What to do with old computers


Take these steps to ensure your old technology has been properly wiped and recycled.

Has it been a while since you upgraded your computer, whether PC or Mac? It might be time to say goodbye to the old computer and upgrade to a brand-new one. It’s a good way to help ensure your hardware and software have the latest advancements. Plus, a little added processing power never hurt anyone.

Many people simply dump their old computers with little thought to security, but it’s important to protect yourself with some simple steps. Without a proper hard-drive wipe, your old computer — whether Windows or Apple — may hold a wealth of your personal information. Not to mention access to your internet search history, Wi-Fi, logins, and user accounts.

It’s difficult to estimate how often you should replace old desktop or laptop computers. Some studies on the cost of computer ownership recommend replacement every four years. Not everyone will need to upgrade, but enhancements to performance, security, and functionality may help ensure your data is safe and properly protected online.

Here’s a simple rule you can follow: if your computer is so slow that it makes it difficult to get work done, it’s time to move on.

Once you’re ready to make the switch, you’ll need to follow a few steps to ensure your data has been securely backed up and transferred to your new computer, and that your old technology has been properly wiped and recycled. Finally, you’ll want to help protect your new computer, and everything on it, with a strong, reliable security software.

That leads to another big question: Just how do you dispose of a laptop or desktop computer safely and responsibly?

If you’re ready to dump your old computer, here are the steps to take.

Back up your hard drives

There might be plenty of data on your computer that you want to save — everything from work presentations to photos from your family vacation. Fortunately, backing up your data and then transferring it to your new computer isn’t as challenging a task as you might think.

Here’s what you’ll need to back up the data on your old computer

When you’re ready to back up, you have options to accomplish the task. Here are three possibilities. You’ll want to consider the amount of data you have to back up, your budget, ease of accessibility, and data security.

Invest in an external hard drive

An external hard drive, like your computer’s internal drive, is a place to store your important files and images. But as its name suggests, this hard drive actually lives outside your computer. This drive — often housed in a flat, compact rectangle — usually connects to your computer by USB or wirelessly.

A hard drive is a good option for backing up your most important files, the ones you wouldn’t want to lose if your computer crashes or is lost or stolen. It’s a good idea to back up these key files on a regular basis.

If you haven’t done that, though, don’t worry. You can still invest in an external hard drive and transfer your most important files to it before disposing of your old computer. Simply connect the hard drive to your computer, and your computer will automatically install the drivers you need to start transferring files.

The process for copying files from your computer’s hard drive to your external hard drive will vary depending on your operating system, but it will involve selecting the files you want to save. To reduce the time it takes to back up your files, think carefully about what documents, videos, music, and images you really need. That Word document you haven’t opened in seven years? You might not need to copy it.

When you’re ready to transfer your files back to your new computer, just reverse the process, again connecting your hard drive to your new machine.

Buy a USB drive

If you don’t have as much data to transfer, you might choose to buy a lower-cost USB drive that you simply insert into your computer’s USB port. USB drives don’t hold as much data as hard drives, but they are less expensive and easier to transport. They could also be easier to lose because of their small size. If you only need to transfer a limited number of files, then consider a USB drive.

Use the cloud

One of the easiest ways to back up your files, videos, and images might be to use a cloud-based service, such as Dropbox, iCloud, or Google Drive, to name a few.* You can save all your data in the cloud after creating an account with one of these services. Then, when you log onto the service with your new computer, these files will still be there. You can leave these files in the cloud if you’d like, or you can copy them to your new computer’s hard drive. You can also configure your settings to automatically back up your files at regular intervals, so you don’t have to remember to do it manually.

Wipe your data securely

Backing up your data is just the first step. Next, you need to erase, or wipe, the data on your old machine so that no one else can access it. There’s probably personal information buried in your old computer. Identity thieves could use that information to steal your identity, take out credit cards in your name, run up charges on your existing credit cards, or even apply for loans as if they were you.

Your goal is to perform what is known as a factory reset. This returns your computer to its original state when you purchased it, wiping out your personal information and files. What if you don’t perform a reset? A cybercriminal might access your data and use it to commit identity theft.

Fortunately, wiping your old computer’s data isn’t complicated. It’s best, though, not to do this on your own. It’s not easy finding all your personal information on a computer. As thorough as you try to be, there’s a chance you’ll miss something.

The most popular computer operating systems all make completing a factory reset easy.

For Apple, first restart your computer. As your system is starting up, hold down the Shift + Option + Command + R keys and wait for the Apple logo to appear. This will reinstall the original operating system that came with your computer.

Next, the Utilities window will appear on your screen. Open the Disk Utility and erase your computer's hard disk. Select the MacOS Extended format option and quit your Disk Utility function once the wiping process ends. To complete the process, return to the Utilities window and choose the Reinstall MacOS option to reinstall your machine’s original operating system.

If you are running Windows 10 on your computer, click on the Start Menu and then select Settings. Find and click the Update & Security option and search for the Recovery menu. Once you’re here, click on Reset This PC and choose Get Started. Follow the steps to complete a factory reset of your computer.

If you're getting rid of a Chromebook, start the factory reset process by clicking on your account and opening the Settings menu. Scroll down until you find the Advanced section. Click on that and then select the Powerwash option. Once you click on the Powerwash icon, your computer will restart itself, a process that wipes away your personal information.

If you’re selling your old computer instead of giving it to someone else, you might want to go further and rely on third-party software to completely scrub the hard disk of your data. One popular option is DBAN.*.\ Note: DBAN is free; however, the website says there’s “no guarantee your data is completely sanitized across the entire drive.” Here are a few other things to consider:

  • DBAN is intended for personal computers only (not enterprise machines).
  • It can’t erase solid state drives.
  • It offers no customer support.

Consider downloading this free software on your computer and let it run. It will then scour your machine and erase information stored on its hard drives, desktops, or servers.

Sell your old computer on eBay or Craigslist

Once you’ve backed up your computer and saved the important files on it, it’s time to figure out what to do with the one you no longer want. Don’t just toss it in the trash; this is bad for the environment. A better option is to donate it or sell it.

If you’re selling, you have two popular options, eBay or Craigslist, or similar sites.


eBay will charge you a fee of 10 percent of the total amount when you close the sale of your computer. Be sure, then, to factor in that fee when you calculate how much you’ll earn on your sale.

On the plus side, you do have flexibility with eBay. You can auction your computer and see if people bid up to a higher price. You can also set a Buy It Now price that buyers can select to purchase your computer immediately. This flexibility means that you might earn more on your computer than you otherwise might have using the eBay auction format.


Craigslist is another option to consider if you’re more concerned with getting rid of your computer than you are with selling it for a top price. Simply create an ad — be sure to include a photo of the computer you are selling — and post it on the site. Describe how old the computer is and its overall condition. You can also set a price if you like. Many potential buyers will try to bargain for a lower price. That’s fine if you’re willing to negotiate.

The positive here? Buyers will pick up your computer, so you won’t have to ship it to them. A possible negative? You’ll be advertising mainly to local buyers, so you won’t cast as wide a net.

There are other options to eBay or Craigslist. You might consider other sites, such as Recycler, Letgo, or OfferUp, for example, which allow you to sell used items such as old computers.*

Recycle your old computer

If you’re not interested in earning any dollars on your old computer, you might consider recycling it instead. This will save you the hassle of having to ship your computer to a buyer or the uncertainty of waiting for a buyer to show up at your home to take your old electronics.

Best Buy stores offer an easy way to recycle your old computers. Simply drop off your machine — after you’ve backed up your data and wiped your drives — at your nearest Best Buy. Stores take machines regardless of age, type, or condition.

You can also donate your old computers to Goodwill. Goodwill will take any model, age, or condition of computer. You’ll get a tax deduction if you do this, so it’s a win-win.

Check with your local libraries or schools, too. These institutions are often looking for old computers. Your local community might also hold electronics recycling days. Again, make sure to wipe your old computer of personal data before participating in a community electronics recycling event.

Transferring data to your new computer

If you backed up your data successfully before you wiped your old hard drive, putting your files back onto a new computer will be a snap. Just plug in your USB or external hard drive and drag your old files onto your new computer.

Secure the data on your new computer

Once you’ve set up your new computer, protect the information on it by investing in antivirus and security software.

Dan Rafter
  • Dan Rafter
  • Freelance writer
Dan Rafter is a freelance writer who covers tech, finance, and real estate. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Fox Business.

Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. Our offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about Cyber Safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses. The Norton and LifeLock brands are part of Gen Digital Inc. 


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