back to article Au oh, there's gold in them thar server farms, so lead the way

All these servers that we pack into the data centres have a limited life span, they're made of metal, metals even, and scrap metal has a value. So, what's the stuff that's in there and how much is it worth? As metal that is, once it's done its job of pumping the electrons around? Not a lot when you consider what they cost to …

  1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Pure tin solder?

    There are different flavours, but when lead suddenly became poisonous the popular replacement was tin/bismuth. Does bismuth have any value?

    (Back when I was a PFY, bismuth was stable. Some very patient boffins discovered it is actually radioactive with a half life of 1.9x10¹⁹ years.)

    1. Nigel 11

      Re: Pure tin solder?

      There's silver in that solder as well. ISTR about 2%. Probably worth more than the gold content.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cu, Al, Fe, Ta, Tn, Si, Nd (Fantalist Dunce?)

    Best i can do is "FATALIST DUNCE".......with an N left over:(


    1. tony2heads

      Re: Cu, Al, Fe, Ta, Tn, Si, Nd (Fantalist Dunce?)

      Sealant Duct Fin

      Fancied Last Nut

      Instanced Fault

      (picked from

  3. Chris Miller


    Fascinating article (as ever). I'm curious as to how they go about extracting the valuable stuff - heat, acid, both ... ?

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: @Tim

      I don't know for everything, but the recycling company I used a few years back when I ditched about 1500 HDD's, a bunch of computers and other equipment said they did the following:-

      1) Electronic equipment such as PC's were resold to schools in third world companies. He explained that much of the UK aid budget goes into vouchers that can be spent on stuff from UK companies, so they sell on semi decent computers to them with new hard drives and images.

      2) HDD's he receives gets pulled from the machine and melted down. In our case we'd already done this for wiping & deguassing, but he put them through his volumentric disintergratior on site (provided free of charge because of the quantity of drives I was destroying) because we were equally as determined that our names would not be attached to any data escaping.

      While converting the drives to scrap metal, we discussed his next step which was to put the HDD metal in a furnace. Apparently when a few thousand drives get melted it seperates out into layers of the different metals, so you just carefully remove layers of aluminium, steel, gold and small amounts of more valuable metals like palladium.

      1. Tim Worstal

        Re: @Tim

        The more scrap you've got of anything the more each piece is worth. One piece might be worth x, each piece of 100 pieces 2x and each piece of 1,000 pieces 3x. Not scaling like that, but definitely each piece increasing in value the more pieces you have.

        Precisely because you need to get to a certain volume before it's worth trying to process it.

  4. Richard Jones 1

    Civic Amenity

    I was at the Civic Amenity yesterday with several old computers and cards. The cards were just dumped in the metal bin because, "there's no market for the precious metals from them."

    They were really only interested in the power leads because of the copper - (I kept a lot of usable cable back as I love having usable spare). OK my small collection of cards did not amount to much but there is a steady flow of other machines and as a collection point one would expect that they would be slightly more on the ball than that. I wondered if somewhere else might have been better.

    1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge

      Re: Civic Amenity

      > "there's no market for the precious metals from them."

      Considering that the concentration of gold is much higher than in gold ore and it's much easier to extract that's curious. Maybe the proper answer would have been "we don't do it".

      1. Nigel 11

        Re: Civic Amenity

        Possibly harder (or more expensive) to crush and digest a tonne of scrap electronics than a tonne of rock. Crushed circuit board may be hard to dispose of. Does seem odd though, especially since there's also silver and tin in the solder.

        1. Tim Worstal

          Re: Civic Amenity

          Bloke I know had a lovely system.

          Sn/Pb solders form a eutetic alloy (posh word for "dissolves instantly into") with Au at 280 oC or so.

          So, have a bath of molten solder, run the circuit boards through it. All the solder and Au will end up in the bath, the Cu and the fibre of the board can then be processed separately (chopped, Cu extracted, then make bricks from the fibre).

          Now you've an ever increasing amount of solder plus Au in your bath. You cool, then electrolytically refine. This commands a 10% premium over virgin solder as it is more pure. And the gold ends up as sludge on the bottom of your refining tank.

          Cute system.

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Civic Amenity

      The problem is that many (UK) civil amenity sites have deals for taking away computers (ie. complete system units and monitors) but not components, hence why the lack of interest. Knowing this you simply pack your components inside a system case, because computer recyclers will be able to put the components into the correct bins...

      This is also the reason why it is good practise to send non-working mobile phones to the relevant recycling schemes. rather than taking them to the civil amenity.

  5. Necronomnomnomicon

    In most places in the UK, there's WEEE recycling companies who are happy to take the stuff away for free. We've got a local one who'll pick up anything more than 10 PCs at no charge, Presumably they're turning a profit on it, but they also support local charities and that's about as good as it gets for small scale operations.

    I imagine if you had a whole data centre that needed melting down you'd think about it differently, but for small businesses with not much, the value generated probably doesn't pay for the time and effort of sorting it yourself. Specialisation of labour and all that.

  6. BenBell

    Refused Purchase Order

    My boss just refused my purchase request for "New Gold, Copper, Aluminium, Silicone, Tin and Lead stockpiles".

    Apparently, the proper term is "Domain Controllers".

    10 minutes of my life wasted.

  7. AdamT

    Gold FTW ! (when soldering)

    I used to work for a company where long life and corrosion resistance were very, very important so almost all the electrical bits ended up being gold plated to some degree or other. For similar reasons, connectors were not allowed - everything had to be soldered. I have to say soldering a gold plated wire onto a gold plated pin was always a real pleasure - it's about the only time even a non-expert can get the textbook solder fillet!

    1. the spectacularly refined chap

      Re: Gold FTW ! (when soldering)

      That's something of a mixed bag. Gold wets very well when soldering and yes that allows great looking joints to be made easily. The flip side is that the resulting joints tend to be very brittle. I've had instances of gold soldered joints failing with much less force than you'd expect. Often the actual joint is perfectly intact, it has simply lost all adhesion to what it was attached to.

  8. Bob H

    In the broadcast world the connectors used to be silver coated because connections and repeated reconnection would always remove any corrosion. Some connectors would have been in place for decades without any issues. I think the gold thing is half about 'shiny shiny'.

    1. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

      Other half is rather serious. Gold is much less susceptible to electrochemical changes. This becomes quite important in high-frequency and high-power applicatons. For audio, silver may suffice.

  9. Sarah Balfour

    As nobody else has mentioned it…

    …I guess it *is* just me finding the iron and steel pic somewhat unnerving. Perhaps the LSD hasn't completely worn off yet…

    Tim you're freaking me out, man!

    1. Notas Badoff

      Recycled art is often toxic

      Once you've extracted the wow and the ha-ha, you are left with the moans and the "we paid someone for that?" The picture reflects that rather well.

      True story: an up-and-coming student artist conceived of a macro-installation of telephone poles and pole sections, assembled outdoors (obviously) and named something with the word 'hedgehog' included. 40-50 feet tall with one long pole as spine and sections poking out from that in a spiral (or randomly?). Even back when (B.C.Phones) it was much photographed ridicule-lessly. Cue spring break. Cue coming back from spring break and finding that the grounds people had had it hauled away to the dump after breaking it down as the junk they judged it. Cue trying to get a course grade based on the results of a public appeal for photographs.

  10. Alistair

    interesting. We ended up with legislation

    Electronics things have to be recycled. In fact, we now pay (on certain items) a pre loaded recycling fee for this. And... we have to *take* the recyclables on which we pay this pre loaded fee *to* the recycler.

    Recycling around here is apparently *very* good business. (Yes it includes computers -- ODDLY - only when bought by an individual person - if you have a GST # you don't pay the fee, since you are thus a company)

    *blink* *blink*

    And I'll guarantee that those things we do this with STILL end up getting broken down by 10 year old kids in a garbage dump in china.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Have a guy I know who does IT recycling. One of his friends used to come in and take bags of old ram chips off him for a pittance. Did it for a few years.

    One day the friend appeared in a brand new Mustang car.

    Apparently he and his wife spent most evenings cutting the gold off the ram and then getting the money...

    The recycler was a tad gobsmacked but said good luck to him - must have been bloody boring !

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