BOOT CAMP 183 (12/07//01)




If you've been at this computer lark for more than three of four years you probably have at least one redundant machine quietly gathering dust in a corner somewhere; if PC lifecycles continue to shorten at the rate they're going you will definitely need a bigger loft or garage!


Naturally you are reluctant to throw your old PC away, it may still work and when new it cost an arm and a leg, but the once cutting-edge specification now seems woefully antiquated and it's probably incapable of running many recent games and applications.


If you are hanging on to it in the hope that it has some resale value, or that one day it will become a valuable antique you can forget it. Early Pentium PCs, more than five years old, say, are practically worthless on the second hand market, you certainly won't get back anything like the £1500 or so you paid for it. If it still works and the monitor is in good condition you might be lucky and get seventy-five quid for it; 286, 386 and 486 machines have scrap value only.


As far as a PCs becoming sought after collector's items are concerned, there's an abundant supply of old PCs from the late 1970s onwards. The only computers that could conceivably have any real value in the foreseeable future are very early machines and oddball models, using obscure processors and operating systems that were produced in relatively small numbers


Disposing of old PCs is becoming a serious environmental problem, and not just for individuals. Companies and corporations routinely replace hundreds, sometimes thousands of PCs at a time, so what should you do with it, or them? Here's ten suggestions, and remember to wipe or reformat the hard disc before you permanently part with your PC:


1. Emergency Standby

My own justification for keeping at least one working PC close at hand is for emergencies. If my work PC were to suddenly keel over and die of something nasty that couldn't be fixed straight away I can be back up and working again in a few minutes with my trusty floppy and CD-ROM backups and an ancient Pentium machine loaded with my word processing internet, email and accounts programs. The PC is also fitted with a drawer-loading drive bay so that I can quickly connect a second hard drive to copy across data. 


2. Give it to the kids

It's never too early to introduce children to computers. There are countless learning programs for the under fives that will run on older machines, including 386 and 486 models. Thousands of good games are still available that will run happily on early Pentium PCs and almost any PC can be used for web surfing or email.


3. Give it to granny/grandad

It's never too late to introduce the older generation to computers either. The Internet and email can open up a whole new world for senior citizens, if they live some way away you'll be able to keep in touch and send them pictures, why not have a go at setting up a video-phone link. (See Boot Camps 135 & 136, 3rd/10th August 2000)


4. Web/email server

Make your old PC earn its keep. Set it up as a dedicated Internet terminal and you won't have to stop work or switch between applications to surf the web or pick up your email. 


5. Home network

Install some network cards run a few metres of cable and hey-presto you have a home network. You could have PCs all over the house, sharing files or a printer and modem. Simple DIY cable and wireless networking kits from companies such as D-Link, Intel, Linksys, and 3Com are now widely available from PC dealers. Packages for linking two PCs start from as little as £20.


6. Home automation & Security

The home of the future is here! All it takes is a modestly specified PC and a few plug-in modules and you could automate your home, everything from the central heating, lighting and laundry to keeping out burglars with PC-based intruder detection and surveillance systems.  Here's some useful web links to whet your appetite and get you started:


7. Donate it to charity

If you don't want or need your old PC there are plenty of others who do, and can make very good use of it. If it's a reasonably up to date machine (Pentium II onwards) local schools and colleges will almost certainly be willing to give it a good home and charity shops will always take them off your hands. A number of charitable organisations now specialise in refurbishing and recycling PCs, which they sell on to worthy causes, distribute within the UK or send overseas, and they're usually not too fussy about age, condition or quantity. Rather than waste time hunting around for a charity that shares your aims or objectives have a look at the IT For Charities web site, which has a comprehensive list of charities and organisations specialising in this kind of work.


8. Trade or exchange

Whilst an old PC is worth comparatively little, it could have value in part-exchange or as a bargaining tool against the cost a new model. If you are in the market for a PC keep an eye out for trade-in offers and promotions. There's no harm asking a salesperson what they'll give you for your current machine, if they sense a sale you may well be able to negotiate a discount, and be assured that it will be disposed of properly.


9. Turn it into modern art

Ever wondered what's inside a PC? Well, if it's past economical repair open it up and have a look. Computers seem a lot less scary when you know a bit about how they work, and how better to find out than dissect an old machine. You might even feel the urge to have a go at repairing it yourself, get a book from the library, what have got to loose? If you can't get it going don't worry, those bits and pieces might come in useful as spares, or why not unleash your artistic tendencies and turn it into a garden ornament or sculpture?


10. Environmentally friendly disposal/recycling

Please don't just dump your old computer in a skip or dustbin. PCs contain a number of harmful materials and potentially dangerous components, like the CRT in the monitor, which can implode if handled carelessly. Take it to your local authority amenity tip, which should have a collection point for electrical goods. If you are dealing with a quantity of PCs or peripherals contact one of the companies that specialise in recovering and recycling IT hardware.


Next week – Spyware!




286, 386, 486

Families of Intel microprocessor chips developed during the 1980s and early 1990s, forerunners of the Pentium chips used in the latest PCs



Cathode Ray Tube – basically a big glass bottle with all of the air sucked out. The image is formed on a layer of phosphor coating the side of the glass faceplate, which glows when struck by a stream of fast moving electrons



Short-range two-way communications systems for PC, providing the same kind of speed and functionality as a cabled network, but without the wires



Sometimes you just want to switch off and go, but Windows won't let you and insists that you go through the tiresome shut down ritual. There is an easier way, this simple little tip creates a shutdown shortcut; one double-click is all it takes to exit Windows 9x cleanly and safely. Start by right-clicking on the desktop and select New then Shortcut. In the command line type the following (minus the quotes) 'C:\WINDOWS\RUNDLL32.EXE User,ExitWindows', then click Next, give the shortcut a name, something like 'Wingo', then click Finish and it's done.

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