Clearing Out the Computer Graveyard

What do you do with your old computer when you purchase a new one?  When I began working from home and decided to purchase a workhorse “desktop” computer, my still functioning laptop became the downstairs/kitchen/screened-in porch computer.  It’s a handy place to quickly check e-mail, moderate blog comments or pull up the latest movie releases before heading out the door on a Friday night.

Back in the day when a computer was a much larger financial purchase, whenever a new computer entered our home it was because the old one had either died or had become slow and outdated.  We used to joke when our son was a teenager that we were sure the gaming folks were in cahoots with the computer manufacturers because we seemed to always be updating our home computer for the sole purpose of keeping up with the speed and memory requirements of the latest computer games Santa had delivered.

In the excitement of bringing home a new computer, little thought was ever given to the old one.  It always went the way of its predecessors, relegated to the unfinished area of the basement.  Over the years the basement gradually became a graveyard for defunct computers and printers.

Source

Over the past few months, I’ve been in a purging mood.  If it “ain’t” being used…it’s out of here! (Said with the enthusiasm of the late Skip Caray calling a home run headed over the fence at Turner Field.)

Every so often our area has a county-wide electronics recycling day.  I’m not really sure why they do that since it’s free to take your electronics for recycling any day of the week.  That tells me there must be some value in the metal or whatever it is that’s inside a computer.

The main thing that has stood in the way of my attempts to clear out the basement computer graveyard was concern about personal information that could still be on those old computers.  With identity theft ranking as one of the fastest growing crimes and in the news on a daily basis, I knew I couldn’t take them for recycling without first doing something about the hard drives.  Too risky.

I called a local computer megastore where one of the computers had been purchased many years ago.  They quoted a minimum of $65 to wipe the hard drive of just one computer.  Since I had two towers and a laptop, that was definitely more than I cared to spend.  Once again, the computer recycling dilemma was put on the back burner.

Recycle Day at the local highschool:
A week or so ago I checked my mailbox and discovered a flyer announcing a computer, electronics, paint and paper recycling day at a local high school.  I called the contact person on the flyer and asked if there would be anyone there who could help me open up my computers and retrieve the hard drives.  He told me to  come on down.  He felt sure there would be some computer guys there that would be willing to help me with that.  This sounded promising!

I had often thought of trying to open the computers by myself to retrieve the hard drives, but I had always quickly dismissed those thoughts because 1. I didn’t know if there was something inside that could be dangerous if touched  AND  2.  I had no idea what a hard drive even looked like.

That morning I arrived at the school about  9:20 AM, 20 minutes after the starting time stated on the flyer.  There was a short line of about 4-5 cars.  I decided to come back since I was supposed to be at a photography class in about 35 minutes and I didn’t want to be late.

I arrived back around 11:15 and found a long line of cars.  The recycling was supposed to go on all day and the school was not far from my home, so I decided to leave and come back again later in the day, hoping the line would be shorter by then.  A monsoon came, a torrential downpour, and I wondered if the recycling would still be going on when I returned.  Perhaps I had missed my chance to finally get the computers recycled.

On my third trip back it still looked like this, but I stayed this time and found the line moved quickly.  It snaked around the corner, down a short distance and into a side parking lot.

Upon entering the parking lot, I drove around to the huge recycling truck where I stood and watched three large kitchen bags of old bank statements, bills and canceled checks dating all the way back to 1978, get shredded.  The flyer had said they would shred your papers while you watched.  At some point they had apparently gotten way behind, maybe during the monsoon, and folks had just started leaving their stuff.

Not this girl.  Call me paranoid but I stayed and watched.  I’d rather stay and watch than get a new “part-time job” as our local consumer guru, Clark Howard, warns.  Clark always says, if your identity is stolen, you have yourself a new part-time job for at least the next three years, undoing all the damage that’s been done.  Yikes!  I don’t need any part-time jobs.

I took Clark’s advice years ago and froze my credit with all three credit bureaus.  I encourage you to consider freezing your credit, too.  Don’t just sign up for a monitoring service, which usually only alerts you after your credit has been breached and the damage is done.  Consider freezing your credit with all three credit bureaus.  It inexpensive to freeze it and costs very little to thaw it when you need to.   That way the bad guys aren’t going to get very far if they do get their hands on your personal information.  You can read more about freezing your credit and how you can thaw it temporarily when needed, HERE and HERE.

I wish I had thought to take a picture of the giant mountains of computers, printers and electronic devices that were being loaded into the huge trucks.  There were so many, they were piled up all around the trucks.  It was amazing!  Apparently, I wasn’t the only person who had a computer/electronic graveyard going on in their home.

The computer recycling guys were super nice.  They unscrewed the two towers I brought and showed me the hard drive.  I didn’t have my camera with me that day, so I took all the photos you see in this post with my camera phone.  If you’re like me and don’t have a clue what the inside of a computer looks like, here’s the inside of one of the towers.  You can see the hard drive there on the right. (note arrow)  This was the big 386 tower.  Computer towers are so much smaller now…this computer was quite the dinosaur.

And here’s the inside on the e-machine.  By the time this computer was made, towers were getting a lot smaller, closer to the size of today’s computers.

The computer dude gave me this hand ax/hatchet and I beat the living daylights out of those hard drives. lol  Hey, he told me too, so I did!  As he handed me the hatchet thingy, he said, “Remember all the times it froze up and had to rebooted?  It’s payback time.” 😉  I think this was the hard drive out of the 386 tower.

This may have been the hard drive from the laptop or maybe this was the e-machine…forgotten now.  Anyway, I took my aggression out on it, too. 😉   So, if you take your computers apart, here’s what you’re hard drive looks like.  Apparently, this is the brain of the computer and where your data is stored.

What do you do with your old computers when you recycle them?  Do you pay $65 to have the hard drive wiped?  Or, do you take them apart and reenact this hilarious scene from the movie, Office Space?




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Comments

  1. That's good information. I have been doing the same thing. They are in my tool shed waiting destruction! Thanks for the tip!

  2. Coastal Cottage Dreams says:

    Susan:

    Since I am in the midst of moving to a new home, I have had 3 towers in my garage. In SC, we can recyle our towers at BestBuy without a charge. The hard drive was "damaged" with a hammer before discarding. We found info on internet on how to discard hard drive. No lines at all. They have a great set up.

  3. Tess Maxey says:

    Ahhhhhh I never thought about removing the hard drive and I will be doing that soon. So glad you posted this. Every time I dragged another up the steps into the attic my husband rolled his eyes – he would just throw it out but I'm just not that trusting!! Glad to hear I'm not the only one.

  4. Entertaining Women says:

    Now this is definitely a tutorial of a different color. Thanks for sharing the adventure. I have a friend who lives in Mexico. She comes to the states and takes donated (cleared) old computers back to Mexico to be regenerated and given to young students in her area. They are always so appreciative. She says that it makes a huge difference in their education process. Cherry Kay

  5. Glenda/MidSouth says:

    Thanks for sharing all this great info. I have a tower that I need to dispose of, and just recently researched how to take the hard drive out – just have not gotten around to doing it yet.

  6. laxsupermom says:

    We've always taken the hard drives out and smashed them. Good advice on the credit freezing. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Susan BetweenNapsOnThePorch says:

    That's good to know! There's not usually a line at our county recycle center either, but they just won't help you open them up to remove the hard drive.

  8. Susan BetweenNapsOnThePorch says:

    Tess, good for you for not just throwing it out.

  9. Two of my son's friends, police officers who must practice, use their hard drives for target shooting. Our son(the tech person in the family) takes our hard drives to the barn and inserts them into the drill press. "Once and done," he said, for both methods.

  10. Susan BetweenNapsOnThePorch says:

    Lesa, the drill press sounds like a great idea. It's hard to damage one of those things…you have to really hit it hard. I barely dented them with the hatchet.

  11. For the last year or so it COSTS to dispose of anything electronic – tvs, computers, etc even at the thrift stores or town recycling center so we usually offer them free for parts to anyone who cares and have had no problem with finding a taker. Old monitors, not so much. No one wants them, unless they can refurbish them into an art project. We do remove the harddrives first and those have just been sitting around. We should find a creative way to be done with them.
    Of course since I get the hand me down version from others, anything I have to offer up is ancient to begin with.

  12. My Hubby takes the old computers apart and destroys the hard drives – not as easy task either (as you know)!

  13. Nancy's Notes says:

    What a great post! I needed every bit of this information, thank you, thank you!! I need a hatchet!

  14. Thanks for sharing some very valuable info.
    CAS

  15. That's a great post with some very useful information. I fearlessly took on this job about a year ago when I had a nice stash of computers to deal with. But I guess I cheated a little since I already knew what the hard drive looked like after watching our tech guys at work when they tore into mine from time to time. I took a hammer to all mine and then drowned them in water for good measure. It felt liberating!

  16. Susan BetweenNapsOnThePorch says:

    Glenda, I love it! Good going! Wish I had thought of the water torture. lol

  17. Susan BetweenNapsOnThePorch says:

    🙂 It's kind of hard even with a hatchet.

  18. I never thought to smash the hard drive before. Great idea. I have at least three in my basement that I am constantly relocating two feet to the left or three feet to the right. I just need to get rid of them once and for all.

  19. Andi's English Attic says:

    This was so timely. I've been wondering how to remove the hard drive (and what it looked like!) from our old tower before I take it to the dump. All I have to work out now is how to get the back off! (I've taken all the screws out, but nothing's budging.) xx

  20. Great suggestions! Thanks!

  21. ♥ Sonny ♥ says:

    Thanks for the information concerning credit freeze. thats such a good idea.

    I looked up my computer number to see where the hard drive was on each of the 3 towers I had.
    I have a friend that cleans brick and he keeps a bucket of the acid they use. it took 2 days but they disolved:-)
    Too me just using the wipe out disc isnt enough.. good for you being extra careful.

  22. Now I think dissolving the hard drive in brick cleaners acid is the best idea so far. Not that easy to find but very effective. I think a strong magnet left on the drive and moved around occasionally works too but I haven't looked in to that since floppy disks. I have had to destroy hundreds of those. I take them apart, recycle the plastic from the metal and then cross cut shred the thin plastic disk that has the info.

  23. These days you cannot be too careful. You were wise to stay with your papers! Fortunately our county recycling center just started taking computer and electronic equipment..My techy son wiped out the hard drive for us and off to the center it went. It had been in the closet for a couple of years and glad to see it go…So glad laptops were created! Great informative post, Susan!

  24. High Heeled Life says:

    Great post.. and information!! xo HHL

  25. Thanks so much for such an informative post. I am always so afraid of identity theft…I've heard such horror stories. My desktop pc is about dead and I hate that. I don't want to go through getting another one!

  26. Great post! By the time I got to the hatchet picture, I was thinking about Office Space and then there it was in the next picture. Great minds think alike??

  27. Susan BetweenNapsOnThePorch says:

    Funny! 🙂

  28. Susan BetweenNapsOnThePorch says:

    Cheri, I know what cha mean…I always dread that process. They are so fast now, though…you'll love it and it will probably be less painful than you think.

  29. Susan BetweenNapsOnThePorch says:

    Thanks, Shirley!

  30. Susan BetweenNapsOnThePorch says:

    Thanks!

  31. Susan BetweenNapsOnThePorch says:

    That's a riot! I was worried if the dents I made were enough…acid would definitely do the trick! l

  32. Susan BetweenNapsOnThePorch says:

    Andi, I remember one of the towers was more difficult to open than the other one. Sometimes the side slides into place..that's how the side is on my current tower.

  33. Susan, I've always beaten the tar outa these things with a hammer! Once I even ran over it with my SUV! LOL No more data, that's for sure. I have a son who showed me what the hard drive looked like when he was back in high school. Heck, I can still even change out a sound card if I need to! LOL
    How do these young kids learn how to do this stuff when they are so young, anyway?! I know what you mean about the gaming thing. That's why I learned to do this- we were always updating. 🙂

  34. Susan BetweenNapsOnThePorch says:

    Sue, that is soooo funny! I can just see you in your SUV doing that. Ha! Sounds like something I would try. That's awesome you know how to change out the sound card…I was clueless about that stuff.

  35. Love it! I got my grown son to take mine out and he told me – just take it in the back yard and use it for target practice – we do live out in the country, so shooting would be ok… I haven't done that yet, but that part is so tiny…I did get rid of the tower and oh the monitor – it was huge.

  36. ~Tablescapes By Diane~ says:

    Hi lovely lady.
    We put our's tower in salt water for a week then let sit in the sun and cook.
    Then take a big chain and pull it down the road…
    Diane

  37. Such a GREAT post, Susan! And while we're on the subject, let's see how many of us are this careful with the regular MAIL?!? I have a shredder, but it can hardly keep up with the volumes of mail that arrive every day with credit card numbers, banking information, mortgage statements, health insurance – complete with diagnosis and prescriptions taken, not to mention the applications for new credit cards. And all it takes is one slip-up! So, I LOVE the idea about "freezing" my credit, and have Bookmarked that Post of yours. Thank you for looking out for your friends, Susan!

  38. Susan BetweenNapsOnThePorch says:

    That's a good point! I should have mentioned the websites where you can "opt out" of credit card offers and get off all those mailing lists. You definitely have peace of mind when your credit is frozen.

  39. Helen's Decor says:

    A tech, at one of the box stores, told my husband to break the hard drive and also suggested that he pour Pine-Sol all over them! Maybe, that was meant as a joke, but I took it seriously and wanted to have them messy as could be. I have been a victim of identity theft and was ever so thankful the person had inexpensive purchases. Helen

  40. Well, I be ! There is no telling how much of our info is in our ol' computer my hubby uses. It's always freezing up on him and he's constantly on the phone with his IT buddy. I've warned him to 'back up' his info/emails/photos and stuff before it finally crashes…BOOM. Cause once it happens, there is no going back.
    Thanks for the heads up about the credit freezing/thawing info. We are going to do that as soon as we buy our new car.

  41. Haha! That’s one of my most favorite movies EVER! And that’s the best scene, too! Great advice!

  42. I just found your site, and think it’s fabulous. I’ve added a few others to my ‘favorites”, but yours is the only one I’ve subscribed to. I thought I’d pass this on, because it sounds like we fit right in with having multiple computers sitting in the basement to get rid of. Google electronics disposal in your area. I found out that Staples takes all of the computer stuff – every day, some of the other stores will take some things on certain days, I think Goodwill takes up to 2/month. Our landfill charges to dispose of electronics, so with so many I wanted to find some other options. I also found there were places to get rid of all of the other electronics too (i.e., printers, tvs, VHS players, etc.), and most don’t charge!

    Thanks again for a great site – keep on keeping on!

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