DBAN and Ubuntu
[QUOTE]So how do you handle the end of life of your PCs and laptops, at least those neither lost nor stolen? Do you recycle yourself, use a third party, give them away or format and dump? Do you attempt to get the vendors to take them back? And is it a profitable exercise? Can you make money reselling old kit on the second hand market?[/QUOTE]
I work at a large surplus department at a US University, in the computer department. University departments are to send all computers here; we also get most other stuff (furniture, equipment, and odd stuff like impounded bicycles, slate, etc.). We have a large university hospital that also sends machines in, which greatly increases our number of systems compared to a typical University. We've been getting around 8,000 machines per year.
We pull all hard drives, hook them up to a wiping system (which is in fact 8 or so PCs with IDE, SATA, and power cables jutting out the side running DBAN. We intend to soon use esata, with sata to IDE adaptors.) 3-pass DOD wipe with a verification pass. We modified our CD so it does NOT stop or prompt at all, it goes directly into a 3-pass wipe of all attached drives (so we do not have to have keyboards attached.) We take data disposal seriously, all incoming drives are scanned into a computer and a bar code sticker is affixed to the drive. This is scanned in "wiped" and a wiped sticker affixed after wiping. Finally, the sticker is attached to the PC if it's installed in a PC (it has blanks for writing a CPU speed, RAM, etc. so it's used to write the PC's specs), and this sticker is scanned out "sold" when the PC or bare hard drive is sold. If a drive has wipe errors or just plain errors out, the drive is red tagged for disposal, put in a disposal box, and this box of drives is scanned out "recycled" when it's taken up for disposal.
Anything below a P4 is also tagged for disposal. I personally know a P3 is still useable for some purposes, but in practice they are unsellable.
We put wiped drives back into machines, (checking for blown caps and such at this point) hook them up to a network, and install Ubuntu on them. The install's fully automated, just PXE boots (we use gpxe from rom-o-matic.net for the few machines that don't support PXE..), the ubuntu installer runs and is all preseeded and automated, after about 15 minutes the install is done. This is also effectively a burn-in test on the machine, a machine that runs but is flakey due to weak caps, weak power supply, CPU got a little burnt at some point, etc., fail in the first 2 or 3 minutes . The 8.04 install has drivers out-of-the-box for everything I've thrown at it from a P2 through a Core 2 Duo, versus the horrors of trying to find XP drivers for every model (let alone licensing, which is impossible -- since the U has an enterprise license anyway, the savvier departments ordered numerous P4s with 98, 2000, and even NT4, licenses to save the bucks over ordering with XP licenses they wouldn't use.)
Hard drives, I take up personally in a box, they scan the barcodes on their end and I get a printout I take back (auditors periodicially check our operation to make sure drives are properly tracked.) These have the top popped off and platters removed, then are taken for metal recycling. Computers (and junk printers, CRTs, broken LCDs, etc.), the recycler brings a truck down and picks up 12 pallets at a time. They seperate metals, plastics, etc. on-site and take those to recyclers; any usable cards, RAM, etc., they seperate on site; anything new enough to sell, they refurbish and sell on site. They have an on-site lead smelter. They truly recycle, they don't just take our stuff and ship it overseas.
Vendors do not take our stuff back, this is the US so basically if it's out of warranty the vendor has no obligation, with one exception -- the university gets a discount for any old networking kit they turn in, so I hardly see any of that come in.
Profitable? Our department as a whole is in the red by about $100,000 a year, but that is a lower cost than recycling everything or even throwing it in the bin. The computer operation itself has VERY little staff, and almost certainly turns a profit. Resellers do buy machines bulk here, mark them up, and make profits too, one confided he was making about $100,000 a year a few years ago. This is not pure profit, the resellers do provide some tech support and warranty that we do not.
So, in our case, profit is questionable (if it was a private business and not a university with it's overhead I think we'd be profitable overall....), but it's still less costly than even throwing the stuff out. It ensures better security. In short, DBAN and Ubuntu. No worries about data security, no worries about licensing. We DO sell Dell XP CDs for $25 as an option for any Dell purchase. We make it CLEAR there's no support though -- 1) People wanted help installing. Not our problem, hire someone to install the OS if you don't know how, we shipped the box with a working OS. 2) People were trying to cheat and install it on Gateways, etc. -- WGA check fails. Also not our problem, the licensing restrictions XP had all along are now actually enforced. I tell people to take it up with Microsoft.