BOOT CAMP 572 (15/04/09)

More Uses For Old PCs and Laptops, part 2


If you’ve reached this episode of Boot Camp via part 1 of this series then I’m guessing that you have an old PC or laptop that you are reluctant to throw away or otherwise dispose of and would like to put it to good use. This week we’ll look at what to do with dead PCs that are beyond economical repair. If your old or redundant computer is still working then hang on for parts 3 and 4.


There is very little in a desktop computer or laptop that cannot be usefully salvaged, recycled or sold and we’ll begin with the hard disc drive. The first thing to do is remove it from the PC and see if it works. Standard 3.5-inch drives used in desktop PCs are normally held in place by four screws, but before you take it out disconnect the data and power cables and try not to touch any of the contacts or the components or circuit board. To get at a 2.5-inch laptop drive you may have to unscrew a flap on the underside, remove the floppy drive module or unclip and lift out the keyboard.


Be careful not to break anything when dismantling a PC, especially laptops as the parts can be surprisingly valuable, and be sure to collect all of the little screws and fixings, you never know when they will come in handy.


The easiest way to test a drive is to fit it inside an external USB hard drive enclosure – widely available for both 2.5 and 3.5 inch drives for between £15 and £30. However, make sure you get the right sort of enclosure for the size and type of your drive. PCs more than 3 or 4 years old mostly use ATA/IDE drives, they are easy to identify as they have a wide 5.5cm (2-inch) multi-pin ribbon cable connector on the back. Newer SATA drives have smaller 1cm wide connectors. Once your drive is safely installed its new home plug it into a spare USB socket on your PC. If it works it shows up as a Removable Drive in Windows Explorer or My Computer. Once you’ve extracted any files that you need reformat the drive and use it for portable storage or backup.


If there’s room inside your desktop PC you can install a second or even a third drive as ‘slaves’ for extra storage space. On ATA/IDE drives the ‘jumpers’ on the rear or underside should be moved to the ‘Slave’ position or the PC may try to boot from it. There’s usually a label or diagram on the case showing where the jumpers go. If the drive is okay it will show up as a new volume in Windows Explorer or My Computer and as before you can copy data and then reformat it.


If the drive isn’t working or it’s generating error messages then it is fit only for the scrap-metal bin at your local recycling centre, but don’t forget to give it a good wallop with a hammer or drill a few holes through it (see part 1), to destroy any data it may contain.


You can also recycle the CD/DVD drive from your old machine and install it in your desktop PC. You will need a spare ‘bay’ in the case and a ribbon cable but you can probably reuse the one from the donor PC and two drives can share the same cable. If there’s no room why not install the CD/DVD drive in an external USB Enclosure, larger types are available for this purpose and it’s a useful thing to have if you own a drive-less ultra-thin laptop or netbook.


Desktop PC innards, such as the motherboard, CPU and memory modules are comparatively useless, unless you have another PC of similar vintage, in which case hang on to them for spares if it’s still working. Otherwise the best place for them is the ebay auction site ebay where there is a steady demand for old components. You’ll usually get more if you sell the motherboard, CPU, memory modules and cooling fan together, rather than individually, unless they are faulty, in which case split them into separate lots. Be honest in your description, if the parts are not working, or you are unsure, say so or you may end up out of pocket.


Thanks to an abundance of clumsy owners laptop PC parts often fetch good prices on ebay, especially if the laptop in question was a high-end model from a well-known manufacturer. You will probably get more if you take it apart and sell the motherboard CPU and memory, keyboard module, screen, floppy and CD/DVD drives and even the touchpad separately. LCD screens, in particular go like hot cakes (providing they’re not broken), so take care when dismantling the case, or leave the screen in-situ and sell it with the plastic shell. For another use for a laptop screen see this week’s Top Tip.


I’ve heard of people using desktop PC cases as planters and even frames for aquariums but realistically the best place for lkeft over metal and plastic parts is your local amenity site.


Next Week - More Uses For Old PCs and Laptops, part 3





Advanced Technology Attachment/Integrated Drive Electronics; the circuitry -- built into the disc drive – that acts as an interface between the drive and the PC motherboard



Tiny connector or shorting link, used to configure setup parameters on disc drives and motherboards




Serial Advanced Technology Attachment, faster, higher performance interface used to connect hard disc drives to PC motherboards



If you know your way around electronic circuitry and soldering irons then you might be interested in several articles on the Internet that show how to convert a laptop screen into a PC or video monitor. Be warned that it is quite difficult, and if you opt for the off-the-shelf circuit board method it could end up costing you two or three times as much as a ready-made monitor. If you fancy a challenge here’s a few links to get you started:


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





© R. Maybury 2009, 2503


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