Donating old computers

Many people have asked me recently about donating their old computers and tablets to underprivileged families – for home schooling – or to organisations supporting refugees.

At first, this sounds like an obvious and charitable thing to do. But there’s a reason we get rid of our old devices: they’re slow, incompatible, and no longer safe. There are exceptions, but I’d say that as a general rule, if a computer is more than about five years old a recipient may well find it more of a liability than a useful gift.

As an example, a lot of people bought new PCs when Windows 7 went out of support a year ago, because they understood there would be no more security updates and that their information and privacy would be at risk. It is unfair to now suggest resurrecting this risk and passing it on. Many computers that shipped with Windows 7, but by no means all, can be upgraded to Windows 10 — but the license costs more than a hundred pounds.

This giving of a liability is not without precedent. At least fifteen years ago, it was realised that the millions of old computers shipped from developed to developing countries were largely junk. Big, heavy, slow machines – containing substances toxic to humans and harmful to the environment – were conveniently transported away from the West, and the burden of dealing with this waste was put upon nations far less capable of carrying it.

If you’ve got an old computer you’d like to donate, please do get in touch and I’ll ask you some questions about its age, specification, and condition. If I believe it could make a truly useful gift, I’ll help you prepare it for that purpose. It’s important to securely erase your data, for example.

But don’t be surprised if I suggest it goes to the recycling centre instead. If you like, I can recommend a brand new machine to give as a gift, to fit your budget. Perhaps you have savings, or could get together with some friends to buy a computer for a person in need. There is undoubtedly an abundance of such need at this time.