A listing in last Friday's Fast Forward section misstated the policy of Gifts in Kind International on accepting computer donations. The organization, formerly known as Gifts in Kind America, accepts donations from businesses in lots of 10 or more computers, but it does not accept computers from individuals. Donated PCs must have chips at the 486 level or higher and must be Y2K-compliant, complete working systems. The organization's address also has changed; it is at 333 N. Fairfax St., Alexandria, Va. 22314. (Published 01/27/2000)
After all the years you spent together, the late, quiet, lonely nights you spent face to face crashing on papers, the dreams of the Great American Novel the two of you would produce . . . sigh. You know it's time to move on, but the inevitable question that we all dread looms:
Where do old computers go when you have no use for them anymore?
In many cases, those old 286, 386 and other pre-Pentium computers are sitting in basements and attics, collecting dust like old National Geographics that nobody has the heart to toss.
"Most families have more than one computer. It becomes a family member, and you just don't want to let it go," said Don Bard, president of the Lazarus Foundation, an organization that accepts old computers, fixes them (if that's possible) and then provides the machines to nonprofit organizations. "I think we passed the era of the XTs and the 286. But there are a number of people [still using] the 386."
But if you don't want to use your antique computer anymore, donating it to a nonprofit that can refurbish it and place it in a good home is a worthwhile option.
Peter Gentieu, director of operations at Computer Reclamation Inc. in Beltsville, recycles older computers and puts them in the hands of people with annual incomes less than $33,000. "Some people think of us as a humane society for old computers," he said. "Some people think of us as a junkyard."
Gentieu thinks that old computer don't die, they just get old. "I like to keep some older computers here that can do things, just as a reality check. There's overkill. [People use] computers that are above what 99 percent of us need," he said.
Gerry Rosenkrantz, coordinator of the Reboot program, recently got his hands on an old 386 laptop. Figuring someone could use it primarily as a typewriter, he did some repairs and gave it to a lawyer with the Prince George's Legal Aid Society. "They're not exactly Arnold & Porter types," he said--and even a 386-powered laptop can work for taking notes in court.
Rosenkrantz also provides computers to churches, synagogues and homes for troubled youth, he said. This formerly small nonprofit has grown so much that he now uses warehouse space because the computers and parts were taking over his three-story town house. "I've probably built and given away a couple hundred machines over the last five years," he said.
Even computers that don't get rebuilt can still serve a purpose: Gentieu gets many people who come to Computer Reclamation to buy old parts because some still use these "antique" machines. Some old computers are even starting to become collectibles, he added: "An old Atari brings in more money on eBay than a 486." (But don't get your hopes up too high: The going rate for the once-ubiquitous Commodore 64 is between $20 and $30 at the popular auction site.)
So if you don't think you can get rich off your antique PC, can you just throw it out? Some worry that discarded computers will emit toxic chemicals, but John Veneziano, director of public works for the city of Fairfax, said computers "are able to go in regular trash--there's nothing hazardous about them."
For some old machines, there is no better destination than a trash bin. Rosenkrantz admits that many of his donated parts and computers are not usable. "I get some crazy stuff. We get donations and the computers won't boot. You can't turn them on. I got a LaserJet [printer] which . . . won't communicate with the computer," he said. "It's not a simple job, but it keeps my brain from getting stale."
In the meantime, he also has to work out the bugs in his own computer. What kind is it? Who knows? It's made of parts from several different old computers.
The following groups accept donations of used computer equipment. Contact the organization in advance to see if it can use your model of computer.
Action Computing Solutions
6041 Centreville Crest La., Centreville.
"We buy Pentium or better, and still do a little with 486, depending on parts," said owner Jeff Butler.
Affordable Business Technologies Inc.
3201 Duke St., Alexandria
Buys, sells and trades.
Computer Reclamation Inc.
Will take just about anything as long as you bring it in.
265 S. Van Dorn St., Alexandria
Buys only Pentium 133 and faster PCs.
Gifts in Kind America
703-836-2121, Ext. 41
700 N. Fairfax St., Alexandria
Will take old computers, repair them and then distribute to nonprofits.
10378 Eclipse Way, Columbia
Restores and redistributes old computers to other charities or educational institutions.
8623 Spruce Run Ct., Ellicott City
Works with the Maryland State Department of Education to recycle used computers into schools.
Practical Computer Inc.
5407A Port Royal Rd., Springfield
Buys, sells and trades.
Second Chance Program
10700 Page Ave., Fairfax
Accepts donations of used computers, which are then given to Fairfax County public schools.
Will take individual donations; PCs should be 386 or newer.
13852 Park Center Rd., Herndon
Will accept almost any computer, but call first.
CAPTION: Computer recycler Peter Gentieu stands in front of old PCs in need of new homes.