Data Doctors: Old laptops still valuable for students

Girl at home uses laptop mockup. Modern technology in everyday life. Blank white screen place for text or template.(Getty Images/iStockphoto/franz12)

Q: How can I tell if my laptop is too old to donate to a student for online classes?

Computing devices and access to the internet have become so ubiquitous that it’s easy to assume that everyone enjoys the same capabilities, but sadly, this is not the case.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed what has been a problem for underprivileged and rural communities, better known as the “digital divide,” as work and school requirements moved to online only.

Though businesses often had resources to assist their employees, most schools lacked the ability to get all of their students online, despite it being the only way to continue their education.

Millions of older computers are sitting in closets and garage shelves around the U.S., and the vast majority of them are more than capable of becoming an online learning terminal for needy students.

Minimum requirements

Since most online classes are cloud-based, the processing and storage capability of the computer is almost irrelevant — it’s simply an issue of having something that can connect to the internet.

Laptops from 10 years ago, as long as they have a working hard drive, are more than capable of becoming a student terminal for online classes.

Even devices that aren’t working can be donated because the functioning parts can help make another device work properly.

Alternate operating systems

A common misconception is that since an older computer doesn’t meet the minimum requirements for Windows 10, it’s basically unsafe or unusable for today’s students.

Since the device simply needs to connect to the internet, installing an alternative operating system such as Chrome OS or one of the many Linux-based options makes old laptops usable.

Not only will this provide the critical web browsing functions needed for online classes, it also sidesteps all of the malware designed to compromise Windows and macOS-based computers.

Wiping data first

No matter how old your laptop may be, there’s a likelihood that sensitive data or personal pictures may still reside on the hard drive.

If you plan on donating the computer to an organization set up to help students, they’ll likely have a process to securely wipe the data from your old hard drive, so check with them first.

If you want to make sure the data has been wiped yourself, you can use an open-source program such as Darik’s Boot and Nuke or ABAN to get the job done.

If you aren’t comfortable with either approach, you can remove the hard drive and donate the rest of the computer to the cause.

Please don’t wait!

The Data Doctors have been actively involved in collecting older tech for repurposing or recycling for over two decades, including the current “Laptops for Students” drive, and there’s a common issue we regularly see.

Folks bringing in computers often tell us that the device has been sitting in a closet for years before they finally brought it in.

Reducing the delay between the time that it gets decommissioned and donated would put millions of computers in the hands of the needy, especially in these challenging times.

If you’re getting a new computer this holiday season, please consider donating your old computer as quickly as possible!

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on Facebook or Twitter.

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