What are the best things to do with old hardware?

I got an interesting email from a reader suggesting an article topic, but I’m not sure what I would write at this point. He noted that he, like many of us, has an increasingly large pile of largely serviceable hardware. For various reasons, I’ve been interacting with my own stash of old Macs (many of which are sadly not functional), hard drives, extra keyboards, a snake pit of cables (ADB and SCSI, woo!), and so on.

What are the best things to do with all this gear? Some things that come to mind:

  • Recycle it. Periodically, Cornell does big electronics recycling days, and I’m sure I could get rid of a lot of things this way. It would be a fair amount of work, but still probably less than any other approach.

  • Sell it. Some things, largely the old Macs, might still have a little residual value, though it’s hard to imagine it would be enough to warrant the amount of work necessary to evaluate the device, list it on eBay, and deal with shipping it. Actually, no, I can’t imagine doing any of that. :slight_smile:

  • Restore it. I imagine that many of my old Macs could be brought back to life with new capacitors or hard drives or whatnot. But if I don’t have time to sell them, I certainly don’t have time to fix them, and it would cost both money and time to do so. Conceivably it could be a hobby when I retire.

  • Let it decompose in place. I have a pretty big attic, and it’s far from full. It is outside the envelope of the house, so it cycles hot and cold (which probably hasn’t helped some of the Macs that have died up there). This option is basically putting off recycling for the far future, though if I procrastinate long enough, it will be Tristan’s problem. :slight_smile:

I’m sure lots of people here have similar issues. What are you doing? How do you weigh the time, financial, and ecological aspects of your tech footprint?

I keep thinking, in the abstract, that a fun project would be to set up an old Mac as a non-internet tool, for say, recording music or something similar, but then never actually get around to doing so. I’m presumedly like a lot of you in that I have several old Macs sitting around collecting dust (off the top of my head, a Blue and White G3, a Yikes! model G4, a PowerPC MacPro, a couple of iMacs, and some probably non-functioning MacBookPros). What to do with them? I don’t have unlimited space, but as you mention, the various methods of disposal have drawbacks, so they sit, collecting dust. I think they all work, but who knows, some haven’t been booted in years, or even decades.

I was able to barter one older iMac (won’t upgrade past Snow Leopard, or perhaps the OS after) to a friend who is not that computer savvy, but even that route has consequences: I am now the designated tech support for it, for all time. Usually I don’t mind, but sometimes I regret that transaction.

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You’ve found the solution. I pile mine in the closet…although I did get rid of every hard drive older than 5 years or less than 1 TB this week…most were FW so rather than zero I removed the circuit board…smashed them with a sledge so they’re non rotating any more, drilled a hole in them and poured some vinegar into the platters. I will let them sit in the garage for awhile and then trash them. That makes them unrecoverable to anybody but the NSA. The only way to guarantee non recovery is to melt the platters…one of the secret places I worked in DC required that, so one a quarter or so a couple of us would take the randomly written, then degaussed and platters removed guts out to a local foundry. They would melt us 15 or so pounds of steel and we tossed in the platters and stirred until gone.

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Consider donating it to a good charity or cause. Goodwill, childrens or senior centers, nonprofits, schools, etc. are generally very happy to recieve donations. There’s a good resource for looking up organizations in your area that need donations here:

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  • Turn an older machine into a server for Plex or other services.
  • During the lockdowns, many people have pulled old machines out of service for family members.
  • Old machines running classic Mac OS still have their uses.
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Hey, thanks—that’s quite helpful. Most don’t want Macs, of course, and most of those that do want relatively new ones, but still…

My late 2008 aluminum MacBook still runs fine with an SSD replacing its HDD, plus Snow Leopard serving as the OS. It works well for writing, backing up, watching video and developing web content. Goes online only to chat with my website.

There are two issues: On the larger scale, globally, we are generating non recyclable garbage. The life expectancy of computers on the average is about 5 years, and if the manufacturers can help it, the planned obsolescence will shrink further. This makes absolute business sense form a manufacturing perspective. As consumers should we start to think about ways we can minimize this waste.
On the more immediate scale; I’m looking at my 19" iMac; it has a lovely non-glare screen, a full suite of software (Word, Excell, Adobe, plus the usual Apple built-ins) I replaced the HD 5 years ago with a 2T Seagate. The OS maxes out @ 10.6.8 and I cannot find a browser that can handle secure HTML. The Intel single core processor is “slow” by current benchmarks, however this makes little impact on the user experience; the software I use daily (even editing images) is running at a pace that is more than acceptable. But, practically, the iMac’s connectivity is broken, and are security issues -at least in theory. However, surely, here must be a way to use it! My current “re-use” effort is to turn it into a Linux machine. This will be a stretch for me technically. I downloaded Ubuntu, & reFind to my MBP but have been unable to create a working USB boot for the install. Tried several “makers”: ApplePie-Baker did not accept any of the usb sticks I tried, deepin-boot maker appears to work, but after selecting it on the iMac I just get a black screen with a “No Fille” and a blinking cursor, the iMac does not accept any input, has to be unplugged to quit. Has anyone done a Linux conversion successfully on a single core Intel machine? Or found a secure browser which would allow me to keep using the Mac OS?

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Macquarium

More seriously, I keep working equipment in my office, either on a desk (if I think I’ll use it) or in a closet (if I don’t). Non-functioning equipment gets recycled.

Staples office supply stores will accept consumer equipment for recycling, and that’s usually where I bring systems that are beyond repair.

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A while back on the Ireland MUG, one member would collect old kit and fix it up and bring it and install it in various schools in Africa. That was my outlet for a while, I wonder if that even would fly now, things have progressed a lot.

My equipment has moved down the family chain, though my eldest is now also sending his equipment down the family chain, my daughter is a prime beneficiary there, a maxed out MacMini and a 27" thunderbolt display is the envy of her schoolmates. She’s faring better out of him than me!

I have kept only three old computers, an Amiga 2000HD, a Mac SE, and a Toshiba T1000. All still working, all changed my life and shifted my career in various ways. I’d love to have them on display and ready to be turned on with a flick of a power switch, but I’d face a difficult committee to enact that in this house, so sadly they reside in a small attic over the TV room.

I have my original iPhone, my old Palm III, and from College days my Texas Instruments SR40 which still works, these have found spots on the shelves in the living room :slight_smile:

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Thrift stores. Then your stuff can live in someone else’s closet, or even get used again. Old hardware has the advantage of being much more reparable than modern hardware, so it’s worth letting it have a chance to keep doing something.

There are a reasonable number of people who crave old hardware for use, fixing, spare parts, repurposing, or just to try to figure out what the danged thing is. Most of them haunt thrift stores. I have a friend who’s one of them, which means that I don’t have to do any old-stuff shopping myself. About half of my old hardware came indirectly from goodwill which is one of the unknown/broken hardware friendly thrifts, at least in the puget sound area. Some was working at purchase, some my friend fixed first. It’s not all perfect, e.g. my old laptop batteries don’t hold a charge and new replacements aren’t available. But chargers, cables, adapters, peripherals and other odds and ends are also readily available and you can help keep that flow going.

You do want to make sure that any drives are wiped or removed, because many or most buyers will snoop, and that ‘dead’ hard drive may not really be dead.

Working old hardware can have many modern uses. iTunes 10 on a 2006 mini for a cloudless no-grief music server; 2010 Mac Pro for folding@home during the heating season; 2011 mini as a dedicated Aperture machine; luxo lamp imac and 12" titanium powerbook for ppc tiger and classic (strategic conquest & berkeley logo); internal and external file servers; laptop with a dead motherboard converted to a raspberry pi laptop (a coworker, not me (yet))…

All of the mac desktops running Tiger and newer can handle screen sharing without a fuss, so you don’t need monitors for them. Many pre-tiger systems can run vnc if you install software for it. You do need one monitor for troubleshooting or to build a system, but size and quality don’t matter if you’re mostly going to be screen sharing.

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This is all true. I was glad a few years ago that I’d held onto an old G3 Power Mac. My sister had an exhibition coming up and while she had DVDs of her older video pieces, she had to project using small digital players. I could launch her old iMovieHD projects and export Masters from them, far better than ripping a DVD. Screen shared to my MBpro no issues. I’d forgotten about that G3, we edited our first feature film on it, on then new Final Cut, that’s also in the attic.

That’s something that worries me with a lot of the old Macs, since if I can’t turn them on to erase the hard drive, the only way to deal would be to extract it, which makes the Mac even less useful.

I also have literally stacks of old backup hard drives and VXA tapes.

I can’t turn them on to erase the hard drive

If I remember right, the built-in utiilties did not do a stringent job of erasing disks anyway, so you’d need a third-party utility available for the job anyway.

I’ve always been a fan of disabling the drive mechanically. And it was fun to take them apart just to see how they worked. :slight_smile:

That traditional “reformat” operation (called “Erase Disk” by most of Apple’s tools) don’t erase much. They wipe out and re-create the root directory and a few other structures, but leave the rest alone. This is why you can “erase” a large hard drive in less than a minute. It’s also why so-called “unformat” tools can work.

A tool that explicitly writes zeros (and/or other bit-patterns) to every disk block as a part of the erase procedure (various kinds of so-called “secure erase” tools) pretty much eliminates that problem.

There are methods that can theoretically recover data after overwriting media with zeros (directly accessing flash memory chips, bypassing the flash controller, or using a magnetic force microscope on hard drive platters), but I have yet to read anything about these techniques being used actually recover files (vs. just finding test patterns).

And a casual user who buys a used computer at a thrift shop is not going to disassemble the storage device and spend insane amounts of money on that kind of recovery unless they know in advance that there’s something that valuable to “recover”.

You can put a ‘no hard drive’ label on the computer if you remove the drive. That will let regular people know they probably don’t want it. Lack of a drive is no problem for the old hardware folk because they probably have a closet full of them already. It best to leave any drive holder with the mac though (taped inside so it doesn’t rattle is best); they’re more of a pain to replace especially for IDE and scsi era drives.

Macs can do proper secure format with no problem in Disk Utility, at least as far back as Disk Utility existed. You need to erase the disk, not the volume. Select the ‘Seagate blah’ line in Disk Utility, not the indented ‘Macintosh HD’ line. (On recent systems, you’ll have to be in ‘Show All Devices’ view to do this.) Click on Erase, and there’s a Security Options… button. Select your desired level of wiping. More rewrites of random data will take longer, but for a small old disk that may not be too bad.

In the future, when Macs with T chips start getting old enough to pass on, if possible you should boot into Recovery and at least enable booting from external drives and probably turn off Secure Boot. Otherwise it may not be useable as a computer in short order. Since the T chips hardware encrypt the internal SSD, a simple erase of the data volume while in Recovery should be enough.

[Actually. you should enable external booting for your new hardware, too, unless you think you might be targeted. Being able to boot from an external drive is often the only way to get a computer working again if there’s a problem.]

Older machines (pre-T chip): Any that are too old to run a reasonably secure version of macOS (and which version you believe is secure is up to you and your god) may usually be set up with Linux and occasionally even Windows 10 (regardless of the presence/absence of Boot Camp). 4GB machines (two slot models) from 2008/2009 often do okay with 4GB and Windows (although I’m seeing some reticence with the newest version of Windows) and usually with Linux.

But the more important thing is whether you or the next user really has any need for an old beastie possibly struggling with Windows or even running Linux okay. Is there a reason to do this besides “you can”? I’ve been offering such machines “free to a good home” and it’s rare that anyone really even wants to drive across town to pick 'em up. :rofl:

I also struggle with the power requirements of running old hardware “just because I can.” Sure, I could spin up an old Mac as some sort of a server, but it has to feel like it’s worth consuming the electricity.

I’m not sure what to do with my 1989 Macintosh IIx — my first Mac — which I have set up in my basement office. Yes, it still runs (I had to replace a pair of batteries on the logic board to revive it last year). The rational side of me points out that I can’t actually use it for anything, but the nostalgic side of me can’t quite part with it.

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Our SE 30, our very first Mac, holds a place of honor in a closet. We also have a 9600, 8600 and a MacBook Pro. We keep them around in case of emergencies, or we need to look at something on floppy or a Zip drive, which happens occasionally. Everything else was passed along or donated.

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