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What to Do With That Old Clunker of a PC

What to Do With That Old Clunker of a PCYou’ve gotten good use out of your computer, putting it through its paces. It has cranked out words, crunched numbers and cruised through cyberspace. But now it’s getting long in the tooth and slowing you down. Time to upgrade to a new machine. But what should you do with your old warhorse?
This was the dilemma that Steven Cohen of Blue Bell, Pa., faced recently. He had just bought a spanking new Dell Dimension Pentium 4, and he didn’t want to just trash his old AST Pentium. So he asked around and learned of a couple of Web sites that described other options — PEP Computer Recycling at <> and at <>.
He wound up e-mailing the United Way. “I wanted to donate it to a good cause,” says Cohen, a recent retiree who used his home computer for work projects, keeping track of personal finances, letter writing and connecting to AOL. “It seemed to me that since this computer helped me, it could also help someone else, maybe a senior citizen or school who couldn’t afford a new computer.”
Cohen’s e-mail message was forwarded to the United Way office closest to him, and the United Way’s Steve Rockwell e-mailed him back, asking about the computer’s specifications. Then Rockwell gave Cohen an address near him where he could drop off his machine. Individuals have to drop off donated machines themselves, but organizations with 10 or more machines to donate can have them picked up.
Rockwell heads up the local United Way’s Teaming for Technology program, which is similar to other computer recycling programs around the country. Working with other organizations, the United Way places donated computers with local nonprofits, at community technology centers for people who can’t afford home computers, and in the homes of low-income people.
But first it refurbishes old systems, utilizing at-risk youth and welfare-to-work adults, who pick up job skills in the process. Computer professionals provide training and do quality control. Low-income individuals can obtain free refurbished PCs for their homes, but they first have to go through a training program to ensure they’ll be able to best use the machines.
Like similar programs, the United Way’s program can’t use all PCs. It prefers newer computers, those with Pentium II or faster chips, though it will accept 166-megahertz or faster Pentium I machines.
If you have an even older machine, say a 486, you still don’t have to consign it to a landfill. If it’s still working, you can hand it down to a family member, relative or friend. Some companies regularly shuffle computers this way, buying new and more powerful machines for those who do processor-intensive work such as computer-aided design or video editing and upgrading other employees with the computers that are handed down.
You can also sell your used computer. Some computer stores specialize in handling used machines — check your local Yellow Pages. The advantage here is that you can simply take your computer to the store instead of having to deal with and ship to a buyer directly.
But you’ll usually get a bigger bang for you buck by selling the machine directly to another individual. You can buy a classified ad in your local newspaper, or you can use the Internet.
Lots of used PCs deals take place through Web sites such as at <>. Still others take place through Usenet discussion boards such as, if you’re selling a PC, and, if you’re selling a Mac.
To minimize the risks involved in buying and selling over the Internet, it can make sense to send the system COD (cash on delivery), recommends Daniel King, who put together a “Frequently Asked Questions” archive about buying and selling on the Internet.
One further option is to have your old computer “demanufactured.” The process involves first salvaging usable parts such as monitors and hard drives then isolating from the rest metals such as copper, aluminum, steel, stainless steel, nickel and brass. In a landfill, these and other substances can potentially leech into soil and groundwater.
There are many companies that recycle old computers this way. Check out the Web site Computer Demanufacturing Suppliers at <> to find one near you.
Some companies charge small fees to take a computer or computers off your hands even if you deliver it yourself. The fees, they say, are needed to recoup the costs of sending components out to be demanufactured. States such as Delaware provide funding to eliminate these computer-recycling fees.  — Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at [email protected] or

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