Fast Forward

Fast Forward's Help File

By Rob Pegoraro
Sunday, December 28, 2008

QWhat are my options for disposing of an old computer?

ALetting the old PC collect dust in a closet, basement or attic can be easy, but it deserves a better fate.

First, you need to wipe your data from the hard drive. In Windows, use the free Eraser ( to nuke the C: drive's "Documents and Settings" folder (aside from a few system files).

In Mac OS X 10.3 or newer, drag the contents of your home folder to the Trash, hit the Finder menu and select "Secure Empty Trash . . . " In OS X 10.1 or 10.2, download the free Permanent Eraser ( instead.

If you'll sell or donate the machine, reload its original software. On most PCs, you do this by starting the computer off a special hard-drive partition; check the manual for instructions. On a Mac, boot from the system CD or DVD and select an "Erase and Install" option.

If you can't sell the computer or give it away through a site like Freecycle (, donate it to a charity. You have a wide variety of choices, from local computer groups such as the Capital PC User Group ( and Washington Apple Pi ( to larger nonprofit organizations such as the National Cristina Foundation (

Computers too old for further use should not be thrown out because they contain toxic chemicals. Vendors such as Apple ( and Dell ( will recycle old hardware for free when you buy a new computer from them. You can drop off computers for recycling at a Staples store, though a $10 fee applies. Once a month, Chantilly-based PC Recycler ( recycles old PCs for free; for $10, it will destructively erase a machine's hard drive.

For other reuse and recycling options, see the Consumer Electronics Association's myGreenElectronics (

Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or Turn to Thursday's Business section or visit anytime for his Fast Forward column.

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