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Computer Care: Clean up, clean out or recycle your old PC

POSTED: November 22, 2013 10:13 p.m.

Got an old computer and you’re not sure what to do with it? Put it in the kids’ room or the basement? Give it to Grandma?

Maybe you should just toss it. After all, you just got a new one that’s faster, smarter, stronger and prettier, right?

Wrong.

Even if you do decide to toss it, there are precautions you need to take first. You probably have addresses, phone numbers, your banking and investment information, tax returns and photos that are for your eyes only.

First you need to transfer the data from the old computer to the new. If it’s just a few gigabytes, use a DVD. If you’ve accumulated a ton of info over the years, then transfer it to an external hard drive or a cloud account, and then back to your new system.

Then scrub the old drive. If you feel OK just deleting files manually, then dump everything in your Documents folder and look around for other items.

Realize though, anything simply put in the trash, even if it’s emptied, can be retrieved easily by anyone with little computer knowledge.

There are utilities (the free DBAN, Darik’s Boot and Nuke) that will wipe a drive completely of its data many times over, making it a doorstop, unless you have a Windows disk to reinstall the operating system.

Probably the easiest way to accomplish the task is to reinstall Windows. By doing so, all is erased as the new operating system is installed. Be sure at installation though, you choose a “New” installation over an “Upgrade,” because the upgrade will retain your personal data in a hidden folder on the hard drive.

If your computer didn’t come with an installation CD as all used to, it may have a recovery partition. This will allow you to access the Windows XP or Vista setup to reinstall it. Modern computers ship with neither option, leaving it up to the consumer to create a backup to use for such an emergency.

After it’s clean, you could pass it on to grandma or you could give it away. Many schools and charities accept used computers. Just be sure you donate a working (and clean) one.

If it’s in really good condition, you might consider selling it. Don’t expect to get high-dollar value for it just because you paid $700 for it in 2010. Computers lose their value quickly.

If the system needs to be discarded, see the folks at the Hall County Recycling Center at 1008 Chestnut St. SE, Gainesville. They have a drop-off area out front of the recycling center that is open 24/7/365 for your convenience.

Says director Rick Foote, “Personal computers and their ancillary equipment are now highly recyclable. This wasn’t true 10 years ago. The infrastructure to recycle them and a host of other electronics has really mushroomed since then. Waste is a resource in the wrong place.”

Go to the county’s website for more information at www.hallcounty.org/recycling.

If you decide to salvage your system prior to getting rid of it by pulling the RAM or power supply from the box, don’t try to open the old, bulky CRT-type monitors. There are capacitors in them that may still hold a charge, enough to shock you. Simply recycle them for safety.

If you feel better taking the hard drive out prior to recycling your computer, render it unreadable first by simply driving a large nail through the center (actually, off-center a bit) of the hard drive. This will stop the interior platter from spinning, rendering it unreadable.

It’s attached to the computer box with only four screws and two cables. It is easily removed. Just be certain the computer is unplugged before you start disassembling anything.

While you’re in the box, you might pull a circuit board (video or sound card) or two. I made some earrings from these for my daughter and she loves them. The cards are easily cut to shape and drilled.

The keys could be popped off a keyboard to create a personalized necklace or bracelet. Use your imagination.

More practically, I have attached old monitors to my current desktop system. Windows will (with the proper hardware adapter) configure it so your mouse glides seamlessly from one screen to another.

Should you decide to keep your relic intact, it could be used as an Internet or email-only computer for the family room.

Alternatively, old games could be played on it, as many are not compatible with the newer versions of Windows.

It could also be configured to be a family server, with everybody’s storage on it.

If you’ve ever wondered about Linux, here’s your chance to try it. Download the popular and free Linux Ubuntu version at www.ubuntu.com/download/desktop, along with complete instructions on how to install it.

An old (even broken) laptop could be transformed into a digital photo viewer. Follow the simplest instructions I found online at digitalpictureframe.50webs.com.

So don’t just toss an outdated computer in the trash. If you decide not to pass it on either as a gift or by sale, find another use for it or please recycle it properly.

Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly on the Business page and on gainesvilletimes.com.


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