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Trevor Pott

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Trevor Pott is a full-time nerd from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He splits his time between systems administration, technology writing, and consulting. As a consultant he helps Silicon Valley start-ups better understand systems administrators and how to sell to them.
By | Trevor Pott 4th January 2011 15:00

Who will rid me of these obsolete PCs?

Reuse it or lose it

I never would have believed that getting rid of one’s old computer gear could be the harder side of upgrades – until early last year when I bought a set of Wyse thin clients to replace an aging and mismatched desktop fleet.

I briefly toyed with the idea of making some form of Franken-Beowulf-cluster out of the 40 or so working systems now surplus to requirements, but came to the conclusion that I could probably replace the entire thing with a single modern graphics card. I cherry picked the best systems – those with two cores and hardware assisted virtualisation – as they might come in handy as emergency test-bed capacity. I then set about seeing what I could do about the rest.

In Canada, I cannot simply tip electronics into the bin. I could just pack them all into my car and bring them down to the nearest eco-station, excepting that the eco-station and I tend to have fairly continual scheduling conflicts.

With so many old PCs lying around, I wanted to see if I could fix up some into systems the staff could use. Some of the folk around here have kids; second PC for the home running Ubuntu might be a welcome addition. I figured I could put some extra hours in after work and all would be well. I was wrong.

Canadian tax law is the first hurdle - giving away a decommissioned PC is considered to be a “taxable benefit” . This means determining the “current market value” of the beastie in question and notifying the beancounters such that they could perform some dark rituals and incomprehensible accounting voodoo. This was a no-go.

The next option is to sell the computers to staff members. If I invoice the computers at “current market value,” I can sell the computers on to staff without the accounting hocus pocus. The sticking point is that “current market value” isn’t much of a deal for anyone. With the availability of netbooks and the plethora of things for sale on Kijiji, who wants to pay $150 for a Pentium 4?

I talked to a friend of mine – a sysadmin for a local charity – and wondered if wanted any of this gear. If my fellow sysadmin could have made use of these PCs, it would have solved my problem nicely: he would pick them up and take them away while I don’t have to worry about any messy paperwork. (The tax write-off is so negligible as to not be worth the paperwork.)

Unfortunately for me I was not the only sysadmin in the area with this idea. The sysadmin for another local organisation had recently gotten an upgrade and beaten me to offloading his old systems. The only thing my friend was interested in was taking a bag of RAM and a few hard drives.

It’s important to know where you can properly dispose of your electronics. Proper upgrade planning includes disposal of the old gear. Even better is if that old gear can continue to be useful in some capacity to someone else. I will most likely end up donating these straggler PCs to the Electronics Recycling Association of Canada. For those in the US, there is Computers With Causes. For those in the UK, here is an absolutely staggering list of PC recycling charities. Feel free to mention your favourite charity in the comments section.

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