Finding a New Home for Old Computers

I'm sure you've been in this situation before: You find yourself with a plethora of used and broken mp3 players, cell phones, laptops, calculators, and so on. Do you try to sell them, have them repaired, or safely dispose of them? Do you just throw them in the trash for convenience's sake and look the other way?

As we become increasingly dependent on technology, finding what to do with old devices becomes an increasingly common scenario. Phones, mp3 players, and other portable devices are easy to sell on Ebay and other sites—I got $50 for my wife's broken iPod (which I purchased for $85 used), and phones are easy to sell used or you can keep them in case your next phone breaks. But computers are a bit trickier, due to the higher cost to ship them and the speed in which they become unable to power today's software.

My Old Laptops

My idea for this topic started when I finally decided that it was time to get rid of my old laptops. My wife and I, collectively, have 5 computers: One 3-year-old desktop, which my brother built for me; a Dell Latitude D630, which my employer lets me use; my wife's Toshiba Satellite L305-S5955, which I picked up during the $300 Best Buy special after being prodded by her for a new computer; my old Compaq Presario 2500, which I purchased 7 years ago for school; and my wife's old Acer Travelmate 2420, which we also purchased for her schooling 4-5 years ago.

Let's focus on the latter two computers—today's candidates for removal:

Compaq Presario 2500. This was a faithful, "practically desktop" computer for years. Weighing in at over 10 lbs, with a full 15" display, this laptop harkens to the classic 80's movies where mobsters try to look tough while talking on a cell phone the size of a shoe. And yet, with a Pentium 4 2.4 GHz processor and 512MB RAM, the computer is surprisingly peppy when running Windows XP or 2000. It has minimal wear and still runs pretty well. I originally purchased it (about 7 years ago) for $1,300 refurbished on Tiger Direct (an excellent site!).

Acer Travelmate 2420. The Travelmate is designed to be portable and not much else, like a netbook of the past. Its meager 256MB RAM means you won't be able to run much more than a word processor, check email, and play Solitaire. And yet, what else do college students do? It served my wife well for years and still works OK, though iTunes has a tendency to crash the computer. (I tried to tell her not to use iTunes. Women, right?)

Methods of Purging

Below are the methods I researched of getting rid of the devices and what I've found.

Selling. Obviously, some money is better than no money. Sites such as Gazelle and Best Buy which talk about instant cash for your computers were a disappointment—Gazelle said "No Trade In Value" to both computers and Best Buy offered $9. Really, $9? On Ebay I was able to find the Presario model going for about $50, give or take a few dollars. But that means taking the time to list it, take pictures, answer questions, package it, ship it, and pay Ebay part of the profits. I couldn't find anywhere at all to turn a profit on the Acer.

Giving. I knew there had to be non-profits out there that would use old laptops. After all, we Westerners live in a spoiled world where everything is shiny and new, and not everywhere is like that. A computer that hobbles with Windows Vista would run Linux of FreeBSD at a blistering pace. With a little research into giving, the site that seemed the best was Computers with Causes, a site that uses the computers for a variety of causes, mostly involving education. Another benefit to giving the computers (in addition to helping others) is that you'll get a tax-deductible receipt, which might earn you as much money as selling them in the end anyway.

Safely Disposing. I really believe that it's our responsibility to safely dispose of electronics and other hazardous materials. If the computer still works, consider giving it to a Good Will or another thrift store, where the non-profit might make a few bucks and someone that has a use for the computer will pick it up. Otherwise, corporations such as HP, Office Depot, and Best Buy have recycling programs for broken computers, and will generally charge you little or no cost to do such.

My Decision

After weighing the options, I'm planning on going the giving route. The laptops just won't sell for much, but they do still work and should be used by someone that really needs them. I'll be sure to either send a blog update, or post on Twitter, when I see how substantial the tax break is for giving the laptops, so you can weigh the benefits when in a similar situation.

Whichever way you do decide to get rid of your computer, make sure to completely remove the data. (Read more on Decommission Old Computers with Cipher)

What old, outdated, or broken devices have you acquired over the years, and what methods have you used to pawn them off?

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