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Your Old PC:
Keep it or Dump it…

      Steve BassBy Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group

Bass explores the hassle of giving away your PC

If you’re reading this column, there’s a good chance you have an old PC sitting around gathering dust. I have some ideas and a few sites that’ll help you decide what to do with it. Me? For the last month I’ve been staring intently at the PC in the corner. It’s a third generation, poky PII, the one I used as my main production machine for years. There are two other PCs under my desk—my current production machine, and the one it replaced, a 450MHz PC I use for testing.

Put it to Work

One way I use a second machine is by networking it to my production machine and using it for drudge work. For instance, I often up, and download humongous video files. Rather than tie up—and slow down—my production PC, I let the second machine do the work. Have a big print job? Send it to your new-found print server.

The other neat way to use the other PC is for testing and playing around. Start by creating a backup image using Norton’s Ghost or PowerQuest’s Drive Image (note since the article was written Symantec which owns Norton brought PowerQuest). Then load up any of the tons of freeware and shareware you’ve wanted to try but wouldn’t dare install on your production PC. It’s the trick I’ve used for my work at PC World for years.

I have the test PC networked to my production machine. Networking is easy with Win 98SE, and even easier with Win XP. You can pick up a pair of network cards for under $20. If the PCs are close, a six foot network cable will suffice. If you’re already using a broad band connection—DSL or cable modem—all you need is a cheap-o router. Here’s a good how-to article that will tell you more about setting up a low-cost home network:

The Guilty PC

I know what you’re thinking. Why be greedy? Giving the computer to your parents, a friend in need, or maybe a neighbor would be a great deed. Well, kids, be careful with your generosity. On the one hand, it’s a really kind thing to do, and you’ll feel good about your donation. On the other hand, you’ll discover another part of the guilt syndrome: You want to make the system perfect before you give it away. Hours, folks, you’ll spend hours doing things you wouldn’t, didn’t, couldn’t do when it was your production machine.

Sure, you think, it might be a good idea to throw in a faster hard drive (heck, it’s just a 2GB) or maybe a little better graphics card. You’ll also feel an obligation to try and explain how to use all the programs you left on the PC. And I’ll bet most are without documentation, and guaranteed to throw your donatee, most likely a novice, into a tizzy.

Then there’s the tech support you’ll inevitably have to provide. Don’t think you will? I promise, on the grave of three systems buried in the garage, you’ll be spending hours working on your old computer. (And discovering just how slow an old computer can be.)

  I’ll say it again: Don’t bother. My recommendation? If that neighbor or friend wants a PC, help them shop for a new one. If it’s a parent, be a sport and buy them a brand new computer.

PC Recycling

Your other option is throw the PC in the virtual dumpster by way of a local recycling center. If you do some digging, I’ll bet you can find a local non-profit that does the dirty work examining and repairing PCs, and distributing them to needy school kids. You can find out more at the TechSoup’s Recycled Hardware site.

The PC Disposal site provides services for large companies needing to bury old systems and Dell has a program that lets you trade in, sell, auction, or donate your PC Dell_exchage

I bumped into an article that addresses many of these issues. PC World’s Kirk Steers is a recycling expert. In the story, he explains how to decide whether a PC’s worth upgrading, and how to recycle it when it reaches the end of the road. Read “What Should You Do With Your Old Computer?”

Listen, if you need me, I’ll be in garage hunting down some old monochrome monitors.


Steve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World and ran the Pasadena IBM Users Group. He's also a founding member of APCUG. Sign up for the Steve Bass online newsletter at

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