February is upon us and it is time for spring cleaning to rid us of the trash that has accumulated over time and made it tough to get in the garage.

If your garage is like mine, one section is designated as "Comp-u-junk Corner." All my old computer stuff is crammed there awaiting the yearly cleanup. I am certain we all have these areas, but what else do you do with used equipment? Throw it all in the trash? NO!

Computers and monitors have Mercury, lead and many other chemicals that would leach into the ground and, eventually, into our drinking water system. This can cause long-term health effects to everyone on our planet so trashing your monitor or computer is not the right thing to do, but what?

One solution is donating your used computer equipment to a nonprofit like AZ Strut (Arizona Student Recycling Used Technology). They take used computer equipment and give it to high schools and technology colleges in the area for the students to work on and repair, if possible, and then return to AZ STRUT who, in turn, donates the equipment to people in need and other worthwhile nonprofits. My wife and I ran a nonprofit for a time that was one of the main beneficiaries of AZ Strut, receiving more than 200 computer systems. They have specific donation days for their main location, 1720 W. Broadway Road, Mesa, 85202, so call (480) 222-4066 for details. Most every year the Ahwatukee Recreation Center, (480) 893-2549, has a recycling day, however, I do not know what day and time.

One caution you need to take is to remove all the data from your hard drive before donating it. Identity thieves love to see computers sitting by the roadside or loose hard drives because they can contain sensitive data like banking information, e-mail accounts and passwords. If there is data on the hard drive you wish to keep, you can install your old hard drive as a slave into a different computer and save the data to a jump drive or CD, but this is a little complicated and you may want to call a professional to handle this task. If you are fairly tech savvy, you can create a Windows 98 startup floppy and repartition your hard drive, thereby removing any data and making it very difficult to retrieve anything from your hard drive. There are also a number of software products for sale that will erase your hard drive.

Many of our clients give us computers they want recycled and we use a combination of tools to ensure their data is erased completely. We use a program called Partition Zapper, which removes the partition completely. Then we create a new partition on the hard drive and install a version of Windows different from what was originally installed on the machine. Since each version of Windows copies files to the hard drive in different sections, if there was any data left on the hard drive after the Partition Zapper program, which is highly unlikely, it will be over-written and irretrievable. Then the hard drive is one again erased using Eraser, which erases the hard drive contents in compliance with federal regulations.

If this seems like over-kill, it may be but we want to be certain no data remains on the hard drive when it is donated. You can never be too careful or thorough when dealing with sensitive data on a hard drive you are willing to donate or sell.


Mike Smothers is president of Smothers Computer Services and lives in Ahwatukee Foothills. Send questions to mike@smotherscomputers.com or call (480) 753-7667.

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