What to Do With Old Computers (& How to Get Rid of Them Properly)

When you're upgrading, electronics salespeople don't tell you what to do with your old computers and laptops — but we do.

Published September 11, 2023
computer parts

Computers are the new muscle cars. We ride them hard and put them away wet. Sometimes, a fresh coat of paint isn’t enough to stave off the dreaded upgrade. But what the pushy salespeople at the electronics stores don’t tell you is what to do with your old computers. Thankfully, there are a variety of cool ideas you can try.

6 Things to Do With Your Old Computer

Don’t set aside a space under your bed or in your closet to be the computer graveyard. Instead, learn about all the other ways you can use, modify, or gift your old tech.

Donating Old Computers Is Always an Option

If you’ve recently strolled through a Best Buy, you know just how pricey computers are. If it’s time to upgrade old reliable, donating is always a great option. It’s practically impossible to navigate the modern world without a computer of some sort at home, and for many people, the high costs are difficult to overcome. Help support your community and those in need by donating your old computers today.

Break It Down for Parts

If you’re a tech hobbyist or you have kids who you want to teach engineering basics to, you can use your old computers for their parts. Strip out the motherboards and other important bits for Frankenstein builds or let kids experiment as you try to spark an interest in their young minds.

Rebuild It With Upgrades

If you’ve ever wanted to build your own computer but haven’t wanted to invest thousands on a new setup, why not use your old one as a base? Think of it like sleeper cars. The outside isn’t impressive, but the guts get the thing going.

Keep It Around for Retro Gaming

If you grew up on PC games in the 90s and 2000s, then you know the real struggle was that they weren't backwards compatible with modern operating systems. However, if you’ve got a real old gem on your hands (we’re talking Windows 98 style), then you could keep it around solely to play old video games.

@shtunner Replying to @Weasley Retro PC ASMR: IBM Model M Keyboard. Playing Dangerous Dave on an IBM PS/1 PC from 1992, with a 16MHz Intel 386 CPU. The 1985 Model M buckling spring mechanical keyboard was so popular, versions of it are still produced to this day! #80s #90s #tech #retrocomputer #retrogaming #DOS #PCgaming #keyboard #ASMR original sound - Ashton’s Retro Computer Room

Make It a Sacrificial Lamb

Now, we’re not commenting on the ethics of downloading questionably sourced content online, but the fact remains that there are a ton of paywalls, and sometimes people use interesting methods to see or hear the stuff they want. Instead of completely crashing your computer off a bad file à la the Limewire days, download all your files to your old (scrubbed) computer. If it gets a virus, there’s nothing on there for you to lose.

Use It as a Second Monitor

Depending on your job, you might need a second monitor to manage your daily tasks. Instead of taking a little out of your salary to pay for one, use your old computer. Granted, this will only really work if you’ve got a newer model with the right hookups.

2 Precautions to Take Before Tossing Your Old Computer

Sometimes, throwing your old computer away is the best option. But before you properly dispose of it, there are some important steps you need to take.

Pull Everything off the Hard Drive

Every computer, whether a laptop or desktop, comes with a hard drive, and that’s where all your activity and information is stored. If there’s anything (and we mean anything) you might want to save from that computer, first back up your information.

If you’ve got a newer computer, you can back it up to an online cloud like iCloud or Dropbox, where your information will be safely stored, but on something you don’t have to keep track of. However, if you’ve got an older computer or aren’t sure what you do and don’t want to keep, just transfer the hard drive onto an external one.

Quick Tip

Pay the extra money for the SSD external hard drives, because they won’t accidentally erase everything with a bump in your bookbag or a fall off your desk.

Wipe Your Hard Drive Clean

Don’t make it easy for people to find you or use your tax/credit card information by forgetting to wipe your hard drive. Now, you don’t have to microwave your hard drive like you might’ve seen dramatized in Mr. Robot, but you do need to reset it to factory settings. Check with the manufacturer for a detailed explanation of how to reset your specific model.

How to Get Rid of an Old Computer Safely

Because of the lithium batteries and other internal components that are used to build a computer, you can’t just toss it in a landfill, nor can you send it to your regular recycling plant. Instead, there are specific places where you can drop off your old computers. Check in with Earth911’s search engine to see which local recycling operations take laptops and desktop computers.

Many laptops today don’t make it easy to remove the battery cells. But if you can, take those out before recycling, because you might need to give them to a separate service. The EPA recommends you dispose of them through a separate recycling facility or a household hazardous waste collection point.

Don’t Let Your Old Computers Collect Dust

Computers are definitely like cars. If you let them sit for too long, they won’t work right. So, if you’re not planning on using your old computer, it’s best to pass it along or dispose of it properly. No need to hold on to old hardware if it’s only going to collect dust.

What to Do With Old Computers (& How to Get Rid of Them Properly)