How to Properly Dispose of an Old Computer?

Posted: September 3, 2011 in How to...?
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Recently, I had to get rid of my old laptop because of problems with its screen. The laptop was too old, and trying to fix or replace the screen seemed like to much of a hassle, and getting a new laptop seemed like the best idea. Many of us choose to get rid of their old computers… either selling, donating, or even recycling them. Either way, it is important to know how to properly dispose of an old computer, to avoid any problems later on. Here are the steps that I followed:

  1. Backup!!
    Backup your data
    If you are getting rid of your hard drive with the old computer, then make sure you have another copy of all your data, either on an external hard drive, flash memory, or CD/DVD. If you do regular backups (which you should!), then you know exactly where your important data is, and it should not take you much time or effort to make one or more copies of it. However, if this is your first time to back up your data (like many people), then you need to look carefully for any files that might be scattered all over your hard drive. You would be surprised how much important data is not in the “My Documents” folder or on the desktop. This might include pictures, videos, music, bookmarks, saved emails, contact lists, etc. Most programs (e.g. email clients and web browsers) can export user data to text, CSV, XML files, or many other portable formats. So use this functionality to have all your important data somewhere safe.
  2. Wipe your hard drive
    Wipe your hard drive
    Once your important data is secure, it is time to wipe your hard drive clean if you plan to get rid of it with the old computer. By wiping, I don’t just mean deleting everything, since the usual “delete” operation does not physically erase the data, but only makes the operating system think it is gone. Therefore the data can be later recovered. This is a problem if you have sensitive information saved on your hard drive, like passwords, banking information, personal details, or pretty much anything that you wouldn’t want to fall into the wrong hands. Fortunately, there are specialized programs that do secure hard drive wiping, by physically over-writing all the data on the hard drive with zeroes and ones, in a way that makes it impossible to recover your old data with recovery software.

    One of these wiping tools is the free and popular DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke). The program is very simple to use. Just download, and burn it to a CD. Make sure your computer supports booting from a CD (this setting can usually be turned on from your BIOS menu), insert the DBAN CD, then reboot. You will be presented with some settings, but you can just accept the default settings and let the program do its thing. It will take some time, but when its done, your hard drive will be squeaky clean!

    Warning: Make sure to clearly mark that DBAN CD. This CD is DANGEROUS, since it can wipe a whole hard drive. You don’t want to have it lying around with no label. If you forget what’s on, and you put it in your new computer, you might end up wiping your new computer clean. In the best case, you’ll have to spend so much time re-installing your operating system and your software. In the worst case, you would lose all your important data (if you have no backups).

  3. Dispose of the computer

    Depending on what you want to do with it, you can sell it (if it’s still usable), donate it, or even recycle it.

  4. Set up your new computer

    Assuming that you have a new computer, you can now start installing your favourite software, and copy back the data to your new computer, and you’re good to go!


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