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Reuse Your Old Computer

Updated on January 7, 2015

New Uses For Your Old PC

When you upgrade your computer to a newer, faster model; you just throw out the old computer tower? WRONG The next thing to do is work out how you can re-use your old computer and bring new life to an old tower or desktop. We may not want to fix a burnt out processor, but we can use what we have got and make something new.

Most computer tasks do not need cutting edge technology to run, most can use one of the many free operating systems available on the Internet, useful if you have re-used your Microsoft Windows licence for your new computer. Some of the ideas that we look at on this lens might need one or two new computer parts to get it done, but all of the ideas can be done for minimal investment. All these ideas to reuse your old computer tower or desktop will need a working computer in order to work though.

In this lens we will look at using your old computer tower to back up your new desktop computer or laptop (or both), provide a home security system, build a media server and give your kids a computer terminal for their homework.

Your Old Computer Tower is not a heap of junk, it is a whole new world waiting to be explored.

Build a File Server

Back Up Your New Computer

If all the main parts work inside your old computer; you can turn that old desktop into a shiny new file server. People spend a fortune on blank DVDs every few months to back up their new computer systems, but using an old computer and a hard drive means that you can back up as often or as little as you like, with no ghastly old external hard disk drives, no archives of a million blank DVD's and all for the cost of possibly a new hard disk drive.

You can also use a file server to store music or video files so that you can serve them up all around your network whether it be on the Xbox in the lounge, the TV in the bedroom or even the Android Tablet PC you take into the toilet for "those long sessions". All this can be stored on your old computer with just a few modifications and a FREE operating system and software from the community at FreeNAS.org

A file server can run on minimal resources but making the hardware beefy means you can do much more with it; and does not always need costly Microsoft Windows operating systems to work. I have turned my old desktop computer into a file server using FreeNAS, to back-up my home laptop and gaming/work/Squidoo PC and have written a guide to building a file server on new website Build My Own Computer. All I have bought for my old computer tower is a Seagate Barracuda 2TB Drive and installed the FreeNAS software onto an old 2GB USB flash drive.

There are a few really important things to remember if you are going to build a file server though. Most importantly; not all open-source NAS software supports the use of USB connected external hard drives. Certainly while I am using FreeNAS 8.3 this is the case and I purely use internal traditional HDDs.

As long as your computers BIOS allows you to boot from a USB drive (most do) it is so simple even my wife could do it!

Build a Media Centre

If you want to surf YouTube, stream a movie from the Internet or watch a TV Channels catch-up service; not having an Internet enabled TV or poor digital TV coverage can limit what you do. Rather than grab the laptop and have the family crowd a 15in screen; turn your old computer into a basic media centre allowing you to do all this, surf the web and more using any type of analogue or digital television. Converters can be purchased really cheaply from the Internet and with a little bit of soundproofing a computer can be quiet enough for you to freak out at the silence of a Scary Movie.

Your old computer could become a new media centre in your lounge or social room; you could even use a converter to bring new life into an old analogue TV set in the bedroom. It is really easy to turn your old computer into a media server and watch online TV anywhere.

Build Your Own Home Security System

Whether you are protecting the furthest reaches of your sprawling estate, or making sure that the children keep out of your home office; having a security system in your home can sometimes be a lifesaver. Digital webcams and massive hard drives can make setting up your own security system so easy with CCTV management software even being offered as Open Source software such as iSpy Connect. If you have a baby at home you could even SAVE MONEY on your baby monitor by avoiding the expensive all inclusive systems and using a home computer CCTV system with a simple apnea alarm.

Cameras can be wired or wireless and the number is only limited to the software that you use! You can even use the software and your Broadband Internet connection to log in remotely and observe what is going on in your home... maybe you think the baby-sitter is having illicit liaisons while minding your precious little bubbah!

Donate It To Your Children

A Cheap and Cheerful Research Tool

Children have to learn about things at home. I used to hate homework as well but apparently it is a good thing! Refurbish a computer so that they have can research for their latest history assignment about the black death while you are watching BBC iPlayer. Again if you have re-used your Windows licence on your new computer, then you can install many variants of Linux on your old computer and many other freeware equivalents to expensive Microsoft software.

Most Linux computer magazines in your local computer shop will come with some of the most recent Linux distributions. There are many to choose from which may have a graphical interface such as Ubuntu which offers a desktop similar to your Windows installation, or a command line interface which relies more on you being able to run programs from a command line, similar to the Command Prompt in Windows (albeit a full screen Command prompt).

The beauty is that to build a computer designed to be used just for surfing or reading e-mail the hardware requirements are only limited to what the operating system needs to function. The system requirements for a stripped-down Linux operating system with Chrome (or Firefox) and using webmail to read e-mails would work on even single core computers.... remember them?

Free Operating Systems

There are lots of free and cheap operating systems that mean you do not have to waste your expensive Windows licence on an old computer sitting in the corner. All of these are reasonable alternatives that will offer you a similar graphic based experience to what you are probably already used to.

We have not been able to test all of the operating systems on the market and some of those listed here come to us as recommendations that we are still trying to find time and a spare computer to install on.

Donate It To Charity

There are always companies that offer to take electronic devices from you and refurbish them for charities. It is hard to distinguish between them though; will they simply sell your computer on? Will they take care of any sensitive information still on your hard drives?

It is just as easy to do it yourself; there are plenty of "secure deletion" programs on the Internet which are free to download and use; once that is done many local charities would be thankful to receive a second hand computer for it's office work or other tasks. I used to cascade my mid-life computer parts to a local hospital radio station and they would use it to upgrade their studio basic music play-out systems.

Drop us a line with your best ideas and some of the best will end up being featured right here on this lens.... I might even have a go doing them myself next time I upgrade a computer.

Do You Re-purpose your Old Computers?

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    • profile image

      Saket 2 years ago

      Nice ideas. Better than other blog posts which suggest to "SELL YOUR OLD PC". We already know that we can sell/scrap our old computers. What type of novel idea it is?

      My favorite is "Use it as an experimental computer" - I have been doing this with my old laptop since 2013 and yes, its very useful. I converted it into a virtual machine by installing Virtual Box software.

      It helpd me a lot in learning new tools, specially Linux.

      http://goo.gl/sOoH5U

    • cardiffcroupier profile image
      Author

      cardiffcroupier 4 years ago

      @JohnTannahill: Absolutely!

      I try to keep my hardware going as long as I can; saying that I think that I have to do some work on one of my servers this weekend as it sounds like the CPU fan is going.... time to source a new part for that box (and fanless!)

    • JohnTannahill profile image

      John Tannahill 4 years ago from Somewhere in England

      There's loads you can do with old computers. Maybe link one up to a bird nest box camera and have your own srping watch channel. My best tip is to keep a computer going as long as you can. If all you do is normal web stuff and suchlike, keep it clean and uncluttered, it'll go for years.

    • javr profile image

      javr 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I have re-purposed lots of my old computers. They were all very powerful back in their time.

    • cardiffcroupier profile image
      Author

      cardiffcroupier 5 years ago

      @hamstring: Ubuntu is a great and flexible OS. It has a mix of graphical interface and command line interface to let new Linux users to learn the back end as well.

    • hamstring profile image

      hamstring 5 years ago

      I have an old computer that I'm planning on installing ubuntu on... It got some really bad viruses and we had to wipe it.

      I'm kind've excited with my new "project computer"