Old computers are not always ready for the scrap pile the second you don’t have any use for them. Of course there’s always recycling—your local area most certainly has a computer and electronics recycling facility—but there are better things to do with your old computers, provided they’re still functional and usable.
You could find a collector, should your computer be rather old, say even vintage, and make his day by donating it—that’s what I did with an old TRS-80 PC4 in perfect working order but of absolutely no use to me. If the computer is not really vintage and still usable—something like a Pentium III and 128 MB of ram—you can pimp it up, install edubuntu, and give it to a kid that will very much enjoy it.
That’s what I did with an old Pentium II-class computer (a Cyrix 6×86 actually) and an old netvista Pentium 4-class computer. A little masking tape, flashy colors, and you get the iSore 4000 and iSore 5000 (I even made Brand-like labels that read “iSore”).
Or you can look-up schools, non-profit organizations, foundations, and charities and donate the computer where it’ll continue its useful life some more at least. Much better than the back of a closet, where it’ll get slowly so obsolete you’ll have to trash it when you’ll pull it out to put another computer in its place.
One of NPO I like very much is Insertech, whose mission is social reinsertion, that is, to help people with personal problems or with a low education level to find a new place within the current labour market—and ultimately make a better living for themselves.
Over 40 young adults complete our training program every year. Insertech’s results are very impressive: over 90% of the participants of the insertion program find a job or return to their studies. This exceptional result demonstrates the motivation of the program’s participants and the quality of the training they receive.
NPOs like Insertech live on donations, money, of course, but also of still usable computers. As you’re not all living in the Montréal area, donating to Insertech may be quite a problem, but I am certain similar organizations exist near where you live. Sometimes they are, unfortunately, hard to find. But do find them. Giving to such NPOs is a win-win situation, and more than you think.
If you want to give away a computer but you’re worried about the privacy of your data, I have a neat trick for you. Say you have a computer you want to donate with a HD. You know as well as I do that simply formatting a disk is anything but secure as a lot of data can be recovered. Rather than blasting it with thermite, you can get, say, a Linux Live CD of some sort and overwrite the data. It takes a while, but seems to be working perfectly well. Here’s how you do it.
First, you boot the computer using the Live CD. You open a shell as the root (login directly as root or using sudo su, for example). You find the hard disk you want to wipe using fdisk -l. It will show you a partition list of all hard drives on the system, something like:
Device Boot Start End Blocks Id System /dev/sda1 9208 9729 4192965 82 Linux swap / Solaris /dev/sda2 1 9207 73955196 83 Linux
Say the disk you want to wipe is /dev/sda (devices /dev/sda1 and /dev/sda2 are on the same drive, /dev/sda). Suffice to use cat /dev/urandom > /dev/sda with sufficient privileges to fill that disk with random trash from the urandom random-generating pseudo-device. After a (good) while, cat fails because the disk is filled. At that point, the disk is “clean”. It is safe to give away, all data have been overwritten.