Pinpointing Useful Scrap Materials In Computers

Posted on: 23 September 2016

Taking computers apart for scrap is a great study in materials use and can yield a lot of great parts, but you need to know where some of the most valuable materials are to get there effectively. Here's a few valuable scrapping areas in computers, along with ways to break down and store the materials for recycling.

Aluminum Scrap Sources

Aluminum is one of the first materials you'll run into and is the easiest to store for different levels of scrapping.

The computer case is often covered in plastic or acrylic-like covers, but the underlying frame is still made out of aluminum in most computers. Some sturdy systems for industrial or field use may be made of steel, but a magnet test can be used to see whether you're dealing with aluminum or something else. If the magnet doesn't stick, it's aluminum.

Computer case panels can be removed with basic screwdriver sets and are flat enough to be stored easily. Some beams, struts, and folded metal parts are held together with sliding metal tabs that may be stuck together after a lot of movement and jamming force. Tapping with a screwdriver or ball-peen hammer can get the parts loose.

Another aluminum source is the heat sink. Often made of solid aluminum blocks, these components are used to draw heat away from high-temperature components such as processors or memory modules. There are thin fins of aluminum that protrude from the block to allow air passage, but be careful. In many models, these fins are razor thin and can cause some annoying cuts by just brushing against the skin. Applied pressure is just like using a knife.

Copper Sources In Computers

Heat sinks are usually made of aluminum, but more systems are including copper heat sinks. Copper transfers heat better than aluminum and can be found in the same sizes as aluminum. Not all copper heat sinks are full copper, as some are plated with aluminum on one side. Some heat sinks are even copper cores with aluminum outsides to save money and make efficient use of the differences between aluminum and copper.

Copper is used in wires in many parts of the computer, but the other big copper source is the power supply unit. The wiring used in many modern power supplies includes long, winding bands of copper around a coil, as well as a few copper blocks for heat dissipation. 

There are other materials in the computer to find, such as gold contacts and rare earth magnets in hard drives (not to be mistaken for Solid State Drives or SSDs, which lack magnets and are a different technology). Although valuable, gold may not be in high enough quantities unless you're building a specific scrap pile already, and magnets may require some specific sales to hobbyists.

Contact professional scrap metal buyers to discuss materials of interest inside computers and to find scrap prices for materials in different forms.