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New Homes for Old Hardware?

December 2, 2008

Last Sunday we attended a dedication service for a new church library. The library was beautiful and the books were all diligently catalogued in a (Windows-based) computer system. But the computer hardware in use was a positively ancient Gateway 2000 computer. We contemplated offering them the use of one of our old computers from home to update the new library's catalog system.  However, when we inquired as to why the beautiful brand new library had such an old computer, it was explained that the problem was a challenge moving the data to the new system  (i.e., the original computer was so old, it had no networking capability and no USB  port). The only mechanism it supports for moving data is an old 5.25-inch floppy drive. As it turns out, the folks at the church have now found a special HW/SW combination they can use to transfer the data to the new system using the parallel port.

But the experience caused us to give thought as to whether some of the old PCs we're not using anymore might be put to a better use than simply occupying space in our house. And so the search began. A bit of Googling revealed many organizations ready and willing to make use of old computer hardware. We have yet to decide exactly what to do with our older systems, but in case any of you are in the same position, here are a few of the organizations that we have uncovered so far:

The National Cristina Foundation, according to the organization’s Web site, has been operating since 1984. It was founded to provide computers for educational purposes to help people with disabilities (Cristina, for whom the foundation is named, has cerebral palsy), as well as students at risk, and economically challenged students.  They accept donated computers for distribution to schools and charities.

There are other organizations--many of them focusing on localized help--such as Computers for Schools in the Chicago area and Teaming for Technology (link not active), a North Carolina-based organization affiliated with the United Way.  

Possibly one of the most useful sites we found was TechSoup, which provides a list of computer refurbishers and recyclers by area of the country (there are even a few Canadian locations listed) so you can easily find a  local organization that can benefit from your donated hardware and/or software.

Of course, you should make sure you remove all of your data and applications from the hard drive of any donated computers. Several tools are available to wipe the hard drive safely- both commercial products and shareware. You may want to check out a site from Microsoft for some computer equipment donation tips, including links to obtain the necessary software to clean up the system before donation.

By the way, some of the organizations ask you to also donate the disks and/or license key information for operating system software that came with the computer, if possible, along with any documentation about the hardware you may have. So think about that before throwing away old disks, etc., as part of your next purge.

And by the way, if you're wondering what to do with your old mobile phones, take a look at CollectiveGood.

So the next time you’re trying to decide what to do with some of the old equipment around your home or office, why not take a look at a way to make it useful to someone else before simply discarding it. And if you have a favorite charity or cause for such hardware donations, please write a blog comment and share it with the rest of us.

Posted December 2, 2008| Permalink

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