There are few things more harmful to the environment than computing. That may come as a surprise, but the amount of raw materials that need to be extracted from the earth in order to construct a small computer, is the size of a small car. So if we're using then replacing these devices every 3-4 years, we're actually having a large impact on the environment. What can you do?
To start with, we can throw out the notion of "oh, it's getting slow, I might as well replace it". Ignoring the fact that transferring all your programs, data and settings to a new computer is a time-consuming and often costly process, the fact is that computers are not increasing in speed at the same rate as they were 20 years ago. In the 1990's it was not uncommon for the processing speed of computers to double from year to year. Now we're lucky if we get a 5-10% performance increase from year to year.
What that means is that the benefit of replacing a computer on the basis of speed is generally negligible, unless it was slow to start out with. Of course, if something breaks in it that can't be replaced, then you need to replace it. But the vast majority of the time it's the hard drive that breaks, which can easily be replaced with a much faster solid state drive (SSD), and you will find the computer speeds up quite a bit as a result.
Another thing you can look at is using better programs instead of replacing hardware. A lot of windows programs, particularly Microsoft's ones, can be slower than free or open-source solutions. For example, Media Player Classic HC is a much faster replacement for Microsoft's own built-in media players. For pretty much any given piece of software, it's almost guaranteed that there are at least four freeware programs that will do the job just as well, if not better.
In January next year, Windows 7 will be made obsolete by Microsoft, who will stop issuing security patches for it, making it unsafe to use on the internet. So you might be tempted to chuck out that old computer and just get a new one with Windows 10 on it, but actually it's relatively painless and cheap to upgrade from 7 to 10. As long as you have a valid Windows 7 license, you don't even need to purchase a license for Windows 10. I've even upgraded a computer from 2004 without issue.
Lastly, rather than throwing a machine on the landfill, if you do decide to replace it, consider donating it to a charity or to one of the many computer recycling outfits in your area. Best case, a computer recycling company will take the machine and re-purpose or on-sell it, and in the worst case, it will end up being stripped and going to metal recyclers. Computers may be cheap, but the cost to the environment isn't. Choose wisely, buy sensibly and dispose of responsibly.
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