Gongol.com Archives: April 2011
Brian Gongol


April 27, 2011

Computers and the Internet What to do with an out-of-date computer
Microsoft, in an only lightly self-promotional article, suggests several options for what to do with a computer that's been replaced by something faster and newer. The suggestion to use it as a DVR makes sense, as long as the hard drive has been cleared and the processor is fast enough to handle the work. Leftover computers used to make sense as MP3 servers, too, but those aren't in high demand now that portable MP3 players are a giveaway item. The suggestion to tie it to a distributed-computing network isn't a bad idea at all, particularly considering the number of distributed-computing projects that are underway today. Another suggestion, to donate it to charity, is good on the surface but flawed in practice: One should never, ever, give away a computer with the hard drive still installed. Always remove the hard drive -- physically -- from a computer before giving it away. Wiping it or reformatting it is not good enough. Giving the computer to a family member is just another form of giving it to charity, and on the old "green" mantra of reduce-reuse-recycle, it's a sensible form of re-use. One person's out-of-date laptop is someone else's upgrade. Recycling the components is perhaps a less efficient means of preventing computer waste, but the rule about extracting the hard drive first still applies. Microsoft also advises turning an old computer into a new television, which can be done, but it usually requires some limited technical skill to carry out, as would turning it into a game server or the core of a household security system. There's probably more merit to the security-system idea, though it would require purchasing cameras and probably wouldn't be very energy-efficient. Turning the components into art is probably left to the kinds of people who were already thinking of ways to disassemble things like computers already, though there are some creative types who have turned old CRT monitors into geeky fishbowls -- though that still leaves behind some potentially toxic components that should be handled with care. A working old computer can be modified into a dynamic photo frame -- but if the fans are running loudly, they could become distracting. Using an ex-primary computer as a backup storage device is a fine option, as long as it doesn't occupy useful floor or desk space somewhere. (That doesn't mean one shouldn't still store backup data at least 100 miles away from home, because everyone should. But extra backups aren't bad to have around.)

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