If you just bought or were given a new computer, you probably want to get rid of your old computer to save precious space. But before you do that, try giving your old computer a new lease on life by turning it into something useful. If you have old computers lying around, these options can make good use of your old computer.
Tip: several online retailers make it easy to buy and sell used PC parts.
Even in the streaming age, you may miss watching your beloved DVDs and Blu-rays on your living room TV. Fortunately, you can turn your old computer into an always-on media server to host your collection.
Easily turn your PC into a media server with Plex by installing the server-side application on your old PC and the companion streaming app on your favorite platform or device: Android TV, Apple TV, iOS, Android, Roku, or Amazon Fire TV.
Good to know: Plex isn’t the only program that lets you do this. You can also use Kodi or a Kodi alternative.
2. Use It for Network Attached Storage
A network-attached storage (NAS) server is your version of the cloud and a great way to completely control your files. FreeNAS is an excellent open-source solution to this, a UNIX-based operating system that you can easily install on your old computer using a bootable drive. Learn more in our FreeNAS vs. Unraid comparison.
3. Convert It to a Gaming Server
If you’re into multiplayer gaming, using your outdated computer as a dedicated game server can be a great way to keep it alive. Games like Minecraft, DOTA 2, and CS: GO support this feature, as do many others. You can use Steam to easily set up your old computer to host the networking and non-graphical workloads of the game, while the bulk of the processing happens on the players’ individual computers.
Also helpful: use Kodi to turn a PC into a game arcade center.
4. Make It a PC for Kids or Seniors
Any old computer can handle basic word processing, presentations, Web browsing, and email on a Windows or Linux operating system. This renewed PC will be great for kids’ school projects and increasing knowledge on various topics. It’s also a great way to provide a grandparent or great grandparent who just wants to check social media and email with a a basic computer.
5. Set Up a Home Security System
If you don’t want an indoor or outdoor security camera, you can create your own home security system. You need a basic desktop or laptop with a webcam and a program that detects motion. Agent DVR is a great free option that’s available on Windows, macOS, and Linux. You can configure it to send SMS and email alerts, or call and notify you of unexpected movement in your home. You can also use a USB webcam alongside programs like ZoneMinder and Security Eye.
Tip: check whether a webcam would be better than a security camera without a subscription.
6. Create a Digital Photo Frame
One of the coolest things you can do with old computers is turn them into digital photo frames. Apps such as Flickr Slideshow are handy for this. If you’re up for some DIY, you can even take the essential parts of your laptop apart, such as the display, battery, and motherboard, and fit them into a frame big enough to accommodate it.
7. Add an Extra Level of Firewall Protection
With the right set of tools, you can actually use your old PC as a firewall that sits between your new PC and the Internet. With your firewall residing on a separate computer, the risks of your sensitive data being breached are reduced significantly. Plus, you have the flexibility to install a lightweight Linux distro on the old computer to manage the firewall, without disturbing your main OS on your new PC.
Setting up a firewall in Linux on your old PC using UFW (Uncomplicated Firewall) as the firewall layer is one of the best ways to reuse your outdated computer. It’s free network protection for your data.
8. Set Up a Print Server
A print server allows a network to communicate with all available printers and prevents printers from getting overloaded as well. It can help manage print jobs effectively and acts as a dedicated print admin device.
Good to know: setting up a print server on Linux, specifically using Ubuntu and CUPS, can be done for free. All you need is a fresh install of Ubuntu and to configure the CUPS print server.
9. Convert a Laptop into a Tablet
You’ll need some serious DIY skills to take your old laptop apart and make it a functioning tablet. It’s a fun project that’ll keep you busy for a day.
There’s a great tutorial at Instructables to convert a laptop into a touchscreen tablet. Do note that you’ll need a soldering iron, some other tools, and a lot of time on your hands.
10. Join a Distributed Computing Project
If you can leave your old computer hooked up, you can volunteer the bandwidth to people who can make the best use of it. BOINC is a wonderful platform to start with. You will find tons of projects, such as medical research, mathematics, and astrophysics, that can make use of your old computer’s CPU and GPU power.
11. Play Old School Games
For those with a nostalgia itch for old games, an old computer can become the perfect dedicated retro gaming device. You can install an old operating system, like Windows 98, to play the games natively supported by that OS, or use Batocera Linux to turn your computer into a retro gaming machine. Alternatively, install emulators, like DOSBox or VirtualBox, to run old games in Windows on your old computer.
Another interesting way to repurpose your old computer for retro gaming is to turn it into an old-school arcade emulator. The MAME Project is all about bringing back the allure of arcade machines by converting an outdated computer into a full-fledged arcade machine, complete with spring switches and cabinets.
Also helpful: if your former device runs macOS, you can emulate PlayStation games on Mac.
12. Donate It
If nothing else, you can choose to donate your old computer instead of just throwing it away. What’s of no use to you may be of great help to someone else. There are various charitable organizations, like Freecycle, Computers with Causes, PCs for People, and your local Goodwill store. You can also look around your neighborhood for schools, hospitals, or libraries in need of computers and electronic equipment.
Donating your old computer is a great way to help someone in need and keep electronics out of landfills. You can do your bit for a greener planet by giving away your once beloved machine to one of these organizations and bringing happiness to a stranger.
Apart from the ideas mentioned above, there are many other interesting projects to reuse your old computer, such as designating it a living room PC, converting it into a wireless hotspot, or simply using it as your personal experiment rig. Alternatively, check which parts you can salvage from your old laptop, whether you’re continuing to use it or selling it.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons. All screenshots by Tanveer Singh.
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