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Q: Precious metas in computer hardware ( Answered,   1 Comment )
Subject: Precious metas in computer hardware
Category: Science > Technology
Asked by: crazydon-ga
List Price: $30.00
Posted: 18 Jul 2004 08:18 PDT
Expires: 17 Aug 2004 08:18 PDT
Question ID: 375722
Are precious metals located in computer keyboards and/or harddrive?
And if so, where are they located exactly?
Subject: Re: Precious metas in computer hardware
Answered By: hibiscus-ga on 18 Jul 2004 12:03 PDT
Hi Crazydon, 

The short answer to your question is yes, there are precious metals in
computer hard drives and perhaps even in some keyboards, but the
reality is that they're present in such miniscule amounts that
retrieving them would be nearly impossible. Even if it were possible
to retrieve them the quantities involved wouldn't be worth very much
(consider that you can buy a whole keyboard brand new for well under
ten dollars, and a hard drive for under eighty, so the precious metals
would be worth only a fraction of that).

Let's start by looking at the phsycial structure of a hard drive.  The
drive comes in a metal enclosure that's usually made of aluminum. On
the back of the drive are various connectors for power and data which
are made of aluminum and plastic (occasionally there's a bit of gold
coating the connectors). The bottom of the drive often has an exposed
circuit board which may in some cases have extremely small amounts of
gold in the traces, though more usually the traces would be aluminum.
This gold (if it's present) is wedged between the plastic layers of
the circuit board and would be nearly impossible to access. Attached
to the board are a few integrated circuits (black squares or
rectangles) that may contain extremely small gold wires. Again,
accessing them would be nearly impossible.

Inside the drive sits a motor to spin the platter, one or more
platters that store data, and an arm that moves across the disk to
read and write data.  The motors, while of extremely high quality,
would not have any material of value. The arm is made of aluminum or
other lightweight alloys. At the tip of the arm sits the read/write
head which would not typically be composed of particularly valuable
materials either. Attached to the arm is a ribbon cable which may have
some tiny amount of gold in the traces, but again it would be
impractical to retrieve it. The movement of the arms is controlled by
a voice coil actuator, an electromechanical system that uses magnets
to position the read/write head on the drive. The mechanism uses
strong magnets but does not involve any precious metals.

The final major component of the hard drive, as well as the most
prominent one, is the platter (or platters, as some drives have
multiple platters stacked above each other). In early hard drives
platters were made of aluminum, but in newer drives they're made of
glass or a glass composite. Information stored on hard drives is
stored magnetically, so an extremely thin (just microns thick) layer
of magnetic material is applied to the glass. The material on older
drives is mostly composed of iron oxide, more commonly known as rust.
This is, as you can guess, pretty much worthless. Newer drives use a
thin film technology that applies different magnetic materials (cobalt
alloys) to the platter. In order to achieve higher data density a
further layer of material is added that stabilizes the magnetic
properties of the magnetic layer. This additional layer is composed of
Ruthenim, a Platium group metal that is very valuable.  But here again
it's applied in such minute quantities that retrieving it would be all
but impossible.

Moving on to they keyboard we have an even worse situation as far as
retrieving valuable materials. At least in the case of a hard drive
there were some precious metals hidden away deep inside. By contrast a
keyboard has almost nothing of value in it. The keyboard is made up of
the plastic housing, the plastic key caps, and, depending on the type
of keyboard, a bunch of little springs or a bunch of rubber domes.
When they key is depressed contact is made on the flexible plastic
circuit board hidden away below the keys. This board has traces made
of aluminum but nothing more precious than that. The keyboard will
also have some sort of small integrated circuit which may contain
minute amounts of gold inside of it.

That's about it for precious metals in hard drives and keyboards. As
you can see it wouldn't be worth anyone's time to try to retrieve
them, though it would be an impressive show of determination to
attempt it.

I hope this has proved useful to you.


Further reading:

Micro House PC Hardware Library Volume I: Hard Drives - Very good
in-depth information about the construction and functioning of
magnetic hard drives.

All about Ruthenium (Ru).

Terabyte Territory - Article from American Scientist about new hard
drive technologies and how they're improving data density.

A Brief History of the Hard Disk - Not so brief and has lots of information.

Everything you've ever wanted to know about PC keyboards.

Search terms used: construction of computer keyboards; how hard drives
are made; hard drive thin film media; how hard drives are made
+ruthenium; ruthenium platinum;
Subject: Re: Precious metas in computer hardware
From: triptych-ga on 24 Jul 2004 17:35 PDT
Older vintage computer electronics have a higher gold content, but the
cost value is usually at BEST a few dollars per POUND... The problem
that grinding up and processing this material to extract precious
metals has a cost PER POUND as well. There are companies that do this,
but it only in an industrial context with huge amounts of scrap. The
economics do not work otherwise

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