Bringing old computers back to life

Bringing old computers back to life

A sub-culture. Opens up many possibilities that most people are unaware of.

These are the Golden Days for people who want to open up their computers:

Good computers are very cheap.

Desktop and laptops are fairly easy to work on. Parts are accessible (you just have to keep track of all the screws). Many components are standardized and can be swapped from one system to another.  The only exceptions are ultra-thin models and many Apple products.

Parts are easily available, for example online from eBay or Amazon.

Much documentation is available online. For example, service manuals from the manufacturer, how-to documents from iFixit and others, how-to videos, answers to problems.


Steps for Refurbishing (technical)

Refurbishers follow more-or-less the same steps. Large operations tend to be methodical and automated. Individuals can be more flexible.

  1. Process hard drives.
    1. Remove from computer.
    2. If usable, wipe drives of data using a program like DBAN or in Linux: badblocks and dd.
    3. If unusable,  drives should be physically destroyed or degaussed. (pace Pat Furr)
  2. Assess computer and document.
    1. Number the computer and apply a label so you can track it.
    2. Boot to BIOS and obtain system specifications. Is there a computer password (e.g. an Admin password)?
    3. Run available diagnostics. For example, Dell computers have a self-test and often an extended memory test.
    4. Record information in a database, spreadsheet, document or on paper.
  3. Triage computers:
    • Computers that are too old or broken to be worth fixing. Remove any re-usable parts and recycle the rest responsibly.
    • Computers that are not working properly, but are worth fixing. Fix them then continue with process.
    • Computers that are almost ready to go.
  4. Finish computers that are almost ready to go.
    1. Clean outside of computer. Remove stickers applied by users.
    2. Clean insides of dust, for example with compressed air.
    3. Add any components (like memory or wi-fi cards) needed for the configuration you want.
    4. Install a hard drive. Test (for example with the  Linux disk utility).
    5. Install an appropriate operating system.
    6. Update information about computer in database, spreadsheet, etc.
    7. Test with manufacturer diagnostic or through some other means.



Computer refurbishers: non-profit groups


Computer refurbishers: individuals

How to

The Problem

Info:Computers in education