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Here are 8 things you can do with your old laptop

The last place any laptop should go is the dump.

Published onFebruary 21, 2024

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If it’s at all possible, you should avoid tossing out a laptop wholesale, no matter how old it is. E-waste is a serious issue — the materials in computers can be polluting or outright dangerous if they’re just left to decay in a heap. With that in mind, here are 8 ideas for handling an old laptop, many of which will actually leave you better off.

What to do with you old laptop that still works

Outlook on laptop stock photo 2
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

The best options are available when your old laptop is still humming — you’re just upgrading to a newer machine for better performance.

Sell it or trade it in

This should be the go-to for most people. Any given laptop costs hundreds or thousands of dollars, and with a sale or trade-in, you can ease some of the bite of an upgrade. Companies like Amazon, Apple, Dell, and Best Buy have trade-in programs, and you can sell through sites like eBay or Facebook Marketplace, though you’ll need to cautious about who you sell to.

Also be mindful that terms vary, and that the older your machine, the less money you’re likely to get in return. Apple won’t even give you direct cash for trade-ins — you’ll just get credit in the form of an Apple Gift Card or a purchase discount. Whether you’re trading in or selling, be sure to wipe the data off a computer before handing it over.

Media streaming

Instead of buying something like a Chromecast or an Apple TV, you might hook your laptop up to a 4K TV via an HDMI cable, and use some form of wireless input to direct media streaming from your couch. The experience can be superior to dedicated streaming devices, particularly since access to any offline music and video libraries is straightforward.

Make it a lightweight backup

Just because your laptop can’t play Helldivers 2 smoothly doesn’t mean it’s useless. It’s good to have a backup in case your primary laptop fails, especially if you work from home. The trick is making sure the backup stays charged, updated, and accessible, for the obvious reason that you’ll still be scrambling if you need to take a work meeting but your old laptop is drained and dusty in the back of a closet.

Give it to kids or guests

Chances are your child doesn’t need a state-of-the-art PC if all they’re doing is homework, chatting, and playing Minecraft or Roblox. You’ll probably need to lock down a child’s PC with parental controls however, which means giving them a profile separate from your administrator account. Be sure to set restrictions within individual apps as well.

You might do something similar to set up a guest laptop. Guests will probably need even fewer apps, maybe as little as a web browser. Think of it like getting a Chromebook at no extra cost.

Set it up as a server

If you’re technically savvy, you can convert a laptop into a server for media, smart home control, network-attached storage (NAS), or various other functions. One semi-common thing is to set up an old PC as a Plex server, storing and feeding media to your TV over Wi-Fi.

Donate it

Many people around the world can’t afford a single laptop, much less a cutting-edge gaming rig. Donating to charity means someone may get a computer for the very first time, opening access to the web and other useful tools. As a bonus, you may be able to write the donation off on your taxes. Search for regional charities specializing in computer tech.

What to do with your old laptop that doesn’t work

Options shrink dramatically in this situation, but there are a couple of them.

Salvage it for parts

You may be able to reuse some functioning parts in other machines, depending largely on your technical skill. The easiest thing to repurpose is probably an M.2 SSD, since you can stick it in an enclosure and reformat it as external storage. If your new PC has a compatible internal slot, you can insert and reformat it there, no enclosure needed.

Don’t expect to get much more out of an old laptop though. Recent models are built with increasingly tight tolerances or even glued together, making it difficult or impossible to remove things like the CPU or RAM. Even when you can get a part out, it might become a performance bottleneck in a new system if you’re not familiar with specs.

Recycle it

If all else fails, you’ll have to take your laptop to a company or charity offering e-waste recycling. There are specialists in this field, but if all you care about is convenience, companies like Amazon, Apple, Dell, Best Buy, and Staples will readily recycle what you give them. Frequently you can send your laptop in by mail.

Whatever you do, make sure to wipe your drives first. There’s still the possibility of someone salvaging your data, even if they have to use forensic-style recovery methods.

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