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back to article Who will rid me of these obsolete PCs?

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 …

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RE: Depreciation

"....I doubt that you could do this for large amounts of kit, though." Ermm.... <cough>maybe<cough>. Strange things, PCs, you just never know how unreliable they can become once that warranty has expired and the new ones have arrived. It's not like we'd falsify records to make it look like they'd been dropping like flies in their third year of use, no sir! And of course, if you have already agreed with the beancounters that after a certain point in the lifecycle, it is uneconomic to investigate a "non-booting" machine and that a "non-booting PC" = "broken", i.e., an asset write-off, then you are left with a pile of "broken" PCs to dispose of. Of course, we do have USB keys with disk-wiping tools for data-wiping servers, and they might reproduce exactly the same "non-booting" symptoms should they by chance be used on a PC, but I'm fairly sure that never happens.

Should a member of staff then ask if they can remove a "broken" PC as spares we have a form that includes statements around them ensuring it is disposed of in a WEEE-compliant manner, etc. Strangely enough, staff seem to find it very easy to "fix" these broken PCs (could be something to do with the factory CD packs we also dispose of which each PC). Less of a headache for the beancounters, and lots of "broken" PCs going to local charities and staff homes. Just needs a bit of planning an collaboration with the beancounters. Alledgedly. As long as you ignore the M$ licensing issues. <Cough, cough>.

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Unhappy

You have got to love BureauPrats

Who are happy for you to give your old PC gear to Charity, but you are not allowed to give them away to your staff, how utterly ridiculous!

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Pint

Small world - thousands of ex-Canadian computers are dotted all over Laos & Cambodia

Some years ago a Toronto friend was a volunteer in a computer recycling program where large corporate entities would recycle hardware and offer thousands of computers to organisations who used the talents or retired techs to restore them to an acceptable working standard.

The intended recipients were the disadvantaged youth and single parent families.

Distribution commenced and follow ups to ascertain program weaknesses and strengths. It was found that many excellent machines had been set aside as the poor deprived kids complained they were no good for gaming!

There were hundreds of machines looking for a home so I said how about Developing Countries? I rented a 40 foot container and when it was filled it was shipped to VietNam and I personally delivered and installed hundreds of them. The trail of containers was financed at special deep discount rates courtesy of a European shipping line by my employers when destined for VietNam.

This is why you will find names of outstanding Canadian companies emblazoned on computers in Son La, Dien Bien Phu, Ede, etc!

Later the Vietnamese owned national telephone company started a similar scheme so we discontinued ours and redirected the containers to Cambodia and Laos where others are continuing the technology transfer.

There are few things so rewarding as watching the response of children when they are set loose on their very own computer!

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It is tricky.

The regulations governing these sorts of things are annoyingly draconian. At work we used to sell off second-hand computers to staff, but that got knocked on the head a few years back because of tax problems and, bizarrely, some quirk of OEM licensing that meant that while the machines all had a COA for a copy of OEM windows, they couldn't be sold with windows on, even if we used the original restore disks to reinstall it.

We found a local PC recycling company who would take them off our hands, and sort out the paperwork, for free so long as we delivered them. I believe they're on their way to Uganda now to supply some new schools.

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WTF?

Scheduling conflict?

The Ecostations are open most of the day, 5-6 days per week depending on the season, and you work for the Register. How hard can this be?

Hours:

Summer - March 29, 2010 to November 20, 2010

9am to 6:30pm, Monday - Saturday

Closed Sunday and statutory holidays

Winter - November 23, 2010 to March, 2011

9am to 4:30pm, Tuesday - Saturday

Closed Sunday, Monday and statutory holidays

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Scheduling conflicts

I don't actually "work for the Register." I work for a company here in Edmonton as a systems administrator full time (8-12 hours a day) as well as maintain about a dozen other networks (for example, those of my company's largest clients) "after hours." I squeeze in writing articles for El Reg mostly because part of my day job is cranking out documentation at work. Incident reports, how-tos, you name it. Half a sysadmin's job is paperwork, the other half is research.

A good example of a typical day would be today. I woke up at 7am to be on the road before 8am. I had to stop at Memory Express on the way in to pick up a spare disk and showed up at work by 9am. I managed to check the comments section and respond to a few whilst standing in line. I am at work until about 7:30pm tonight, followed by a short dinner date and then a server swap and data migration. I’ll get home around 11:00pm. That is enough time to feed the pets, check my e-mail and collapse into a heap. Rinse repeat until Sunday, which is then filled with doing all of the chores needed to keep a house maintained and various pets happy.

Even responding to this comment gets delayed; my phone let me know that it was posted at 10:39am. I have been pecking at it in between support calls and troubleshooting ever since. It is now 11:27am

Between my day job, the various other networks I maintain and writing for El Reg I work 10-16 hours a day, 6 days a week. (Usually Sundays off.) Scheduling conflicts are thusly something fairly normal. It is something of a common complaint I hear from other people in the city. Not only sysadmins, but anyone who has to work and commute in this sprawling city knows that ecostation days – like trips to the doctor – essentially require taking a day off work. This is especially true when you consider that it can take an hour to make it through the ecostation once you arrive.

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Unhappy

Charity & Schools

I see a lot of scathing comments here complaining that charities and schools don't want 'old equipment'.

Tell you what - try working for a few months as a sysadmin for one of these worthy causes, and then accept a donation of 50 assorted PCs from a local company. You will not have time or resources to repair, reformat, reinstall and maintain the eclectic mix of machines you receive.

It is far easier - and, importantly, cheaper - for a charity or school to replenish their entire computing stock with bargain basement new equipment every few years, and run a common OS and installation spec across the range. When a student trashes a disk - no problem, just copy your master image over it.

Remember that the main cost for the charity or school is not the hardware, but the sysadmin's wages, not to mention training the staff / students (which is considerably easier if every PC is the same).

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Anonymous Coward

sadly, must agree

I'm a sysadmin for a charity, and while my time doesn't cost anything there is only so much of it! All too often (and especially since the WEE regs came in) people try to unload non-functioning garbage on us. Just like you out there in the real world, we need to go about 3 years between reinstallations of Windows if we are to maintain our sanity. So that's why 3 year old machines are ideal ('course we don't see any like that!).

There have been some gems though, the best donations have been batches of identical machines that have OEM XP licenses (THANK YOU VISTA!). About 1/3 of our desktop fleet started life about 11 years ago as Compaq PII systems... 6 years ago when we got them they received new motherboard/CPU/RAM, 3 years ago new graphics/HDD/screen... now I'm wondering what the next step should be...

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Happy

I turned mine into a TV - unlike BT vision you dont pay for free stuff..

As my house has no aerial at all and I would sooner die rather than give Murdoch/Branson any more money I decided to use my old PC and my TV.

You can stream all BBC/ITV channels from their websites, and you can get pretty much all other freeview channels from www.tvcatchup.com (including Film4)

The old PC - A P4 1.6Gz 1GB RAM, Nvidia Geforce 3 ti200 was already doing the job as Firewall/Gateway to the internet - it was running Ubuntu 10.10 server - I just installed the desktop (stopping loads of crap that I didn't need) - I run the desktop at 640X480 which is good enough for normal (non-HD TV) - The quality is far far better than the small internal aerial I used to use (on the normal TV).

As well as being able to get (nearly) all the Freeview channels you also get access to all the iplayer/4OD/Itv (not that there is ever anything good on itv catchup)

Unlike the mugs to pay for BTvision I can watch peepshow/iplayer, etc without paying for it (over xmas I was amazed that BT actually charge you to watch what is free via the internet)

When I upgrade my present desktop I'll be able to my existing one to watch HD tv (flash square 64 bit copes very well)

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howabout..

nevermiss.tv

allows all bbc i player itv 4od five etc and you can input you tvcatchup ids in and stream all of freeview, with the benifits of being able to use an mce remote

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leave covered in the front garden with a help yourself note..

I second the leave it outisde route.. as long as you live on a busy enough street some passer by will either want it, or believe (possibly mistakenly) they can make money selling it, either way not your problem once they take it..

we once had a cheapo exercise bike that was bought for about £20 quid from asda, it was crap and never got used, but I had no idea how to get rid of it.. left it on the wall of our front garden in the morning with a note saying "no longer needed, working, help yourself" and it was gone when I got back from work

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Happy

Freecycle or Freegle

Put them on Freecycle if in US (or in the UK you'll probably do better with FREEGLE - find you local group here http://www.ilovefreegle.org/groups/

UK has Freecycle too but Freegle usually seems to have more of the community support needed for this sort of distribution in the UK and larger more active groups.

For example my local freegle group in a smallish town would e-mail your offer to over 12,000 subscriber members in the local area - there are several public spirited members on our group who will even take all the computers - refurbish or improve them - install linux etc - and re-offer as a community minded retiremetn hobby. Your own local group wil have similar.

Remember following this route

1) You are giving stuff away to strangers so no rules for the bean counters

2) The items are being offered for reuse - so are not "waste" - however you should be careful not to try to pass of waste as re-usables or you will be in trouble.

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As a geek and a packrat

I find that old computers seem to orbit around me.

When i bought my house, I find 15 old machines in my office/storage room.

I just dumped then beside the bin, and they were gone in 2 hours.

I like to think they went to a better place. :)

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Missing hard drive should drop their value

A new HDD is $50 here in the US.

Remove the HDDs, offer the non-operational computers to staff at $10 (probably far above fair market value)

Staff to obtain their own HDD from a source you recommend (NewEgg in the US)

This leaves the issue of an operating system, but it has been my experience that either Ubuntu Linux or a bootleg copy of WinXP will be easy to find and install.

Sorted.

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Beancounters and residual value

"...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."

Swap the beancounters' desktops for the obsolete ones that they claim have residual value and see how quickly they can depreciate IT hardware to zero. This also applies to printers.

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Unhappy

Residiual Value

Arrange for me a method of swapping out the PCs of the beancounters in Ottawa that create these silly laws and you’re on. As for the bean counters here at work…they are the “ethical” kind. If you did that, they would still maintain that they had residual value…though they would have a perfectly legitimate reason why they require a PC with more value than that evident in the older PCs.

Seriously though, who comes up with these laws? I understand that some checks are needed against people who launder money or dodge taxes in this manner…but for the everyday Joe this is just utter lunacy.

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Pint

Accountancy

The primary job of the company accountant is to report on the position of the company, in an honest way, at the end of each year (it is one of the few legal requirments of directors). If you have 5 year old desktop computers on your books at £140 for example, this is not honest - your IT assets are overvalued. Switch to straight line (instead of reducing balance) for desktops and laptops, over 4 years, and all will be well. This is not the same as the replacement value for insurance purposes of course. Other kit may be treated differently, but should also be reported honestly. Computers are more like a consumable than an asset, which your accountant may understand better. I am not an accountant.

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@Roger Greenwood

Well, I ran that idea past the head beancounter. The official response it that the beancounters don't get to decide what is considered a consumable and what is not. Apparently, that is decided by the government...there supposed exists an actual section of law that documents computers and other electronics as being "fixed assets" rather than consumables. Would have been really nice if that trick would have worked!

I wonder if it does in the US? The UK? Different countries, different laws...

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Linux

Canteen?

Swap out the HDDs for Solid state drives. (1GB SD or similar cards fitted into IDE adapters) load the aforesaid cards with one of the CD type kiosk browser Linux editions. Use universal USB creator to make the bootable cards on any netbook/laptop. Hook them all up together with cat5 and an old switch in the company canteen/messroom or similar & all your employees can do facebook etc on their breaks. you can't download anything to them and they reboot every time you close the browser. Cheap Internet cafe for the proles.

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C90LEW Wyse clients.

I have many.

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Anonymous Coward

Never considered lying, eh?

Easiest way to get rid of unwanted equipment is to let the company (et al) simply go right on thinking that the gear is in storage somewhere and then do with it as you please.

Sure, the company bean counters *might* one day ask you where they went but you can just shrug your shoulders and give a "I don't know, been ages since I saw them last." Since you're talking about maybe a $1k worth of obsolete equipment odds are nobody will ever care or notice.

At least that's how it works around here; most of that sort of equipment finds its way out the door onto eBay or into a friend's house.

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Boffin

RE: Never considered lying, eh?

".....Since you're talking about maybe a $1k worth of obsolete equipment odds are nobody will ever care or notice....." In true BOFH style, you need to consider that some people (aka PHBs) may use such an issue against you at a later date. Might be an idea to get the boss to sign-off on the move of kit to storage so that the papertrail at least has his name on it. Also, try and get some "valued colleague" (aka a mug) that you do not expect to be around for long to be given the responsibility for the storage area, so that when asked where the kit has gone you can always honestly reply; "Well, <insert mug's name here> was resposnsible for that, but he left ages ago." Deflection is as good as innocence. Alledgedly.

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The problem is UK law (as usual)

The problem with giving away old computer equipment in the UK is basically the law. As many posters have pointed out, if you sell old equipment, you are liable to tax, thereby needing to pay and expensive accountant to sort it out.

Having Windows on it will also fall foul of licencing laws but that can be got round by using Linux but that will cost money as someone will have to be hired to reload all the PCs.

If a gifted PC then blows up, catches fire, electrocutes or injures some beneficiary, the donor could be sued. Therefore each PC will need to be checked and PAT tested, again requiring a hired hand.

Sending them to third-world countries is not the answer either as the cost of doing this is quite prohibitive, not to mention again having someone to check them over though if for other reasons rather than legal.

The answer? If the government is really serious about green issues and recycling, the law should be changed to accommodate the above. Sure, the treasury will lose a load of tax as I am sure smart entrepreneur will use the bound-to-exist loopholes and make themselves a fortune.

I'd better get my coat as I can hear the bean-counters and health-and-safety lobby bleating in the wings, drowning out the practical and logical creative-thinking individuals.

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Bletchley Park

Just in case there is anyone reading who has kit which may be of historic interest, the people at Bletchley Park might want it for their museum collection.

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Anonymous Coward

Ours used to be ...

... Put outside the door.

Oddly enough, this would happen just before someone found them and took them home. However, we knew nothing about that. At all. Oh no.

Otherwise... tax... VAT... nightmare.

Once upon a time a typewriter used to be put on a desk. It remained there until all the keys stopped working and could no longer be repaired (and typewriter repair men were geniuses at their trade). IT, and the perpetual demand for upgrades and new kit, often as part of the user's status symbol, has, and continues to, cost the commercial world a huge and ridiculous amount of money.

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Computers for schools

That bag of Ram and bunch of hard drives came in very handy BTW!

Another place to look at is Alberta Computers For Schools.

http://www.education.gov.ab.ca/cfs/donating.asp

But remember to call me first :)

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Always.

As much as I like to be fair, I am certainly not above a bit of donation-related nepotism, my friend. You will always get first crack at the leftover gear. ;)

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I am in canada.

Old systems go outside, with a note saying what cpu/ram etc is in there and if it works. and most importantly, in big letters "FREE"

sometimes I can get rid of 2 or 3 a day like that,

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Local charities a reasonable bet.

I set up new PCs for clients. Most of the time the client doesn't want the old PC so I agree with them that I'll take it to a local charity. They're much less snotty than the big names about what they get. They've a furniture warehouse and they have a part-time geek who builds the computers up and sets them up and sells them on. The machines go without hard disk drives in (those go back to the owners) but they all have an XP licence sticker on the side. Bung in a hard drive, install XP, and you've got a serviceable machine.

Have a look around and see whether you've any local charities that will do that kind of work.

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Happy

Computers for Schools

Computers for Schools is a federally run recycling program for old PCs run be the Canadian Government http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/cfs-ope.nsf/eng/Home The should be happy to take your old PCs off your hands.

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Linux

Disposal in central Ohio

Free Geek also has a branch in Central Ohio. They're excellent....have accepted VT terminals, a MicroVAX, and countless bits and pieces that I had no use for. freegeekcolumbus.org

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Welcome to Edmonchuk

Trevor:

Shanked Computer Recycling on Winterburn Road:

http://www.scri.ca

They offer pick-up service and even have one of those big, evil hard drive shredders, if you need to witness them being destroyed.

That's where all of my surplused systems end up.

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"Big, evil hard drive shredders."

I must arrange to send some equipment here, if only for the spectacle of watching a few useless drives get mauled. Beats turning them into coasters. I have about fifty formerly-hard-drive-platter coasters sitting on a shelf and dozens more "dead" drives waiting for a slow day so I can make more...

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Anonymous Coward

re: I gave up

Isn't bailiff placation a legitimate use for old PCs?

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Anonymous Coward

Underground + don't get caught

I notice one thing here. Geographic location matters.

I hear you, how a charity won't take boxes when they just took boxes, understandable then they would be exactly like you, stuck with a junk room or mountain of ****.

But if you traveled to my geographic location, you could dump 250 boxes on the electronics tech portion of any local college and the students will take them all home and either use them or strip them for the parts. I mean really really strip them leaving nothing but green blackened burnt boards, the older the better, especially TTL logic from the MFM / monochrome days, that stuff works great on breadboards.

In my location, if you have a LOT, you can start considering selling it for the metal. I have sheets and sheets of gold memory chips from some of those early towers or mini mainframes with the giant vertical slide in cards, I couldn't even tell you what system they came from. Although my dual 8 /12" floppys + working word processing software came out of an old IBM.

In my location, you could simply do some midnight dumping. While I hate the green's carbon tax bs, I equally don't really like this method as it can pollute if done by a retard who doesn't know how to make a ring for a campfire (you know the type), but it is an option, and strangely enough I have found some gems out in the field rusting in the rain from people who have done just that!

I used to do dumpster diving and neighborhood driving for electronic parts, of any kind, even audio tubes from old TV's found in a river next to a gas can and a shopping care, now run my vintage guitar tube amp!

I really hate to say it, but when the laws have become so bad, it's time to ignore them. It's no longer about being green, it's about profit, and corruption. Anybody who want's to go green, can, even I have, but for me it was more about saving on electricity bills.

A year ago, I'd take them off your hands but then they would have to cross borders into DHS-Nazi-Fascism-ville, shipping costs, gas, ICE, etc. You simply need to find someone like me (closer to you) who will happily take them and strip em down and get the best of the best out of them and keep my mouth shut about it because I hate the bad law but love the parts. Plus I have that small problem I just talked about, saving on electricity, so I set a 10 year plan, which is now realized. So those wasteful 250-500watt PSU's are no longer on my want list, and sadly not even the fan's. My fan's are ittsy bitsy now.

How many have tossed hard drive disc/plates into a river? (this isn't the whole drive, just the silver plates)

While the law may say no, I am not the law

This green **** is actually ruining the economy more. -IMO

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In the UK? Try Computer Aid

We've managed to offload all sorts of equipment to them, from desktops to fax machines, even an old mainframe.

They'll happily take anything P4 onwards free of charge, if they can't use it they will charge you a nominal fee for collection and handle the disposal as well.

On the other hand if your equipment is older than seven or eight years you probably need to go through an office clearance company, like Russell Fewins.

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Go

How about 'loaning' them to staff?

Long ago when PCs were very expensive my manager 'loaned' me an IBM PC (286 or 286 at best) and conveniently 'forgot' to ever ask for it back. Back in those days there was no internet so it was for me (a programmer) to play and develop 'useful stuff' which might be beneficial to my employers. Of couse I ended up playing games on it, naturally!

Surely a computer 'loan' has no tax implications for either party?

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Happy

UK Ethical disposal

Hi Guys,

A friend of mine runs a specialist PC disposal company based in the South.

Contact. info@eitgroup.co.uk is the best email and 0118 979 8820 is the telephone number. www.eitgroup.co.uk is the website.

Please mention "The Register" if you do. He can resolve many of the above issues.

Many thanks

Isambard

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Computers are like fish

I have been on the buying end of surplus computer equipment for years. The sticking point with your bean counters is "current market value", as it always is. The bean counters always say something like "I paid $2000 for it four years ago, so it has one year of depreciation left. It is worth $400." And, of course, I am prepared to offer $50 for the same incredibly valuable asset. The bean counters feign being insulted, and there is no deal.

The bean counters need to understand that computers are like fish. The first day, metaphorically, they are fresh and sweet-smelling and valuable. The second day, the fish are still quite edible, though with a mild aroma. The third day, fish are candidates for chowder. After that, they become fertilizer in the tradition of Native Americans in days gone by.

The trick here is to expense all computer acquisitions in the first year. This drives the finance types crazy, because they will have fewer valuable "assets" to show on the books. But expensing computers rather than treating them as capital assets is closer to today's reality of disposable electronics... Ben

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Some good ideas here

But nobody's mentioned Freecycle, sort of a city-wide version of the "leave it outside" idea.

Freecycle.org is pretty active in Canada http://www.freecycle.org/group/CA/ and basically you can put the whole lot of it up on a single posting, and people will come and take it away, gratefully. Not much different from the leaving it outside except that you get a 'face to face' thank you. But somehow that helps.

Also the selling on ebay as a pallet job lot seems like a good idea. Whatever it sells for (use the auction) is obviously correct market value and that can be used as evidence.

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Go

New England area disposal

MIT Radio Society Flea Market on the third Sunday of each month from April to October at MIT. There are tons of people willing to buy this stuff off of you.

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Paris Hilton

Easy way to get rid of them to staff members:

Remove the asset tags and temporarily redeploy them to the back of the building next to the door, and you'll find that if staff know of this move, the problem will take care of itself.

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FAIL

WEEE stops the skip approach

I worked with a large company in the UK who had the same problem. Tax compliance and book-keeping effort meant that giving them away or selling them to staff would cost more than the new PCs. Their solution was to recondition the old PCs (make as many working ones as possible out of the pile of parts) and then allow it to become common knowledge that they would be disposing of them in a skip on site on a certain day (a health and safety email to be careful while the PCs were being loaded into the skip was usual). The next day the empty skip would be used to dispose of the non-working PCs and parts.

Unfortunately, this is no longer possible as you have to get an WEEE certificate for every PC you get rid of.

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Stop

You're likely to regret buying Wyse clients

We use them at work and they're terrible for any media streaming, diabolical for developers and have some display bugs you won't encounter with a PC.

In particular the refresh rates are so bad they're unusable with winforms GUI development in VS2005 for example.

I would personally have stuck with desktops....

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Happy

What to do with old PC's

I just use them as NAS. Works fine. Never gave it a second thought.

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