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What To Do With Old USB Keys, Low-Capacity Hard Drives? 546

MessedRocker writes "I have at least a few USB flash drives around that I haven't needed since I got my 16GB flash drive, a 40GB external hard drive which I haven't needed since I upgraded to 500GB, and a couple of SATA hard drives I have pulled out of laptops which are either as large or smaller than the one I have in my laptop now. Furthermore, I don't really know anyone who needs any hard drives or flash drives. What should I do with my small, obsolete storage devices?"
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What To Do With Old USB Keys, Low-Capacity Hard Drives?

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  • Chuck'em out.
    • Re:Chuck'em out (Score:5, Interesting)

      by BPPG ( 1181851 ) <> on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:43AM (#27135527)

      Don't just chuck them. Look for a high-school that has a proper computer engineering program, and drop them off there. Whether you give them to the teachers or the students directly, they'll love you for it.

      I remember building and disassembling many a computer in my class before I was able to install windows 95 (and subsequently, starcraft) on them.

      • Re:Chuck'em out (Score:5, Interesting)

        by yashachan ( 1422227 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:51AM (#27135697)

        Wait, high schools have computer engineering programs?! My high school seemed to be interested in finding the least qualified teacher possible for our computer-related classes, even though I found a professor from a prestigious university who was willing to teach the computer science classes. So not fair. :(

      • Re:Chuck'em out (Score:4, Informative)

        by amori ( 1424659 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @12:14PM (#27136105)
        A) Install USB linux on one of them. They come in handy when repairing computers. B) Pass them to close friends, or colleagues at work, they'll give it to their children. C) Give it to your neighbor.
      • by Simonetta ( 207550 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @01:07PM (#27136877)

        For the flash drives, fill them with your favorite MP3 songs, hundreds of them. Then trade them with other people who are doing the same. Trade a 512Mb drive for one the same size with someone in your office or class. If you are a student, try setting up an underground library where other students contribute flash drives filled with various genres of music, like alt-country or 19th-century German classical. Trade or 'check out' these flash drives from this underground library instead of doing file downloading. This way you can get hundreds of songs at one time without exposing yourself to the RIAA extortionists.

            For SATA and IDE drives, get a USB-to-IDE/SATA interface for about $20. These drives can now be used as unplugged backup of things like movies, music libraries, and huge data banks. This is for things that you access several times a year and don't need to always be on your main PC/laptop hard drive.

      • Re:Chuck'em out (Score:5, Informative)

        by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @01:21PM (#27137115) Journal

        Donating, schmonating. We're at the start of Depression #2, and every penny counts. I earn around $300 each month just selling old stuff like videos, books, and gadgets. Amazon is good for earning a higher price, but it does require patience. Ebay is better if you want to get rid of stuff right now:

        - List it for 99 cents and $5 ship/handling
        - Or 1 cent and $6 ship/handling

        Please note I said S&H not postage. Shipping is for the ~$3 postage, but the "handling" covers your personal labor (you don't work for free) and the outrageous fees ebay charges (they don't work for free either). Someone will buy your item because there's always someone looking for old items, and you'll make around a dollar profit for each flash or hard drive sold. Possibly more if the demand is high.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by vux984 ( 928602 )

          - List it for 99 cents and $5 ship/handling
          - Or 1 cent and $6 ship/handling

          Personally I'd much rather buy a $6.01 item with free shipping than a 0.01 item with $6 shipping. It just feels more upfront and honest.

          I despise "1 cent item plus $20 shipping and handling listings". If you want 20 bucks just fucking come out and say so. Do you think I'm going to be so stupid as to latch onto the 1 cent item because its such an awesome deal, and my brain will cease functioning before I figure out what the actual fin

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            Ebay double and triple dips when it comes to listing fees. Depending on the listing you are charged for: base listing cost + some percentage of starting bid/reserve price; additionally you are charged for a percentage of the ending price.

            Ebay does not charge more for listings based on the shipping fees, which is what encourages sellers to gouge so much.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Blackknight ( 25168 )

          Screw Ebay, put them on Craigslist.

      • Re:Chuck'em out (Score:5, Informative)

        by The Great Pretender ( 975978 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @03:06PM (#27138973)
        For Thumb Drives go here []

        "Thumb Drive Drive - Do you have old thumb drives (otherwise known as USB Memory Sticks) at your office or home that you don't use anymore? We're collecting these drives to share with the organizations we work with. They can be used in hundreds of useful ways by: * Teachers * Students * Relief Camp Workers Please keep sending them in to Inveneo here and we'll make sure they get out to people and organizations who can use them well: Inveneo 972 Mission Street 5th Floor San Francisco, CA 94103"

  • by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:37AM (#27135399) Homepage Journal

    Scrub the data then donate it to charity or a school. If they can't use it they can give it away to a client or resell it.

    I'm sure some /.ers have some 5 or 10MB drives in their closets.

  • One word... (Score:5, Informative)

    by afabbro ( 33948 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:38AM (#27135413) Homepage

    FreeGeek [].

  • by ensnaredlight ( 1033008 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:38AM (#27135421)
    find a local charity to donate them, or if nothing else then just freecycle it, somebody will take you up on it!
  • Simple (Score:4, Funny)

    by frodo from middle ea ( 602941 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:38AM (#27135431) Homepage
    Do what I did to my old printer that kept telling me to "PC load letter".
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Spazztastic ( 814296 )

      Do what I did to my old printer that kept telling me to "PC load letter".

      Hitting a thumb drive with a hammer is not nearly as satisfying as elbow dropping a printer. It's one and done.

    • Re:Simple (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:54AM (#27135749)

      Do what I did to my old printer that kept telling me to "PC load letter".

      Load 'letter' sized paper into the paper cassette tray and continue?

      • Re:Simple (Score:5, Funny)

        by eln ( 21727 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @12:08PM (#27135995)

        I'm sorry, but that's just not how we do things around here. If the printer is doing anything other than printing your document, the correct solution is to wander aimlessly away and hope someone else will eventually fix it. As an added bonus, you get to tell everyone the printer is broken, and that's why you weren't able to get any work done today.

  • Just recycle them (Score:4, Informative)

    by line-bundle ( 235965 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:39AM (#27135437) Homepage Journal

    With the higher energy consumptions of older drives it's just more economical to recycle.

    Older flash drives will be unreliable soon.

    So I suggest the obvious: just recycle or find someone locally, who wants the stuff (poor student etc...) But do not send to Africa because I feel it's just shifting the problem and the cost of shipping is not worth it for whoever does it.

    • by pla ( 258480 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @12:03PM (#27135915) Journal
      the cost of shipping is not worth it for whoever does it.

      The Africans making a living taking care of our electronics "waste" would probably disagree with you.

      Just because we don't consider it worth our health to use nasty chemicals to reclaim metals from scrap boards, doesn't mean no one should want to do it.
      • Just because we don't consider it worth our health to use nasty chemicals to reclaim metals from scrap boards, doesn't mean no one should want to do it.

        Actually, it does, given that here in the 1st world, we have the technology and knowledge to reclaim the metals without putting hundreds of thousands of people in immediate danger, and with probably far greater efficiency in terms of recovery amounts and emissions per quantity recovered. That's the first piece of the pie.

        The second piece of the pie: in

  • Type up your passwords and encryption keys and put the device in a safe somewhere.

    It seems like a 1 kilobyte file is more likely to last on a hard drive if you store 50 million copies of it. (And if you store 500,000 copies of the file on a CD, you're less likely to be screwed by a scratch.) Is there an easy way to automate this duplication? Some weird "very small, very-high-repetition on same volume" file system, or just a perl script?

  • by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:39AM (#27135447) Homepage Journal
    Load them up with porn and give them to random people anonymously. They will thank you for it!
    • by eln ( 21727 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:58AM (#27135817)

      Your plan is nice and all, but it lacks the life-destroying element that a truly diabolical plan should have.

      What he should do is load them up with child porn and sneak them into the briefcases of all the people who have wronged him. He does keep a list of everyone who has ever wronged him labeled "people to utterly destroy", right? Doesn't everybody?

      Anyway, after you've done that, place anonymous calls to the FBI from various pay phones saying you've seen these people loitering around elementary schools. Then, sit back and watch your problems disappear.

    • by VShael ( 62735 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @12:18PM (#27136175) Journal

      Load them up with porn and give them to random people anonymously. They will thank you for it!

      Done and done! I made sure to include two girls and one cup, Mr. Hands, and the awesome Glass Ass a couple of dozen times, but I helpfully changed their names.

      Well, it's almost Easter. And that's sort of an Easter Egg.

      I wonder how they'll thank me?

  • This should about double the /. server storage space.

    You'll need to throw in ISA SATA and USB cards though.

  • Seriously. (Score:4, Funny)

    by MindlessAutomata ( 1282944 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:41AM (#27135475)

    Mail them to me.

  • by Overkill Nbuta ( 1035654 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:42AM (#27135497) []

    Whats better than whipping it out and playing some starcraft?

  • portable linux (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thegreatemu ( 1457577 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:44AM (#27135543)
    I can't speak for small hard drives, but a great thing you can do with a 40 GB external hard drive is to install a persistent live linux disk to it. One of the best seems to be portable linux []. That way, you always have a bootable OS around which will work with just about any hardware that can boot from USB, which is really valuable for troubleshooting, etc. I use mine to do things like fix grub problems, or use gparted to resize partitions, etc. With a persistence-capable live distro, you can customize all your settings and install any tools you like which aren't included on the default live disk, and even treat it as a mobile home when you're traveling.
  • by $RANDOMLUSER ( 804576 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:47AM (#27135609)
    Take them to a recycling center, so they can be loaded onto container ships and sent to China so they can have their precious metals reclaimed over a charcoal fire.
  • Good times (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ravenscall ( 12240 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:49AM (#27135657)

    Explosives + Old Hardware = Good Times!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Sponge Bath ( 413667 )

      Explosives + Zealous Police = Hard Time!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by chaim79 ( 898507 )

      Explosives + Old Hardware = Good Times!

      Another good variation:

      Firearms + Old Hardware = Good Times! []

      I took the platter out of that and still have it sitting by my desk, really interesting how it deforms.

  • by 0xdeadbeef ( 28836 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:49AM (#27135659) Homepage Journal

    Go back in time to 1960 and sell them for several hundred million each.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ranjix ( 892606 )

      Go back in time to 1960 and sell them for several hundred million each.

      whoever modded parent "informative" needs a serious head check

    • by 4D6963 ( 933028 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @05:21PM (#27141115)
      Also, load them with a copy of Wikipedia that includes all the historical events and innovations and discoveries of the last 50 years, wait till they find out how to read that, and watch how you modified the course of history, you know, for teh lulz.
  • Backups (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anna Merikin ( 529843 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:50AM (#27135669) Journal

    You cannot have too many backups. Old drives are perfect. Mount 'em, fill 'em with your configs, docs, etc. and put 'em away. Just make sure you always have the appropriate hardware and kernel support to read them if necessary.

    Mine are ATA/IDE, and these interfaces will be deprecated very soon, I hear. So keep at least one IDE/ATA-to-USB housing around if you need their data.

    • I bought this nice cable for 15$ that allows you to plug any SATA or ATA IDE harddrive to a USB port. Basically, any HD becomes a portable USB drive!

      I use it for backups or large data transfers that would split on multiple DVDs. Best 15$ I ever spent.

  • Raid! (Score:5, Funny)

    by anss123 ( 985305 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:50AM (#27135671)
    We've seen the awesomeness of floppy drive RAID []. Memstick RAID will blow that away!
  • one word (Score:4, Interesting)

    by NudeAvenger ( 1391803 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:51AM (#27135689)
  • by kinnell ( 607819 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:53AM (#27135737)
    Blend it! []
  • by You Don't Know Me ( 265497 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @12:05PM (#27135941)

    or salvation army or whoever in your city will take them (Austin TX has a very active Goodwill Computer Store).

    Full format them first (not perfect, but there are so many drives with data on them that it is unlikely that someone will go to great lengths to read the edges of formatted tracks). If they don't format then break them down (cool magnets and platters that are better for target practice than CDs - they don't shred as easily).

    Keep a few around, especially USB keys - better than burning something to CD is you need to hand data to someone.

  • by fwice ( 841569 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @12:11PM (#27136057)

    I build all of my rack machines from the same ISO image (well, images. One for Linux, one for OS X).

    Within this image, there is a script that runs at boot time that checks for the presence of a USB Drive. If there is a USB Drive, the script will place machine specific configuration files from the USB Key onto the machine in question, so that the machine no longer holds a vanilla install, but instead a completely unique version.

    This is great for replacing a down machine on a network -- if '' goes down, just grab a waiting, fresh machine from the stock pile, insert the usb key labeled 'node1', and start the machine, and watch as the machine takes on the persona of 'node1' without user interaction. Kind of similar to a kickstart script, but with the versatility of being able to change an already configured machine.

  • by SpuriousLogic ( 1183411 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @12:17PM (#27136147)
    With the very low cost of storage nowadays, I would not bother reusing or donating the drives. Take out the platters of the HDD, or the whole USB key, and go smashy smashy with a hammer. Collect the pieces and take it to a electronics recycling center. One nice side effect, is the smashy smashy bit is a great stress reliever, just wear safety glasses and perhaps gloves.
  • Part and donate.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by chaboud ( 231590 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @12:17PM (#27136155) Homepage Journal

    Hard drives have strong (and small) magnets in them which are fun to play with, useful on your fridge, useful in woodshops (hanging tools), and probably useful just about anywhere.

    Little flash drives, even 8MB ones, can be useful for students and library users. Donate those puppies, please.

  • Spread Stuff (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dr. Hok ( 702268 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @12:18PM (#27136169)

    Put something on the USB key which you deem important to know (hear, see, read etc.), then 'lose' it somewhere. Someone might find it and check what's on it.

    OK, there's the internet. Hm.. But I'd guess that people value a found piece of hardware higher than some arbitrary web page.

  • by ckpurvis ( 410517 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @12:22PM (#27136219)

    Libraries, especially school libraries, often have a need for portable storage devices to help patrons move files around, for instance from one computer to another. Big drives get stolen, but old small ones don't so much. And if an old obsolete drive is taken, then it was free to the library.

    Other public or semi-public computer labs probably could use them too. Think job centers, state-funded computer training groups, underfunded K12 schools, et c.

  • Know any kids? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mccalli ( 323026 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @12:52PM (#27136677) Homepage
    For the hard drive, disassemble one in front of them and get their interest and curiosity.

    I did this with a floppy drive one time - it had died, nothing I could do was going to bring this thing back so...why not? Why not just open the thing up and show what's inside, pointing out the magents and the drive heads etc.. I'm not going to say it instilled a lifelong wish to become computer scientists or electrical engineers in them, but it held some interest for a few minutes, gave a bit more understanding and broke down one more piece of black-box mystique.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Insightfill ( 554828 )

      For the hard drive, disassemble one in front of them and get their interest and curiosity.

      I agree. I recently took an old Pentium 233MHz system and opened the case in front of my daughters (ages 6 and 8). I gave them screwdrivers and told them to take it apart. My older girl carried around the floppy drive (with cable) for about three months afterward, showing it to anyone who would listen. My younger girl helped install a NIC, too.

  • by Stephen Samuel ( 106962 ) <samuel@bc g r e> on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @01:08PM (#27136895) Homepage Journal
    I work for Free Geek Vancouver []. Free Geeks are a loosely associated set of organizations dedicated to computer reuse and recycling (in that order). It's often the case (in Vancouver, anyways) that people will pop a drive before dropping by with a donation, so it's sometimes a problem that 'larger' drives run short ('larger' being in the 40G and up range for desktops and 20G+.

    Free Geek organizations (I can't speak for others) have a comittment to destroying data on donated drives before they go out again. If you don't want to (or are not allowed to) trust that, then you can download a copy of DBAN [] and nuke your drives for a few hours (or days) before you donate them.

    For most civilian uses, 'dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/hdX' is sufficient (with today's drive density) to make the data on the drive effectively irrecoverable. --- but, if the NSA is after you for violating the Nuclear Secrets Act, all bets are off.

  • I am collecting old USB flash drives for the Center for Victims of Torture []'s 2009 Sneakernet Campaign.

    If you are looking to get rid of old Flash drives you can go ahead and send them to:

    Beth Wickum
    Director of Volunteer Services
    The Center for Victims of Torture
    717 E. River Parkway
    Minneapolis, MN 55455

    After hearing about a lack of networks in many places where CVT operates we discussed the use of flash drives to transfer information. At this point my inner geek jumped up and screamed: "It's a sneakernet!" My co-workers hadn't heard the term before and thought it catchy enough to make part of the marketing for a campaign to solicit used flash drives to send to CVT locations overseas as well as partner organizations. The idea is simple, send CVT your tired, poor, and old flash drives. I'll scrub them and clean them up and make them ready to give away. No personal information will stay on a donated drive.

  • by JimMarch(equalccw) ( 710249 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @01:35PM (#27137381)

    My daily carry piece (with CCW permit) lives in a fanny pack held closed with the magnets out of a couple of old 17gig Maxtor 3.5" drives. I ditched the zipper in favor of that setup, and it's a lot faster :).

  • by btempleton ( 149110 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @02:29PM (#27138353) Homepage

    Work to convince the big distros of the world -- I'm looking at you Ubuntu -- to switch from using CD Rom Images as their prime mode of distribution to bootable flash/usb/ide disk images. Once you've tried it this way you will never go back, and you will now have a use for little drives.

    Of course there are scripts that will turn the CD images into usb stick images, but they are time consuming taking away some of the time you save booting from a quicker medium. Instead of releasing a CD and a script to convert it, release a drive image and a script to turn that into an ISO, or release both.

    (Plus, with writable media, it's easier to add a 2nd partition where the user can stuff drivers, localization scripts, answers to install questions etc.)

    Then you could also donate all these media to linux distros who could fill them up with linux live disks and installs, and mail them out to people for postage.

  • The round file? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CharlieG ( 34950 ) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @06:37PM (#27142195) Homepage

    Strip out the screws/magnets (always good for the hardware bin), and throw the rest away?

Logic is a pretty flower that smells bad.