Donate an Old Computer

by Oscar Sodani
January 5, 2006

Do you have an older computer that you would like to give away to a school or charity? We'll show you how to prepare your PC for donation, plus all the different options you have for who you should donate it to.

Prepare your computer

The first thing you need to do is make a backup of any data that is on the hard drive. Documents, personal information, downloaded files - if you need it in the future, make a backup now (or 2 backups, preferably). If you have another computer, transfer the documents to the new computer as soon as possible. Backing up the programs is usually useless - you'll need the original CD or downloaded setup file in order to reinstall the software.

Next, reformat/wipe the hard drive. You never know where your computer is going to end up, so a clean reformat of the drive is absolutely necessary in order to protect your private information. However, data can be recovered  - even from a reformatted drive! We recommend using a utility that completely wipes the drive of any data. Read our tutorial on how to completely erase a hard drive

Next, if you are familiar with the computers' internals, you should check inside the computer to make sure there aren't any extra parts you might find useful. Is there an extra chunk of RAM that would work in your new PC? Is there a DVD-R drive you would like to have? A video-editing card? If so, make the decision on whether you would rather donate the extra hardware or keep it for yourself. But do not cripple the computer by doing so - only take out extra hardware that is not essential to the running of the computer.

Again, if you are familiar with computers, you should return it to its factory default settings. If you tweaked the computer's BIOS settings at all, set them back to default. If you overclocked the processor, set it back to its normal operation. While the PC may run a bit slower, it will be more stable, and charities will appreciate stability more than they will appreciate a few more Mhz.

Reinstall the operating system that came with the machine. If it came with a Windows 98, use that original disk. Charities and schools need to know that they have a legal copy of the operating system - your "borrowed" copy of Windows XP just won't do. If you have the original CD, reinstall it, or simply include the CD and original manuals in the box when you donate the PC. If you can't find the original CD, just leave the hard drive blank. (You could also plant a Knoppix CD in the CD drive)

Clean the outside of the machine. Whether you are donating a PC or a printer or some other piece of equipment, please be kind enough to wipe the outside of the case with a mild cleaner such as 409. While they will surely accept a dirty PC, it's just nicer if you do. Many of us have keyboards or mice that we spilled coffee or soda on - take the extra minute and wipe it down.

Find a charity

Many charities in the US and Europe will take old computers. They might not want ancient PCs, but if it is less than 5 years old, a charity will be able to make use of it. Inner-city schools are less picky - if you have a working PC of any type, they will likely be able to make use of it due to the criminally low technology budgets that these schools are provided.

If you donate to an organization, rather than to an individual, the organization should be able to provide you with a receipt that you can use for tax purposes. 

Share the Technology is a US-based organization has an online database that you can search, listing the charities in your state that need computers. It's an excellent organization and can help you find a nearby charity in a snap.

In the UK, DonateAPC has a similar list of charities in need of a computer. In the UK, you can also contact Computers for Charities.

Canadians can try the World Computer Exchange.

Of course, if you cannot find a charity, many needy individuals need home computers as well. Craig's List is a great place to get rid of the computer - there are Craig's List pages for about 200 cities worldwide, and tons of needy folks who would love to have a PC that you consider old and slow. If your PC is somewhat recent, you may even be able to get a few bucks for it. 

Another fantastic resource is Freecycle, which is quickly becoming a world-wide phenomenon. Your junk is truly another's treasure, and there are Freecycle communities all over the globe.

Recycle the computer

If a charity won't accept the computer, there are many "recyclers" out there that will refurbish the machine and then sell it at a low cost to charities and/or schools. TechSoup has a list of recyclers that perform this service. 

Finally, check your local waste management/recycling center to see if they accept computers. Where I live, in the state of Maryland, our local recycling center takes all old office equipment and recycles it. It's a good last resort for that old 286 that no one wants.

Good luck, and kudos to you for deciding to donate your old computer rather than having it take up space in a landfill somewhere!