Are you expecting a new PC in your stocking this year? Then it's time to think about what you'll do with your old system. Repurpose? Recycle? Donate? Pass it on to a friend or relative? Here are ideas on how to prepare your PC for giveaway.
Transfer your files: To move your personal files from the old PC to your new one, install both systems on a network, or connect them directly with a file-transfer cable (browse to "Move Your Data, Settings, and Apps to a New PC" for instructions). Or use the free Pando online service to e-mail all your files to the new PC. Pando uses BitTorrent peer-to-peer technology for fast transfers that bypass size limits on e-mail attachments. (The files are stored on Pando's servers for 14 days.)
Wipe your old data: Once your files are on the new PC, erase them on the old system if you don't plan to keep it. A hacker or identity thief won't be deterred by your simply deleting the files, or even reformatting or repartitioning the hard drive. If you want to leave Windows and your installed software intact, use Webroot's $30 Window Washer utility, which eradicates personal data, history files, log files, and so on, but leaves your operating system and apps in place (go to the link for the 30-day trial version). To erase the hard drive completely (the OS, applications, and all), overwrite it repeatedly with a disk-wipe utility such as the free Active@ Kill Disk Hard Drive Eraser.
Collect your docs: If you're handing down your system, include all of its manuals, OS and application CDs, and registration or license numbers. The motherboard or system manual is especially important for adding more memory--often the cheapest way to extend the life of an old PC--because it identifies the motherboard and compatible RAM. If you can't find your manual or access one on the PC maker's Web site, the free Belarc Advisor will identify the motherboard's model number.
Give it one last tune-up: Give your old PC a final checkup and cleaning as a courtesy to its next owner. See "Complete PC Preventive Maintenance Guide" for instructions.
Find it a new home: Most donation programs take any working PCs and monitors, as well as some nonfunctioning systems. Visit "Recycle PCs, Notebooks, and Components" for more information on donating a PC.
Goodwill Industries is one of several charities that take all PCs and recycle those that can't be reused. (They may charge a small fee. For example, Goodwill's program is free only in Michigan; San Francisco, California; Austin, Texas; and certain other areas. Check with your local Goodwill office.)
Don't dump it: Many recyclers charge from $10 to $40 per PC or monitor, but free recycling services abound, such as the Goodwill programs mentioned above and government-sponsored recyclers. Go to Dell and the Environment for more on Dell's free recycling program, which accepts equipment from all vendors.