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Where old computers go to live

People who received computers over the holidays have plenty of options when it comes to getting rid of their old hardware.

    What happens to old computers when they don't die--but are outdated?

    That's the question a lot of people who received new hardware over the holidays are grappling with right now.

    Computer retailers say sales this holiday season were stellar, and while the final numbers still are being crunched, analysts agreed.

    Research firm IDC predicted that nearly 11 million consumers bought a new computer or received one as a gift during the most recent quarter.

    While many were first-time buyers, a whopping 70 percent bought or received a second--or even third--computer. Many simply did the math and realized that, in most cases, upgrading their old computers would cost far more than purchasing a new sub-$1,000 PC or an iMac.

    Now they have to figure out what to do with their old boxes. Since ancient models don't have much resale value, selling them doesn't make much financial sense, and throwing them in the trash isn't good for the environment.

    So why not give them to a worthy cause?

    Schools and nonprofit organizations are in dire need of computers, peripherals, and software. But despite their pressing needs, some 2 million computers are dumped in the garbage each month, according to Computers & Education, a nonprofit organization that began as the Computer Recycling Corporation back in 1991.

    Consumers will "call up a school and say, 'I've got a 386.' The school says, 'We don't need it.' They figure, 'I did my part. I don't have anymore time,'" said Steve Wyatt, executive director of Computers & Education, which collects old PCs, refurbishes them, and donates them to schools and nonprofits.

    Over the years, schools have become much more selective in choosing only the latest PCs. Most don't want anything less than a Pentium, and rightly so, Wyatt said.

    "We want kids to be able to learn on the latest software and we don't want them to sit in front of the computer and wait for Web pages to load," he added.

    This year, Computers & Education received grants and equipment from businesses including Apple, Intel, AT&T, and the San Francisco 49ers.

    "What we're able to do is sell off the recyclable materials from the older computers and use that money to buy the rest of the parts that we need," Wyatt said.

    This year, Computers & Education received 21 tons of computers and peripherals. It refurbished those components and donated 10,000 Pentiums, Pentium IIs, and Macs to California schools and nonprofits based on need. Schools and non-profits are required to fill out a declaration form to request the machines they need, but unfortunately, Wyatt said, the organization cannot furnish enough computers to meet demand.

    In addition to helping a worthy cause, doners of computers also are eligible for a tax deduction.