BOOT CAMP ARCHIVE 2005

  

 

BOOT CAMP 368 (15/03/05)

Ten things to do with an old PC, part 1

 

Those of us who have been using PCs for a few years often have at least one and in some cases two, three or more redundant computers sat around doing nothing apart from gathering dust. In many cases these computers are still perfectly serviceable. You may even be tempted to throw them away but don’t junk them just yet because this week and next we have ten suggestions that can help you to clear the clutter or give an old PC a new lease of life.

 

1. SELL IT

The least attractive option, and not as easy as it sounds. According to most ‘EULAs’ you are not permitted to sell, lend or give away the Windows operating system or most major applications and to protect your privacy you should always wipe the hard disc when disposing of a PC but this makes it difficult to demonstrate that it is working properly (see Tip of the Week). It’s not a path to riches either and the resale value of PCs more than four or five years old is typically between 5 and 10 percent of what you paid for it. You might get a few pounds for it through an ad in the local paper or on auction sites like ebay (www.ebay.co.uk) but the cost of shipping can be prohibitive. You can also forget any idea of them becoming valuable antiques one day. Only a handful of first generation machines from the 1970s have achieved collectable status though there is a thriving market on ebay for good, preferably boxed examples of Sinclair and Acorn PCs, as well as a few other obscure and short-lived models.

 

 

2. TRADE OR EXCHANGE

PC manufacturers and vendors occasionally offer trade-in and part exchange promotions against new models. They’re less common nowadays but it’s always worth asking and it could prove a useful bargaining tool. Once again, remember to wipe the disc beforehand.

 

 

3. GIVE IT AWAY

If your old PC is capable of basic functions like word processing and web browsing then it might make a good starter machine for an elderly friend or relative. However, be assured that you will become the unpaid technical support service every time it goes wrong -- something to bear in mind on a ageing PC. Younger members of the family probably won’t thank you if the PC is more than 3 or 4 years old as it’s unlikely to be able to play the latest games. Many schools are now well supplied with up to date machines and even some charity shops are getting picky, preferring models that can run power-hungry applications, but it’s always worth asking. There are several charity organisations that specialise in refurbishing and recycling PCs for redistribution to good causes, both in the UK and abroad. Even so many of them are geared up for large corporate donations due to the costs involved in collecting single machines. Nevertheless, if you have a Pentium II/233MHz or faster PC and are willing to pay for delivery, organisations like Computer Aid will be only too happy to take it off your hands. For more ideas go to: www.computer-aid.org/home.htm, www.free-computers.org/ and the IT for Charities web site at: www.itforcharities.co.uk/donorinf.htm; and don’t forget to wipe the hard disc (or at least remove any personal information if its staying in the family).

 

 

4. EMERGENCY BACKUP

This is a perfect use for an old PC and it is well worth having a fully configured PC on standby for web browsing, email and word processing, just in case your main PC suffers a catastrophic failure. Provided you do regular backups -- preferably to CD-ROM -- if the worst should happen you could be back working again in the time it takes to swap a few leads. An added refinement would be to fit a removable drive bay so you can whip the hard drive out of the dead PC and pop it into the new one, to access any data not on your backup CD-ROM or floppy. It’s worth checking that it works every few weeks and you can update files and applications at the same time. This sort of application is also a good retirement plan for an old laptop, with the added bonus that if the battery is charged and in good order you can carry on working in the event of a power cut. 

 

   

5. WEB, PRINT AND FILE SERVER

If you have a home Wi-Fi network and broadband you can set up a redundant PC with a permanent Internet connection so that other PCs in the household can always access the web or your printer. It’s an undemanding application and ideally suited to older machines that are too slow to upgrade to Windows XP.  Furthermore, by saving your files onto the old PC you have a perfect backup solution, and they are easily accessible by other PCs on the network. Leaving the PC switched on all of the time is not a problem and you can avoid having to double up on the keyboard, monitor and mouse using a ‘KVM’ switch, so you can operate both computers from your main PC. 

 

Next Week -- Ten things to do with an old PC, part 2

 

JARGON FILTER

 

EULA

End User Licence Agreement -- the lengthy document that no one reads, which appears when you install a software application and you have to agree to before the installation will proceed

 

KVM SWITCH

Keyboard, Video Mouse -- a simple and inexpensive electronic device connected to two PCs that allow them to share one keyboard, monitor and mouse. Switching between the two PCs is usually by a simple keyboard shortcut or ‘hotkey’

 

SERVER

A networked PC used primarily to store data and programs  

 

TIP OF THE WEEK

When disposing of an old PC you should at the very least reformat the hard drive. For a basic format simply boot the PC from a Windows 95/98/SE or ME Emergency Startup disc and at the flashing prompt type ‘format C:’ (without the quotes) then press Enter. However, even after formatting data can still be retrieved using specialised recovery applications. To thoroughly cleanse a disc you will need a utility like Active Killdisk (free from: www.killdisk.com/). This erases information on the disc and then overwrites it with random data so that recovery becomes almost impossible.

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