What to Do With Old Broken PCs and Laptops

Updated on December 28, 2017
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

Science graduate and business advisor, health educator and author, Beth writes articles on a wide variety of subjects.

Obsolete Apple computers 1979-1989 at the Goodwill Computer Museum, Austin, Texas.
Obsolete Apple computers 1979-1989 at the Goodwill Computer Museum, Austin, Texas. | Source

Waste Not Want Not

Many of us have grown used to a “throw-away society”. When a brand new computer model is advertised, it is easy to be lured into buying it. It is faster, smarter, handles data more securely, and gives greater access to the cloud. The list of valid reasons to upgrade is long. You justify your buying choice by convincing yourself your old computer is obsolete and you need to get rid of it.

Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to update to the newest technology. For them, an older model is still valuable. For someone who does not own one, any computer is better than none at all.

Do not rush to throw away your old PC, Apple Mac or laptop. Working or not, older machines can find a new home. If it is still in working order, new software can be downloaded. Non-working computers are also useful. They can be cannibalized (broken up) and used for spare parts.

Ways to Dispose of Your Old Working or Broken Machine

1. Give away or sell your old working computer.

2. Break up your broken computer and create new items.

3. Recover gold and other precious metals.

Old PCs are large and heavy like this IBM 3270 PC with 122-key keyboard and 5272 colour monitor.
Old PCs are large and heavy like this IBM 3270 PC with 122-key keyboard and 5272 colour monitor. | Source

1. Give Away or Sell Your Old Working Computer

Your first option is to see whether your old PC or laptop can be used by anyone else in its present state. You can either try to sell it or you could be generous and give it away for nothing to someone who needs it. In some countries, donating your computer to a charitable cause is an allowable tax deduction.

If you are willing to donate, check out your local goodwill and charity stores. Some of them will accept it if it is working order. However, many will not take any electrical items for safety reasons. Ask at your local school or community center to see if they know anyone who can make use of your old computer. Many poorer families would be pleased to receive a gift of a working machine.

Selling your computer might sound an attractive option, but older Apple Macs, PCs and laptops have very low resale values. In fact, some companies will charge you a fee for them to take the machine off your hands.

You can try selling it online either through an auction site like eBay or direct to a second-hand dealer. Either way be prepared to be offered a low price, often less than US $50. The video below gives details of what to watch out for when selling your old machine online.

Two Ways to Sell Your Old or Broken Laptop Online

2. Break Up Your Broken Computer and Create New Items

If you are technically minded and enjoy doing DIY, use the working parts of your Mac, laptop or PC to create something new. Some suggestions are:

  • Make a digital picture frame.
  • Harvest your broken machines for usable parts, then build a new one bit by bit.
  • Buy some cheap RAM, format and upgrade your old PC.
  • Sell the usable parts online as spares on eBay or a similar website.
  • Use it a learning kit. Take your computer apart to understand how it is constructed.

The video below shows you how to take apart a PC and create something useful from it. One man’s trash is another’s treasure.

How To Revive an Old PC

3. Recover Gold and Other Precious Metals

Computers contain measurable amounts of gold and other rare elements. There are videos on YouTube demonstrating the method and chemicals required to recover the gold at home. The process uses dangerous liquids like nitric and other acids. Cyanide is produced as a byproduct of the recovery procedure.

It is a hazardous and risky project to undertake in a domestic environment and the financial reward is meagre (see the quote below from Popular Mechanics Journal.) It is better to give your old PCs, Apple Macs and laptops to a commercial company for recycling and let them make a profit. Your reward is you are saving the environment by salvaging rare and precious metals.

Gold is an incredible conductor of electricity, which is why it's used as a coating in a lot of electronics, especially parts where data transfer happens like RAM.

What if you could get a handful of this old computer crap and rip the gold right off? … Best case scenario might net you $10 and that's almost certainly less than the cost of refining materials. …

While it might be a fun if time-intensive to strip the gold out of your old computer, you are probably better off just recycling.

— popularmechanics.com Eric Limer March 1st 2016

How Computer Recycling Works

Remove Hard Drive Before Recycling or Disposal of Computer

The hard drive is a record of all the data on your computer. Over a lifetime of use, you have input a large amount of confidential information; credit card numbers, bank accounts, and website log-ins and passwords. You must destroy this record before you sell or give away your machine. Otherwise criminals could make use of your personal details.

This private information can remain on the hard drive even if it has been "erased" or reformatted. Snapguide.com recommends the following steps to ensure that your data is completely erased.

“You must destroy the magnetic platter inside the hard drive.

  1. Remove the main circuit board from the enclosure.
  2. Open the enclosure using a screwdriver and hammer to prize it open.
  3. Wear eye protection and repeatedly strike the hard drive on various sides until it starts to open. When open, coax out the round silver platter from inside.
  4. Ding, dent, and scratch this platter. You don't need to swing like an axe murderer, many lighter taps with both the claw and peen of the hammer should destroy the hard drive sufficiently.

When done, box up all components and turn them in at your local electronics recycling center.”

East German engineers rate the image quality of a micro-computer's monitor (1984). Technology has made huge advances over the last 30 years.
East German engineers rate the image quality of a micro-computer's monitor (1984). Technology has made huge advances over the last 30 years. | Source


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  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Weithers 5 months ago from The Caribbean

    Very informative--and challenging! Thanks for sharing these valuable suggestions.