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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 (http://heidi.ie/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 (http://edenwaith.com) 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 (http://freecycle.org), donate it to a charity. You have a wide variety of choices, from local computer groups such as the Capital PC User Group (http://reboot.cpcug.org) and Washington Apple Pi (http://wap.org/about/donations) to larger nonprofit organizations such as the National Cristina Foundation (http://cristina.org).

Computers too old for further use should not be thrown out because they contain toxic chemicals. Vendors such as Apple (http://apple.com/environment) and Dell (http://dell.com/recycle) 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 (http://pcrecycler.net) 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 (http://mygreenelectronics.org).

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 robp@washpost.com. Turn to Thursday's Business section or visit washingtonpost.com anytime for his Fast Forward column.


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