Mobile Computing: How to Dispose of an Old Notebook

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Feature: What to Do With Your Old Notebook

The last few columns have been devoted to buying a new notebook and migrating your data to it. First I provided tips on buying a new notebook. Then I discussed how to move your files, applications, and other stuff from the old notebook to the new model. And last week I offered advice on connecting your PDA to your new notebook.

Now, the final installment in the series: What the heck to do with your old notebook. Keep it? Sell it? Donate or recycle it? I'll give you tips and advice on all those possibilities. But while I'm doing that, please have pen and paper ready. There will be a pop quiz.

Keep It?

Unless you already have a second computer, hold on to your old notebook as a backup. With all the viruses, worms, and assorted ills floating around on the Internet, your new computer could become infected and you'll be out of commission for a while. Or, God forbid, you could drop or lose your new notebook on a trip. It could get stolen. On a crowded flight, someone could spill sticky cranberry juice on the keyboard. You get the picture.

Alternatively, if you work in a small office or have a home network, an older computer can have a fruitful second life as a dedicated file server.

Bottom line: Just because your old notebook isn't cutting-edge anymore doesn't mean it can't be useful.

Pop Quiz Question 1: If your notebook is your main PC, and you use it a lot for work, how often should you exchange it for a new model? The answer is in the first installment in this series, "More Notebook Buying Tips."

Sell It?

Selling an unneeded computer online can be a good way to get rid of it--just look at all the used models on EBay, Craigslist.com, and other Web sites. But getting your computer ready to sell requires some effort.

Your computer should be in good working order; if it's not, you'll need to get it fixed. Then you need to make absolutely sure that any and all important files have been moved to your new notebook or backed up to an external drive, CD, or DVD.

After that, you've got to permanently remove any personal data, to ensure the next owner doesn't dabble in identity theft. This is easier said than done; files erased via the Recycle Bin, for instance, can still exist on your hard drive. Fortunately, some programs act, in effect, as digital file shredders, such as Detto Technologies' PrivacyExpert ($30 as a download; $40 for the CD). For more about wiping your hard drive clean, read PC World contributing editor Lincoln Spector's "Ditching an Old Computer."

How much money you'll make selling your old notebook depends on its age, condition, specs (such as memory and hard drive space), and so on. To get an idea of your computer's market value, type in the manufacturer name and model number (such as "Dell Inspiron 8100") in the Search field on EBay's home page and click the Search button. On the search results page, select "Completed listings" under Search Options (in the left pane of the search results page) and click "Show Items." Among the results, look for notebooks similar to yours to see what others have paid for it. If it's only fetched, say, $100 to $200, it's probably not worth the effort involved to sell it.

Pop Quiz Question 2: Name a computer program that can transfer your files, Internet favorites, system preferences, and other data from your old computer to your new one. Hint: You'll find the names of two such programs in the second installment, "Moving to a New Notebook."

Donate or Recycle?

Donate equipment to charitable organizations and you can be rewarded with a tax deduction. After making sure the hard drive has been scrubbed and you have no possible need for the computer, get an idea of its value at EBay or elsewhere. Print out the information for your tax records. Then find a good home for your notebook among local charities, or browse the TechSoup database of charities and businesses needing old computers.

Another option is to recycle it. The National Recycling Coalition's Electronics Recycling Initiative provides information on computer recyclers and refurbishers by state.

The worst thing you could do is to throw your old notebook away. Most electronic devices, notebooks included, contain mercury, cadmium, and other hazardous materials.

For more ideas about how to dispose of your notebook, read PC World Consumer Watch columnist Anne Kandra's "A Computer Is a Terrible Thing to Waste."

Pop Quiz Question 3: When you sync your PDA and notebook for the first time, will all third-party applications installed on your PDA automatically be installed on the notebook? Find out in the third installment, "Migrating Your PDA."

Other Ideas?

Got a tip or suggestion on what to do with your old notebook? Send it to me.

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