end-of-life disposal service for their products. If you're unable to find someone to take your computer off your hands or your computer is in a non-functional condition, consider contacting the manufacturer for safe disposal options.
    • However, note that not all manufacturers behave equally ethically when disposing of old computers. Some ship computer waste to landfills in the developing world, where it becomes an environmental and health hazard for the local community. Before handing your computer over to your manufacturer, try to research it's ethical record with regards to computer recycling and disposal.
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    Trade your computer in when you buy a new one. Some companies, such as Dell and HP, now offer to recycle your old computer for free when you buy a new one from them. If you have yet to buy your new computer and you're interested in purchasing from the same company as before, consider this option, as it allows you to leave the process of finding a responsible means of disposal to the experts while (possibly) receiving a discount on your new computer.
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    Use a computer recycling or disposal firm. Today, many independent companies exist for the purpose of processing, recycling, and disposing of computer waste. Some are philanthropic organizations, some are non-profits, and some are for-profit. Search for local companies in your area - you may be able to dispose of your computer for free or may need to pay a disposal fee, depending on which types of services are available.
    • However, note that, like computer manufacturers, some e-waste recycling and disposal companies have less-than-stellar business practices. Be a responsible consumer by researching the companies you choose for your disposal needs. Make sure your computer will not end up in a landfill in China before handing it over.
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    Salvage any usable parts before disposal. Before disposing of your computer, consider whether you have any uses for the case, accessories, or any internal components. For instance, if disposing of several computers of the same model, you might consider using the cases as oversize building blocks for a makeshift bookcase or wall of cubbyholes.


  • Do any of the above steps, but just don't throw that computer into the trash. Computers are not biodegradable, and your contribution of an unwanted PC will seriously damage the environment.
  • Salvage the RAM, HDD and for desktops the CPU and GPU. These are the parts you can use to enhance your new system.


  • Sensitive personal information can remain on your computer even after deleting it! Because of the way digital data is organized on hard drives, any data you delete isn't actually gone until it gets overwritten, sometimes multiple times. Before you get rid of your computer, either remove the hard drive and mount it in a case to use as a spare external, wipe the drive yourself using software made for that purpose, or destroy the hard drive.
    • In order to wipe the data yourself, download software that permanently deletes and overrides your data. A good example of this is Darik's Boot & Nuke, although there are others that will do the job just as well. This tool will erase your data with multiple passes via a bootable CD to make sure it cannot be recovered. Just make sure you've backed up your data before running this program, because there's no going back from here!
    • If you really want to be sure the data on the hard drive is safe, whack the platters with a hammer so they cannot be spun. It can be a fun way of releasing some excess aggression, too! Note: the screws are usually Torx screws, which require a special tool to remove.
    • If you want to be really, really sure your data is safe, you can send your hard drive to a company that can either wipe it for you or shred it. And no, "shred it" isn't some fancy hacker buzzword; they literally feed it into what amounts to a mega-wood-chipper.
  • If you choose to recycle your obsolete computer because it is faulty or beyond re-use, check with your nominated recycling company to ensure that they physically recycle the equipment themselves and that in doing so, your equipment will not be exported to another continent as a working unit. This way, you will not be adding to the mountains of waste that have been exported to other continents for unethical recycling.
  • While we're talking about data, don't forget to remove any other storage devices such as CDs, DVDs, SD cards, and USB flash drives.

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