BOOT CAMP 496 (16/10/07)

Ten uses for an old PC, part 1


The next three episodes of Boot Camp are dedicated to everyone who has spent a small fortune on a PC, or any piece of office equipment for that matter – fax machine, printer, photocopier and so on – only to find that a few years later it is practically worthless.


The launch of Windows Vista earlier this year inevitably led to a lot of individuals and businesses upgrading their desktop PCs, adding to the already substantial number of redundant and obsolete computers gathering dust in lofts, garages and store cupboards.


The sad truth is many of these machines are still in good working order and probably have several years life left in them but they are just too slow to run many recent applications or they’ve become sluggish and unreliable. Having paid good money for them we’re naturally reluctant to throw them away, but what else can you do with an old PC? Here are some suggestions, and if you are thinking of disposing of any PC you should also see this week’s Top Tip. 


Selling it is one possibility, though don’t expect to get more than a fraction of what you paid for it unless it is more than 25 years old and a very rare model, or less then two years old, with a great specification and in tip-top condition, otherwise I wouldn’t bother.


If you want to have a go at selling a computer then keep your costs as low as possible with an ad in your local free sheet or sell it along with all of your other unwanted goods at a car boot sale. The auction site ebay is a popular choice but this also means your PC is up against some stiff competition and I would only use if it is a highly saleable model or risk disappointment. Also be aware that the cost of shipping the PC could be several times what you get for it, and don’t even think about including the monitor – especially if it is a CRT type – as they are very heavy, fragile and difficult to package properly.


You could try giving it away though many charity shops are now refusing to accept electrical appliances due to safety concerns. Schools and colleges are rarely interested in computers as they are now usually well equipped with modern machines.


Nevertheless there are a number of ways to make sure your old unwanted computer doesn’t end up in landfill and goes to a good home or a worthy cause.


The Freecycle Network  is definitely worth investigating. It’s a global confederation of over 4000 local groups – and there’s bound to be one near you -- with almost 4 million members. Freecycle is dedicated to keeping reusable consumer products out of rubbish tips by the simple expedient of giving stuff away to people who want it. It’s free and once you have joined you can offer goods to other members in your community and browse for things you might be interested in.


There are also a number of charities and not for profit organisations and companies geared up to handle unwanted PCs and IT equipment, though it has to be said that most of them prefer to deal in bulk lots, rather than single PCs. Newer machines will usually be cleaned, refurbished then sold or redistributed and older models dismantled and the parts recycled, so nothing is wasted. There’s a comprehensive list of companies involved in this sort of work on the ITforcharities website and some useful information, plus links for individuals wishing to dispose of their computers at Computer Aid International.


If your PC is too old to be of use or beyond economical repair then you have two choices – dismantle it for spares – more about that next week – or take it (or the bits left over) to your local household waste amenity site, where there should be a collection point. If you can’t transport it yourself check with your council as they may have a collection service. Computers contain small amounts of toxic substances (lead, BFRs, Selenium, Cadmium, Chromium, to name just a few) so do not put them in with the general rubbish. The majority of councils separate electrical and electronic products for recycling and most of the materials can be recovered and re-used.      


One last thought; all of your good intentions might be undone, not to mention the damage it could do to your carbon footprint, if your donation has to be collected or sent a long distance, so think locally.


Next Week – Ten uses for an old PC, part 2






Brominated Flame retardants -- family of chemicals added to plastics and other flammable materials



Cathode Ray Tube – older video monitor or TV screen, 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



Program that controls how a computer works and interacts with the user



However you dispose of your old PCs it is vitally important that you wipe the hard drive. This will remove any personal information stored on it, and delete the operating system and programs, none of which you are allowed to sell or pass on under the terms of the various End User Licence Agreements (EULA), which you consented to when you installed the software. Admittedly this makes it difficult to demonstrate that a PC is in working order to a prospective buyer, though you could temporarily install a copy of Windows and delete it once the sale is complete, or use one of the many Linux distributions that run from a CD. There full details of how to do just that in Boot Camp 403. To wipe a drive and make any data it contains virtually unrecoverable I suggest a freeware utility called Active KillDisk.


Don't forget, there's a full archive of previous Boot Camp Top Tips at



© R. Maybury 2007, 2609

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