Two laptops, just taking up space
June 18, 2012 5:17 PM   Subscribe

What can I do with these old laptops?

I have two old laptops, replaced because they each, in turn, became super slow -- one now takes something like 20 minutes to start up, and the other 10-15. I believe the computers are a Thinkpad X41 (purchased in 2005), and a Dell M100 (purchased around 2003).

I have some sort of recovery CDs for the Thinkpad, but none for the Dell. I also don't have any Windows software.

So, my questions:

1) If possible, I'd like to fix and keep the Dell. It's small, and it would be nice to have a laptop with Windows software (I have a Macbook now). Is there any way for me to try to reformat this computer myself, given my lack of back-up CDs or Windows software, and my lack of technical knowledge?

2) Regardless of the answer to #1, assuming I don't want to keep either of these computers, but am not able to reformat them, what can I do with them other than recycle them? It'd be great if I could sell them for a few bucks (I don't expect much). However, I'm not sure if there's any sort of market for them in their current condition, AND I'm worried that, if I'm not able to format them, whoever I sell it to would have access to personal/financial/work info that's still on my hard drive somewhere.

So I guess my second question boils down to whether there's a relatively simple way to reformat / erase a hard drive without backup software, or alternatively, any other way to sell the computers without having to worry about the security of data stored on them.

posted by mingodingo to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Other people who know more than I do will probably come along, but:

1. It's possible that one or both computers have some kind of recovery partition/software and thus don't require backup CDs. Absent something like that, though, you wouldn't be able to reinstall Windows without either recovery or Windows discs (such discs are sometimes available from the manufacturer or on eBay). You could also download and install some variety of Linux (that is, one could--from your question, I don't know if this kind of thing is within your technical abilities).

2. Well, you could remove the hard drives and then sell them (you would, of course, be upfront about the hard-drive-less status), but I'm going to guess, based on how you describe your technical skills, that this might not be possible for you. But for someone with a little hardware experience, removing a hard drive is a pretty quick and easy job (and Thinkpads and Dells are generally very easy to work on). Maybe you have a friend or family member or coworker or classmate or something that could do it for you?

Alternately, DBAN reformats/erases hard drives. So do most if not all Linux install media (you can install these to a CD-R/DVD-R or a flash drive), but DBAN is probably easier and more foolproof.
posted by box at 5:38 PM on June 18, 2012

Response by poster: Okay, probably a silly question, but if I use DBAN, will that also delete my Windows XP operating system?
posted by mingodingo at 5:42 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes--if you use DBAN, it will delete everything on the hard drive, Windows XP very much included. It's something you might use before selling the computers, not something that will help you fix them.
posted by box at 5:52 PM on June 18, 2012

The laptops probably have the Windows license information on them. That should allow a computer shop to reinstall Windows.

I second the idea of Linux on one of them.
posted by yclipse at 6:02 PM on June 18, 2012

If you plan to sell them, installing Linux [Lubuntu or even DSL might be options] would ensure that you're selling a usable system erased of all your data.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 9:11 PM on June 18, 2012

You can purchase the original legal OEM Windows XP restore CDs as originally supplied by Dell from Home or Pro, under $15 each. Just search "windows xp restore". These will work if you have your original keycode sticker on the machine, and will include any special drivers the Dell machine would need, then Windows Update would update everything as needed. The correct Home or Pro CD also should work for the HP, and Windows Update would download any drivers the HP needs and update everything, but it wouldn't include HP's monitoring programs. Those can probably be downloaded and added if you want them.

You could first try to speed up the machines just as they are: first download but don't yet install AVG Free Antivirus, then uninstall your existing antivirus, then install the AVG, then download and run Advanced System Care Free on both machines and let that do its full complete scan and repair. Just be careful and stick to the Free versions, you really don't need their pay versions for this use. The Free versions are very good. After all this, I'm sure the machines will run noticeably faster, and your programs and data will be intact. Fast enough? You decide.

If you have either Norton or McAfee antivirus on either machine, you need special programs to get rid of those first - their built-in uninstalls are awful. Comment back if you have either, and I will dig up those removal programs.
posted by caclwmr4 at 9:35 PM on June 18, 2012

Here's the Ubuntu download link. It will turn an older laptop into a pretty solid web browsing machine. It's relatively easy to install - simpler than you might think. The thing you want is the 'start download' box.

Once you've downloaded it, burn it to a CD.
Put the CD in the computer you want to install it on, shut the machine down, then power it back on.
Then follow the step-by-step install guide.

There should be an option during the install to overwrite data on your hard drive. This will do that reformatting thing you're convinced you can't do :)
It won't make your data completely unrecoverable, but it will put it out of the reach of the average computer user.
posted by itheearl at 9:41 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have an Lenovo T42 that's approximately the same age as your X41. It's working great as a media server with Ubuntu, running Squeezebox Server and Plex.
posted by Runes at 4:57 AM on June 19, 2012

If you're determined to sell your laptops, it would be more optimal to take out the hard-drives. Nowadays, there are plenty of free software on the Internet that allows you to retrieved stored data on your hard-drives. But if you reformat your hard-drives more than twice, it would be harder for anyone to recover all your information. But still it's possible.

My suggestion is to try to throw in a cheaper used hard-drive from ebay or amazon before you sell your laptops.

As for recovery, usually you hit F10 or F8,depending on the laptop maker to recover your computer. If you can get a recovery CD, that's even better. it's usually around $20-$50 to order a recovery CD from the manufacturer.

Hope this helps.
posted by gglobalexpedition at 6:30 PM on June 20, 2012

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