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Recycle Your Computer


One of the most frequent questions I get is "What can I do with this old computer?"  First thing you should not do is put it in the garbage.  Computers are a landfill nightmare.  Besides that, your computer may have very useful functionality to somebody else.  This page is intended to give you some ideas of what to do with that old computer.  If none suit you, then there are responsible ways of ridding yourself of that computer and not causing an environmental hazard to us all.  Check out this video from CNET to get an idea of what is something worth keeping or giving away

Give it to somebody in need

There are many people in need of a basic computer.  Most computer needs can be handles with any modest Pentium 4 computer.  Those needs include basic Internet surfing, word processing and occasional modest gaming.  Many seniors or low income families are people you can donate your system to.  Churches, non-profits and community groups are also other options.  Later I will discuss what you should with your computer prior to donating it.

Install Linux

One of the reasons why we upgrade is because of speed.  The older the computer, the more likely it will appear slow, non-responsive and the like.  Want to get some of that speed back, install Linux.  Ubuntu is probably the best version to install as far as hardware compatibility.  It will make that old computer seem brand new again.  That system will be perfect for menial tasks that you want to get done.  The best part is that it is free!  Download Ubuntu here or watch this simple tutorial.

Create an Internet only computer

This is a great solution for those who have kids who do not seem to understand the dangers of downloading EVERYTHING on the Internet.  Your main computer is yours, along with all your critical documents, pictures, music and video.  No longer do you have to worry about cleaning out a virus because of something others have done to your system. 

Create a NAS (Network Attached Storage) for Backups

If you are somebody that has a lot of data saved or wanting to be saved, a network attached storage computer is perfect.  The only issue with online backups is that they are usually limited to whatever is saved on your internal hard drive.  Most services do not allow you to backup external hard drives and flash drives.  With a Network Attached Storage, you create your own unlimited storage.

All you need to do is purchases two hard drives (one if the one your old computer is reasonably large).  1 terabyte drives can be purchased for around $75 online.  All a NAS is is essentially a collection of hard drives attached to your network.

The best and easiest way to make a NAS is to grab FreeNAS. Put it on a USB flash drive (it's only a few megabytes), plug it into your old computer and boot to the flash drive.  You may need to do some tweaking if FreeNAS doesn't detect your hardware, but there's a lot of documentation, and the support forums are great.


Before dismissing your old computer, check to see what upgrades are possible.  Many Pentium 4 computers can handle upwards to 4 GB of RAM.  A new hard drive and that amount of memory is more than enough for Windows 7.  Will it match a new system?, of course not, but unless you are doing some heavy duty projects (ie. video editing), it is enough to make a difference.


Depending on what is inside, you may have some valuable parts that you can sell.  Does it have a DVD Burner?  You can probably fetch $20-25 on Craigslist.  Memory can get about the same amount.  Buy an external hard drive case and you can use your old hard drive as an external hard drive with your new computer.  Be creative, those parts are valuable.  Here is a video tutorial on how simple it is to convert that internal hard drive into an external one.

OK, OK, so you want to ditch it, where?

There are several options for recycling.  Goodwill will take your computer.  Be nice and make sure that it works, it's not really fair to dump true garbage on them, they get enough. 

The following are local groups that will gladly recycle your old computer:

Second Life Computers

A Greenspan

Best Buy



What to Do before giving it away

All you really need to do is erase the hard drive.  PC World has an excellent video you can watch that will show you how to erase your hard drive.  Another way to do it is with  Derek's Boot and Nuke.  It is a free open source program.  You will get instructions on how to make a bootable CD or DVD with it.  Simply boot your computer to the CD and it will completely erase all the contents of the hard drive.  This CD is handy because if you need it to erase another drive or a friend's computer, you will already have the tool necessary.