Smarter Living: Stuff

With faster and flashier computers coming out all the time, our desktops and laptops can seem outdated pretty quickly. So when they start to give us trouble, the decision to chuck the old and buy a new machine can seem justified. But considering the environmental impact of producing a new computer, it's greener to repair the one you have and use it for as long as you can.

According to Sheila Davis, executive director of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, "The manufacture of brand-new computer models uses more than four times the energy and resources it would take to extend the life of an older machine for another few years." One thing you can do to extend your computer's life is to add memory, which grows cheaper by the year.

If it really is time for a new machine, it's important to consider the repair process associated with different brands. Name-brand computers often have proprietary parts, says Davis, and need to be shipped back to the manufacturer—sometimes even overseas—to be fixed. To minimize long-distance repair hassles, consider a "white box" computer—that is, a generic model without name-brand parts that can easily be upgraded at a local computer store. The downside of generics is that their warranties can be tricky, they come without software, and finding technical support may be difficult. White-box models are available online or at large computer chains.

If you prefer a name-brand item, choose one with a strong take-back program that will guarantee your computer won't end up in a landfill. Dell takes back all branded products for free; others accept new models or charge a small fee.

When it comes to monitors, don't wait for a malfunction to replace a large cathode-ray tube (CRT) model, if you're still using one. Upgrade to a flat-panel liquid crystal display. A 15-inch LCD screen uses about 18 watts of energy, as opposed to about 200 for a CRT.

And be sure to bring your old computer to a responsible recycler. See e-Stewards list of certified electronics recyclers.

Learn More

Your Computer's Lifetime Journey

What to Look for in a New Computer

e-Stewards: Certifying Responsible Electronics Recyclers

What to do About E-Waste

last revised 1/19/2012

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