There may come a time when you have to bid a fond farewell to an old computer. Perhaps it just doesn’t have enough processing power or drive space to cut it as a message center or a backup server. Or maybe your small living area can’t hold yet another machine. Whether you want to sell it, donate it, or simply recycle it, you should take steps to protect yourself and the environment.
No matter what you plan to do, start by gathering everything that came with your Mac, including system installation discs, product manuals, power cables, and other included gear.
Then on your computer, select About This Mac from the Apple menu and click on the More Info button to launch System Profiler. Write down your machine’s model, processor, memory, optical-drive, and networking information. Also note which version of Mac OS you have installed.
The big hose down
Then it’s time to polish up your Mac. This means wiping down the computer itself, as well as deleting personal information from the hard drive.
Clean Your Machine
Before you take pictures to post online, remove any stickers and give the case (and display, if applicable) a good going over with a nonabrasive cleaner, such as Meridrew Enterprises’
iKlear Apple Polish
($25). Compressed air, available at any office-supply store, will get the dust out of hard-to-reach places like vents and keyboards.
Deal with Software
If you use programs that are registered with your machine, make sure you deauthorize them. This includes apps such as iTunes and the programs in Adobe Creative Suite 2. In iTunes, go to Store: Deauthorize Computer. For Adobe CS2 apps, go to Help: Transfer Activation to install the software on your new machine.
It’s also important to remove third-party software, such as Microsoft Word. Copyright holders will go after sellers on eBay who attempt to vend systems with installed software. If you don’t remove those programs, your advertisement may be removed.
Erase Your Drive
Using Disk Utility, you can remove both your personal data and installed software in one pass. Before you begin, make sure you’ve transferred vital data to another location. Once you’ve saved those files, start up from the system disc—insert it in the drive, and restart your Mac while holding down the C key. Select a language, click on the arrow button, and choose Utilities: Disk Utility in the screen that appears. (These instructions are based on the latest installation discs, but the general procedure should work for whatever version you have.)
When the Disk Utility window opens, select the hard drive in the pane on the left; then click on the Erase tab. Select Mac OS X Extended (Journaled) from the pull-down menu; then click on the Security Options button and make sure Zero Out Data is selected. This will overwrite your drive with zeros. (Newer versions of Disk Utility also include 7-Pass Erase and 35-Pass Erase options—overkill for those of us who don’t keep state secrets on our machines.) When the process finishes, close Disk Utility and follow the installer prompts to reinstall OS X.
Finding a new home
Once your Mac is clean and ready to go, you have a number of disposal options.
You’re probably already aware of some of the most popular places to sell used computers, such as eBay and Craigslist. But there are also many Mac-only classified-ad resources online, such as
A good place to evaluate your computer’s worth is eBay. One way to do this is to check recently ended auctions of similar systems. Or you can go to eBay’s
PC Selling Zone
and get an estimate. Click on the Fast Cash Trade-In link and enter your system specs, and you’ll receive an estimated trade-in value. In some cases, you might want to go ahead and sell it for that amount, or you can try to get even more by putting it up for auction on eBay or Amazon.com. (For auction tips, see “Maximize Your eBay Moola” below)
No matter where you sell your machine, there are a few precautions to take. First, be as explicit as possible in your listing, to avoid returns—for instance, if your PowerBook has dead pixels, disclose that fact. And protect yourself from online scam artists by requiring that buyers have PayPal accounts. Even if the purchaser ultimately uses another payment method, this confirms that he or she actually has a bank account.
OK, so that Mac you dropped a cool grand on a few years ago is now worth less than an iPod shuffle. If that’s the case, consider donating your machine to charity.
Most experts suggest donating to a refurbisher rather than trying to give an old Mac directly to a school or a charity, which may not be set up to receive it.
maintains a database of organizations that will take your donated computer. It’s even searchable by zip code to help you find an organization in your area.
If your old machine is broken or dead, it may be ready for the electronic bone yard. But don’t just pitch it in the trash. Throwing away a computer or monitor is against the law in many states. And even if it’s not illegal where you live, it’s the wrong thing to do.
CRT monitors are loaded with heavy metals like lead and mercury, and the metals and plastics in a logic board aren’t exactly eco-friendly, either. This so-called e-waste accounts for approximately 20 to 50 million tons of refuse annually. According to the EPA, 4.6 million tons of e-waste wound up in U.S. landfills in 2000, and studies estimate that discarded electronics make up about 40 percent of the heavy metals found in landfills.
If you’re buying a new Mac, Apple will recycle your old machine for you—even if it’s a PC. If you’re buying online from the Apple Store, select the Apple Recycling Program option during the verification process. If you’re at an Apple retail store, inform the clerk that you want to recycle your old computer. Even if you aren’t buying a new computer, you can still find a recycler in your area by checking the state-by-state map at the
Computer Take Back Campaign Web site.
Find Out What Your Mac Is Worth:
The PC Selling Zone from eBay and Dealtree.com is a great place to estimate your computer’s value.
Erase Your Data:
Choose the Zero Out Data option when removing personal information from your machine.
Maximize your eBay moola
To get the lowdown on how to get the most money for your Mac, I talked to eBay’s director of education and the author of The Official eBay Bible, Jim “Griff” Griffith.
What’s the first thing to do when selling a computer on eBay?
The first thing to do is to take a picture of all of the items. You’re going to do a lot better if you sell the computer with as many of the original accessories and contents as possible. This is where a lot of casual sellers on eBay fall down. Make your photo look professional by putting a background behind your items. In a pinch, a white, or preferably darker-colored, bedsheet will do just fine—no patterns. The point is to isolate the items you’re offering from anything else in the room.
How can someone get an idea of a computer’s value before listing it?
It pays to research, and research on eBay is very easy. With something as definitive as a computer, you can search for the computer maker, model, and number if there is one. That will give you some information, but what you really want to do, once you get the search results, is to look over in the left-hand column, under Search Options, for Completed Listings. Then you can see listings that match this keyword search and that have closed in the last two weeks.
If you’re selling something in the auction format, you have to be reasonable with your starting bid. If the research shows something is valued at $100, starting it at $90 is foolish; no one is going to bid. But if you put a starting bid of $10, then your chances of getting a starting bid and getting someone into the game are much better.
Is there an advantage to setting a Buy It Now price?
There may be, depending on the age and type of the computer. The advantage to a Buy It Now price is that if it’s reasonable, you can make a quick sale. There are a lot of folks who love the auction format, but there are probably just as many, if not more, who are uncomfortable with it and prefer to just search by price, find a good deal, and buy it. Any seller in an auction-format listing can include a Buy It Now price, and doing so can open up the listing’s appeal to a wider array of buyers.
Is it better to have a shorter or longer listing time?
There is a general rule that works for most situations. The rarer your item, the more it benefits from being up longer. And if you’re not in a rush, you have nothing to lose by having your item up for seven or ten days.
Mathew Honan is a freelance technology writer whose work also appears in the
National Journal’s Technology Daily