While some things increase in value over time,
computers don't. The demons of depreciation and
rapidly developing technology combine to turn a high-end machine into a heavy paperweight in a
matter of months. That computer you paid a lot of money for is now probably worth next to nothing.
This problem isn't new. In the mid-80s my
father heard rumors of a place that bought and sold
used PCs for $50. So we loaded up our Compaq
"Portable" (about 15 pounds and resembling a
sewing machine) with the broken monitor. Since no
one could use it anymore and we had paid so much a
few years before, it seemed like a shame to throw it
out. Inside the mysterious warehouse, we saw
chaotic shelves heaped with hundreds of piles of hard
drives, monitors, keyboards, mice, and random
computer guts. They were mostly sorted by machine:
PCs, PCJrs, various Acorn, Apple, Franklin and
The proprietor looked at our machine and said, "Can't give you anything for itI already have
20 Portables no one wants anymore."
This proclamation disappointed Dad, but he decided to look more closely at the Compaq
pile. Thinking ahead, he bought two more of the
same modelone with a working monitor and one
with extra memory. He decided to keep the original
"for parts." My mother was thrilled when Dad
returned home with not one, but three obsolete computers.
Unfortunately, Dad's quest isn't unusual. Countless old computers are gathering dust in
basements, garages, and closets. No one wants these techno-
antiques and what's worse, as prices of new
machines continue to drop, it's more economical to buy a
new machine than to upgrade.
I speak from experience. Three years ago, I decided my 386 couldn't keep up with what I was
doing, even with a "high-speed" 28.8 Kbps modem.
A local computer store said it would take $800 for
a new motherboard, to upgrade the operating system from Windows 3.1 to 95, boost the memory,
add speakers, and other improvements. Or, I could get
a new system with all those features and more for $700. And they told me they'd "let" me keep my
modem and monitor. Since I liked my computer but wasn't terribly attached to it, it was easy to let go.
The new Pentium 166 showed dramatic improvement. And the Coeur d'Alene School District
loved my 386. They couldn't guarantee it would stay
intact, but they had plans for the parts. Plus the
donation receipt showing higher than market value
was nice when tax season rolled around.
Now, I'm in the market again, and things
haven't changed much. No one seems to want the
P-166, and prices for new machines are even lower. But
I've done my homework, and found that there are
more disposal options out there than there were when
Dad was trying to dump the broken Compaq.
Here's a list of seven possible disposal options:
- Find someone who needs one. Nonprofits
or schools can't always afford to upgrade often. Plus, since tech jobs are more in demand,
schools or vocational programs like to let students
dissect old ones. Contributions are tax deductible.
Those who work from home can deduct the cost of a new machine and include an Idaho tax credit
for donating the old one to certain institutions if
the donation is made before Dec. 31. Check with your tax advisor to make sure the donation
is done right.
- Save it. Hanging onto anything is always
a gamble. But in enough time, supplies of computers drop, and you might find yourself with
something valuable. Millions may own a PC clone
like yours now, but some early models are now
prized by technology buffs. At the Smithsonian in
1993, I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a
TRS-80 Model 1 on display, just like the one my
dad bought in 1981, which still gathers dust next
to the Compaqs in the basement.
- Give it to friends or family. A second
machine may be great for those who can't afford a
new one, or need a spare for a teen or college
student. Seniors also like something simple to type and
do e-mail on, rather than fancy new programs they don't understand. If you like games, give an
old machine and a modem to a friend, and then you can play together.
- Make a super computer. I personally have
no idea how to do this, but a power nerd may be able to help you improve the computer's
processing power by linking two machines together.
- Make it into art or crafts. I've seen quite a
few creations from recycled computer components. A Seattle gift store has book covers made
from motherboards, and cute pins from transistors. Surf the `net and you'll find lots of creative ideas.
- Sell it. Someone somewhere may need a
Timex Sinclair for their own reasons. Old-time
gamers still collect some of the cool, unduplicated
programs for the TI-99. You can offer it up for
auction on just about any online auction house. I even found a few stores in Kootenai County
willing to sell newer pre-owned computers (P-100 and higher) on a consignment basis. Prices are
in the low hundreds, but it beats the next option.
- If all else fails, destroy it. Be careful in
exercising this option, however. Landfills are getting
concerned about all the heavy metals and other yucky things that are used in PCs, especially
the big monitors. Check your area's disposal rules
before you literally "hit any key to continue."