Out With The Old

You can't just throw your old PCs away-for one thing, they contain harmful chemicals. So how do you get rid of them?

Old PCs don't die, and they don't fade away, either. The average PC will run almost forever, and the harmful chemicals inside it will survive in your local landfill for even longer.

How many long-lived-but-obsolete computers is your company moving around among staffers? There's definitely a point of diminishing returns in holding on to PCs past their prime, as well as hidden costs in just about any disposal method you choose. In fact, in some cases, it may cost you more to move PCs down the corporate ladder than it would to just purchase cheap new machines every few years. But either way, sooner or later, you'll have to get rid of old PCs. So how do you do it?

Don't think you can just toss them in the dumpster-remember those dangerous chemicals. And sure, selling them to employees or a PC broker or giving them to charity are all viable options, but they all have costs attached-many of which may surprise you. It's a good idea to have an exit strategy for your old hardware-and it should be in place long before the intrinsic value of your PCs hits zero.

Complete depreciation is often here before you know it, but there's good news in that respect: After years of decline, PC life expectancies are in an upturn, says IDC analyst Alan Promisel. The average middle-of-the-road PC now has a useful life of about three years; a high-end desktop, about four years. What's changed is that Microsoft has slowed down the spin on the Windows upgrade wheel, and the whole software industry has followed suit, cutting back the rate at which incompatibilities occur.

Longer software lifecycles mean you don't need to buy new hardware as often. In fact, you can probably squeeze an additional six months or so out of your company's desktops. But be careful: Nurse an old PC along for too long, and productivity suffers-for low-level staffers as well as managers. Worker efficiency declines along with equipment efficiency, so when software takes longer to load, screens take longer to redraw and incompatibilities start to occur, memory upgrades need to be deployed.

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This article was originally published in the April 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Out With The Old.

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