What to do with your old PC
Getting a zippy new system is always fun, but what should you do with your old computer? I do a lot of system migrations, especially at this time of year, and often prepare old systems for disposal as part of that service. However, for the do-it-yourselfer out there, and for those of you who might be helping relatives, here's what you need to consider.
Even if you don't think there's much of value on your old computer, there are
privacy considerations to keep in mind
. You almost certainly have stored login information to your email or financial sites. Your
tax records, date of birth, social security number, and other personal data
could be stored on there in multiple different applications. And even if the drive seems dead, or you format the drive, it's easy for someone with the
to recover your information. Truthfully,
computer system disposal is the one time it makes sense to be paranoid!
Preparing a system for disposal:
If your old computer is no longer working, or has an unsupported operating system, the answer is simple.
Remove the hard drive
recycle the rest
. Once you have the hard drive out of the computer there is no danger in disposing of the system. The drive is where all your data is, and you should either hold onto it (in case you need to recover data from it) or destroy it (by literally taking a
power drill to the drive to break up the disks inside
). The rest of the system should be recycled to
reuse any usable components, recover valuable metals and rare earths, and to keep toxic materials
out of the landfills. Check with your town for electronics recycling days - for example,
takes electronics the first Saturday of the each month between 9 and 2. Your town might charge a small fee.
If you'd prefer, I can handle the whole disposal process of a desktop or laptop for you, for $35.00 per system. That includes removing and destroying the hard drive, and delivering the system to a recycling facility. Just give me a call if you have any old computers you need to dispose of.
Preparing a system for reuse:
If you plan to give your old system to a close relative
, you don't need to be as concerned about your personal data. The simplest (yet least secure) method to hand over a system is to simply create a
new administrative user account
for your relative, and delete your existing account and all of its data. This is an easy way to hand down a computer to a child or a parent. However, you should keep in mind that your data is still recoverable - when it's ultimately time to retire the computer, take out the drive and destroy it as described above!
If you want to be more secure than that
, you can do a
. Starting with Windows 7, every computer manufacturer was required to create a built in recovery partition, which restores the computer to its factory settings. Some of those recovery partitions will even destroy your data for you, but most of them don't. Here's how to access the recovery partitions for
I don't consider a factory reset to be a secure enough erasure to hand the computer over to anybody other than family
If you want to sell or donate your system
, you will want to
securely erase the hard drive prior to reinstalling the operating system
. This is a bigger job than you might expect, and requires several steps. First of all, you need to have media to reinstall the operating system - this generally means
creating a set of "recovery disks" using the tools provided by the manufacturer
. You will also need a way to securely destroy the data on the drive. This is done with software that writes zeros onto every part of the drive in multiple passes - it takes hours to complete. I use a program called
DBAN Boot and Nuke
to do this, although there are other alternatives. Once you have the software in hand, it's just a matter of finding the time to run the hard drive wiping program, and then the installation media. You should expect the entire process to take place over a day or two, mostly unattended.
I follow a variation of this process (I also install all Windows updates, an antivirus, and several other basic software programs) as a
flat rate service
if you wish to outsource preparing the system for reuse. And of course, I follow this protocol at no charge when one of my clients generously donates a usable system for a new home.