If excessive consumerism goes down in history as a disease, you can bet our habit of getting rid of computers we've had for only two years or so will be considered a fairly vile symptom. All around the world landfills are overflowing with fully functional computers we've prematurely trashed. There's even an anti-environmental, underground economy of e-waste that sends our junked computers to the third world for disposal. Thankfully all of this is avoidable. Here's how to give your device a long life—and an Earth-friendly afterlife.
One of the main reasons people replace their PCs is they feel they are too slow to be useful. Many believe their machines lose speed as a matter of course as they age. There's some truth to this, but usually it's not the physical apparatus that's at fault; the problem is the software. This is particularly true of Microsoft products, which are vulnerable to a variety of spyware and viruses that can seriously bog down a system.
The best thing you can do to give new life to a sluggish computer is to dig out your old operating system and utility discs, and do a complete reinstall. If you haven't done this for years, you'll be amazed at how much faster your machine becomes. Sure, your ten-year-old Dell might not keep pace with your new dual-core Macbook Pro, but it'll still be running much better.
New Operating System
Not impressed with the improved swiftness of your system after a reinstall? The reason may be that old PCs usually come with outdated versions of Windows that run better on old hardware than new, and these old versions often lack support for up-to-date security software such as firewalls and anti-virus programs.
For this reason, it may make sense to give an old thinking machine new life using Ubuntu. This operating system is up to date, uses significantly fewer resources than other modern operating systems, and runs on most older machines. Best of all, it's a free download away. Or you can order a physical CD by mail.
Cheap Hardware Fix
Failing all software solutions, some inexpensive hardware upgrades can usually pep up an aging computer. RAM (Random-Access Memory), for example. RAM is a lot like a human’s short-term memory: it keeps track of everything the computer is doing at the present moment. When a computer runs out of RAM, it often uses some of the hard drive capacity as a supplement—but hard drives aren’t nearly as fast. This is why not having enough RAM can put a significant drag on your system. Happily, more RAM is cheap: 1 gig usually costs less than $30, and adding just that much or more can make a huge difference.
Uses for Old Computers
Once you've revived your machine, figuring out what to do with it is limited only by your imagination. First, you might continue to use it as you were, so you won’t have to replace it. This is good for your wallet and the environment. Barring that, you can employ it in any number of ways:
- Offline Word Processor - Find your attention diverted by email, instant messaging and readily available information online? Working while not connected to the Internet can be the perfect prescription for distraction-free writing.
- Media Center - Hook up your old digital friend to the Internet, put it in your living room, install Boxee and you've got a media center capable of streaming from Hulu, CBS, Comedy Central and more―all on demand, all free, all with the same interface. It works beautifully and can replace cable entirely.
- Educational Tool for Kids - Give your resuscitated machine to a child without a computer. Ubuntu offers an educational version, Edubuntu, which comes with a variety of learning games and tools for kids.
- Sell It - Try offering it for sale on Craigslist or eBay and let someone else put it to use.
Or you can just give it away to a school, youth center, retirement home et al. If you don’t know of any, fill out a Recycles.org form and they’ll match you with one. If there's demand for your old computing machine, refurbished or not, the site will connect you with a local organization interested in using the device. Your donation might even be tax deductible.
If you’ve tried everything, only to realize that your PC is simply broken, it may be time to recycle it. Responsible recycling centers for computers exist across the country. The Environmental Protection Agency website is a good resource for finding a center in your area. Be sure to ask the organization about its environmental and export policies to confirm that it is as committed as you are to protecting the ecology.
You may have to give some thought as to what specifically you will do with an old, slow computer. But, at least you now have several viable options that beat putting it out to pasture—where “pasture” means feeding it to a local landfill or allowing it to pollute the air and water halfway around the world.
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