What to Do with Your Old Laptop

If you've got a few outdated laptops collecting dust in your home, you're not alone. In a survey conducted last spring by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, more than half of the subscribers who purchased laptops since 2012 confessed to letting them linger under the roof long after they'd been replaced.

And that raises a good question: How do you go about finding a new home for an old laptop? Here are a few options to consider.

Sell It

Believe it or not, there’s a robust market for old tech. Between eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace, you should have no trouble finding someone to take an unwanted computer off your hands. Using eBay, I’ve sold a non-functioning MacBook Pro with a missing hard drive for $100, a three-year-old iPad mini for $175, and an iPhone for $200.

More From Consumer Reports

Online marketplaces make it really easy to list items, offering intuitive step-by-step instructions to help you sell your wares. And even though eBay takes a small cut of the sale price, I’ve found that it still yields a bigger sum than the buy-back sites such as Gazelle and Glyde.

Before you sell a digital device to someone you don't know, though, take a few precautions to protect your privacy. You don't want bank account info, personal images, or your browsing history lingering on the machine.

With a tablet, a factory reset (activated through the Settings menu) will wipe the slate clean. For a laptop, you're better off removing the hard drive. (Just be sure to note that it's gone when you place the item on sale.) The website ifixit.com offers teardowns tutorials to walk you through the process. The only tool you need is a screwdriver.

Recycle It

If your city does not sponsor a collection day for old electronic products, you can find a state-by-state listing of organizations that will accept them by going to the website TIA E-cycling Central. You should check out the collection programs at BestBuy and Staples, too. Both are free. And Amazon will reward you with a gift card for items recovered through its trade-in program.

Donate It

It’s always nice to give back—especially during the holiday season—and a used computer is a valuable tool to a family without the resources to buy one. If you'd like to contribute a laptop to a family in need, the National Cristina Foundation and the World Computer Exchange can help you make that happen.

“So many of our children today come home from school with homework that has to be done online,” says Harry Rizer, CEO of the National Cristina Foundation. “If the family doesn't have a computer, they have to take the kid to the library every night and stand in line until it's their turn. And if the library closes, they're out of luck.”

That “digital divide” stretches way beyond childhood, too. These days, it’s impossible to apply for a job at McDonald's without access to a computer and broadband.

Even a 5- or 6-year-old computer can be given a “second life” in a new home, says Rizer. To locate a nearby nonprofit in need of equipment, you can check out the hundreds of pre-screened organizations listed on the National Cristina Foundation website.

Upgrade It

And, finally, if you have a child or a friend in need of a computer, you might consider giving the one you've outgrown a quick tuneup. If it was purchased in the last few years, you can make it run faster with a couple of tweaks.

MacBooks are notoriously difficult to upgrade because their parts are usually soldered or glued into the body. But models made by other manufacturers let you add more memory and replace an old hard drive with a quicker, more efficient solid state drive (SSD). If that's too costly, lower-priced hybrid drives, which combine a hard drive with solid-state memory, represent a good compromise.

Once again, iFixit is a great resource for info on whether your device can be upgraded and how you go about doing it. A new SSD will give you the biggest performance boost, for example. It lets your computer access data without the moving parts required by a traditional hard drive and allows for quicker information retrieval.

But adding more memory (or RAM) can improve a computer's performance as well, allowing you to multitask with greater speed—particularly if you're the sort who likes to keep a lot of tabs open on your browser. (Think 10 or more.)

If you don't plan to do video editing or heavy multitasking, 4 GB of RAM is probably enough. But desktops and laptops often have 8 GB. To find out what type of RAM modules your laptop needs, you might have to do a little digging. (Crucial and Kingston’s online stores can help.) As for how much RAM your computer can handle, consult the owner's manual or the manufacturer’s website.

Copyright © 2005-2016 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission. Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this site.