How to decommission or sell an old PC

When a PC is nearing the end of its useful life, it’s crucial to decommission it safely and securely. It’s a simple process, and once it’s done you can dispose of the PC, or sell it on, without worrying about what else you may be giving away. If you do plan to sell it on, there are steps you can take to encourage buyers and help achieve a quick sale at a good price.

Personal data

The most important part of decommissioning an old PC is securely erasing your personal data, to ensure that nothing can be recovered by whoever gets their hands on your PC, or its hard disk, after you’ve finished with it.

Before you start the decommissioning process, therefore, make sure you’ve collected all the data and information you need from the computer. For a PC you plan to sell or strip for parts, it’s always good to have a full specification list to give to buyers. If you don’t have the original documents, or if the computer has been upgraded over the years, go in to Control Panel | System & Security | System and note down the processor model, the amount of RAM and – if you plan to sell it with the operating system – the version of Windows it’s running.

Then open Device Manager and note down the model numbers under Disk Drives and Display Adapters, as well as anything else you think might be of interest to a prospective owner. Doing this now will be much simpler than digging up the details later. You can also enlist the help of a third-party tool such as Speccy, which can analyse the hardware in your system and produce a full report as a text file.

Next, if there’s data you want to keep, be sure to transfer it to an external hard disk or upload it to a cloud storage service such as Dropbox or Google Drive. De-authorise any software with an account that works across multiple devices, such as Apple’s iTunes and Adobe’s Creative Suite tools – this takes only a minute, and it reduces the possibility of future authorisation issues with other devices. Finally, dig out your original installation discs and decide what’s worth including; you must hand over the product keys if you want to bundle commercial software with the machine.

If you intend to sell off the PC’s individual components, it’s also a good idea to take a few photos of them in action before you erase the hard disk, as we discuss below.

Selling the whole computer

If you plan to sell on the computer in one working piece, you’ll definitely want to securely clean off the hard disk. Once you’ve done this, you may want to reinstall the OS to make it a more attractive purchase; if you still have the installation disc or recovery media for Windows 7 or 8, along with a valid product key, this should be a simple process. If your system came with older XP or Vista discs, buyers may prefer the option of receiving the system without an OS. One possibility is to install a Linux distribution, if only to show the system is working.

You should already have made a list of the technical specifications, but if you plan to sell your PC via an online service, it’s also a good idea to take a set of clear photos. You don’t need to get the professionals in, but it pays to take your shots in a well-lit room and against a clean, preferably white background. Show the device powered on and working if possible, and take shots from different angles to show ports and connectors. Include any recovery discs, manuals, peripherals and cases in at least one photo. Don’t show the product key: someone dishonest could use it to illegally activate their own copy of Windows, leading to problems with your own installation.

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