Smart Living | Devices

Devices | 10 May 2023

Don’t chuck it! Here’s what to do with your old laptop

You can do things with an old computer that you never imagined, so the last thing you should do is just throw it away.

Laptops and desktop computers tend to have far longer lives than smartphones, with a useful lifetime of a decade being quite common. But the day will eventually come when yours no longer meets your needs and you have to decide what to do with it.

Alongside the obvious choices of recycling or donating your old computer, there are some options which can give your seemingly outdated laptop or desktop a second life. From turning it into a second monitor for your new laptop to converting it into a living room hub or a computer for the kids, here’s what you can do and how to do it.

How to recycle your old laptop

Some local councils will take your old computer, either at a drop-off centre or collect it from your doorstep, for recycling.

Most retailers and manufacturers also have their own recycling schemes. For example, Currys – a Vodafone partner – will accept your old computer in-store whether you’re buying anything new from them or not. It will also pick it up from your doorstop if you are buying something from them and are having it delivered.

Another example is Apple. You can drop off desktop and laptop computers from any manufacturer at their UK stores for recycling. Alternatively, you can trade-in old Macs with Apple. Bear in mind that such trade-in is for convenience, as you’ll typically get more for an old Mac by selling it on sites such as eBay.

How to back up your old laptop

Of course, ensure you back up any data you want to keep and then wipe your computer well in advance of handing it over. If your files only total a couple of gigabytes, you don’t need to back up system files such as programs and system settings and you have an internet connection with fast upload speeds, you can back them up to cloud storage such as Google Drive or Dropbox.

If your data consumes dozens or hundreds of gigabytes then it’ll be more economical and faster to back them up to an external drive. Macs released in the past 15 years or so have a basic but user-friendly backup feature called Time Machine built into macOS, while a barebones backup feature has been built into Windows since Windows XP under various different names.

If you have lots of data and you want to preserve every single last program and system setting, dedicated backup software such as Acronis Cyber Protect for Windows and Carbon Copy Cloner for macOS are tried-and-trusted options.

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How to donate your old laptop

If your old computer no longer meets your needs, but is still in working order, then donating it to a charity is a great way of giving a second life. WeeeCharity and Computer Aid are just two examples of charities that will accept donations from individuals and businesses alike.

Google-ify your old laptop and give it to your kid or an elderly relative

If your computer is now old enough that it no longer receives security and operating system updates, but is otherwise in fine working order, there is an alternative to recycling it or donating it. You can install Google’s ChromeOS Flex on it and turn into a cloud-first computer – either for yourself or someone else you know as their primary or secondary computer.

It’ll be just as easy to use as a brand-new Chromebook, making this option especially appealing for the computing novice in your life, but at a fraction of the cost of buying a new one off-the-shelf.

Although installing a whole new operating system on your old computer sounds daunting, Google has instructions as well as a list of dozens and dozens of common models on which the installation is verified to work. All you need is an empty USB drive and an hour or two of spare time.

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Turn your old computer into a living room hub for your photos and home movies

Your old computer could find a second life as a hub for your personal photo, video and music libraries. Plex Media Server is a ‘media centre’-style program designed for browsing through and viewing your home movies, photos and MP3 music collections on a TV. Install Plex alongside your media collection on your old Windows PC or Mac, then plug it into your TV to get going. Plex has instructions to help you get started.

Turn your old laptop into a second monitor for your new laptop

A second monitor can provide you with a much-needed boost in screen real estate for your new computer. The extra screen resolution it provides is often exceedingly useful, whether you’re juggling huge spreadsheets while working from home or just need the space for everything from fine-tuning panoramic photos to combing through small print while comparison shopping.

If you don’t have enough room for a second monitor, fear not – you can turn your old laptop into one! The Luna Display adapter from Astropad is a dinky yet sophisticated dongle that connects two computers together, turning one into a second display for the other.

The Luna Display comes in a couple of variants to accommodate the different types of connector ports found on computers of various ages – Astropad has a guide to help you choose the right one. Your new computer will also need to meet certain system requirements for the Luna Display adapter to work.

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Streaming devices, such as Google Chromecast and Apple TV, can give your smartphone, tablet or laptop a big-screen extension, help you be more productive and have more fun.

Is it worth buying a new laptop to cut my energy bill?

It’s an underappreciated fact that modern laptops and desktops are generally much more power efficient than their forebears. The older your laptop or PC, the more likely it is that it will use significantly more energy than its modern counterpart to do the same tasks.

We dug out an HP Elitebook 820 G1 – a state-of-the-art ultraportable laptop when it was released back in 2013 – and pitted it against the similarly lightweight Samsung Galaxy Book Go from 2021. We measured each laptop’s power consumption in watts (W) using a simple £20 electricity usage meter. The results were conclusive:

Samsung, sleep


HP, sleep


Samsung, idle


HP, idle


Samsung, Web-based 3D graphics test


HP, Web-based 3D graphics test


While there was little difference in power draw when the laptops were asleep, the decade-old laptop otherwise used two-to-three times as much power as the newer one whether it was sitting idle or displaying 3D graphics.

However, this doesn’t automatically mean you should ditch your old computer for a newer model. Even with energy prices as high as they are currently, a two-to-three times difference in laptop power consumption makes a difference of only a couple of pounds over a year as our figures show. The difference would be bigger if, for example, you were replacing an old desktop PC with a laptop as the former can be exponentially more power hungry. Or if you were replacing multiple computers in your household.

Samsung Galaxy Book Go (2021) average energy cost breakdown 

25W max power draw (0.025 kilowatts or Kw)
2920 hours annually (8 hours a day, 365 days a year)
Kw x hours = 73 kilowatt hours (KwH)
Energy price of 6p per KwH
Annual cost (KwH x pence per KwH) = £4.38

HP Elitebook 820 G1 (2013) average energy cost breakdown

45W max power draw (0.045 kilowatts or Kw)
2920 hours annually (8 hours a day, 365 days)
Kw x hours = 131.4 kilowatt hours (KwH), energy price of 6p per KwH
Annual cost (KwH x pence per KwH) = £7.88

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Plus, manufacturing a new laptop produces approximately 135kg of CO2e (the precise figure will vary depending on the model), which would take a few years to offset from decreased power consumption alone.

So it makes the most sense to replace your old computer if and when it no longer meets your needs and it is old enough that it no longer receives operating system and security updates, in addition to being more power hungry than newer models. In the end, of course, the decision is up to you.

If you want to measure the power usage of your own devices, you can order a simple electricity usage meter for around £15-20. You can opt for a smart home model – such as the TP-Link Tapo Smart Plug or the Eve Energy UK – which also let you remotely switch off devices plugged into them, set them to turn on and off automatically on a schedule, and more.

No matter what you decide to do with your old computer, throwing it away should the option of last resort. By reusing, donating or recycling it, it’s not only good for the planet but for you and your wallet too.

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