11 Ways to Put Your Old Computer to Work

Like many of you, I’ve got two or three old computers around the house that are older than five years old. There’s the 7 year old HP513, the 6 year old iMac, 5 year old iBook, the TWELVE year old Acer Aspire and so on….

These computers are so old that they aren’t really good for much of anything any more. After using quad-core PowerMacs and dual core laptops, going back to a 768Mb RAM, 1Ghz Processor is dreadful. You may be in a similar situation but here are a few ways to make that old computer work for you instead of against the feng shui of your apartment!


1. Make it a Linux Machine
I’ve always been curious about Linux but aside from a Xandros, I had no experience running it. So the first thing I did with old my Microsoft machines was either replace and reformat the hard drive and install Linux.

It never hurts to have new experiences and now I can say things like, “Can you call me back? I’m installing an adaptive readahead daemon from the command line!”

This is the biggest downfall of Microsoft, I no longer have my OS install disks and buying a version of XP is still so expensive that it isn’t worth the expense. So turning to Linux to bring those old machines back to life is your best option. Linux isn’t magic, it won’t turn your old computers into lighting fast machines, but you’ve got significantly more control over the speed of your system than using Windows. Not sure how? This tutorial breaks it down for the inexperienced.

2. Turn it into a Torrent Machine
Although the GUI will seem slow as molasses, things like uploads, downloads and file sharing should remain unaffected by the speed (or lack thereof) of your system. On my 7 year-old 513 Pavillion with 768Mb RAM, 1Ghz Celeron Processor machine, I still get up to 40KB/s upload rates and 20KB/s downloads.

So turn that old machine into a torrenting behemoth, especially if it’s a desktop and spends most of the time just sitting around any way.

3. Let it Participate in Important Research.
There are programs that you can run that will allow your computer to participate in world-wide efforts to search for extraterrestrial life, analyze micro-protein data, or to cure cancer. Not convinced of the effectiveness of these programs? Discovery Magazine recently researched 14 of them: click to read on.

Supercomputers are expensive, so investigators with lots of data and little budgets have turned to distributed computing: relying on free help from volunteers who download programs onto their home computers and run the software to analyze small chunks of data. The results are then sent back to researchers to crunch further. Just what has come from a decade of such homegrown efforts? We look at 14 programs to see if they’re worth your processor’s time.

4. Simple Home File Server
This tutorial from How to Forge will show you how to turn your old machine into a network-able file server.

5. Make it a Media Server
Who needs Apple TV when you’ve got a six year old Dell in your basement? As long as you’ve got the proper codecs and player (Winamp, VLC, DiVX etc.) most machines can still play video back. To integrate your old computer with your home theater system, however, you may need a few extra items. Perhaps a wireless keyboard/mouse combo (estimated cost $50) and you can control the computer from your couch. Or you may want to install a video card with a Video Out connector (avilable for less than $100) will let you hook your PC to your television, eliminating the need for a monitor. A number of new home theater systems accept VGA inputs anyways, in which case you can just go straight from the computer to the television.

The most obvious use though is to use it for backing up and serving your entire digital music library for which you’ll just need a cheap 1/8" to RCA audio cable which you can fget from any computer electronics store.

6. Turn it into a Public Server
Every computer is essentially a server, or at least has the capabilities to to serve files. If you have a broadband connection, there are many ways to turn your old machine into a server that could be used to host your own website. Apachee is a free software solution that you may want to look into. Be careful though, many ISPs have a clause in their contracts with you what will prevent high usage of bandwidth for serving websites and files. If you thought Comcast was pissed people who used a lot of bandwidth for torrenting, wait until you try to host a website that gets Dugg!!!! Regardless, here’s how.

7. Donate It
There are a number of schools and charitable organizations that could use an extra machine. Who knows, after they find out how you’ve tweaked it to make it a faster more reliable machine maybe they’ll want to hire you to do the same for their other machines. I’m planning on donating at least one of my own to refugee families who’ve come to the U.S. for asylum.

8. Take it Apart and Sell It For Parts
Believe it or not, a large segment of the population in the U.S. are still using computers older than four to six years old. When you look at the world population computer owners are in the minority, far out numbered by people who have old machines or who don’t have computers at all. That said, there is a healthy market for computer parts that are no longer being manufactured or sold in stores. We’re not talking lots of money here, but you can almost always squeeze a few dollars out of an old computer just for the prehistoric, hard-to-find RAM that’s in it. Ofcourse if you save it long enough, it becomes a ‘classic’ at which point you can get tons of money fgor it on ebay. (Think Apple 2’s or IBM computers)

9. Use It For Back-Up Purposes
Take the hard drive out and place it in an enclosure. The computer may be useless but if the hard drive is still spinning, it’ll make a great place to back up files. The catch her is, do you really want your most important data backed up on a half-decade old harddrive?

Alternatively you can keep the computer running and use it for the sole purposes of an additional back-up in case your newer computers crash. Assuming you have a real back-up solution, old computers make great places for redundant back-ups.

10. Use it for Distributed Processing
This ones tricky, but some programs like Apple’s Logic Pro are well known for their ability to offload certain processor tasks to another computer. Any Mac can be used for this, Mac Mini’s are ideal because they are stackable and cheap enough that you can dedicate two or three to nothing other than node processing.

11. Make it a Word Processing/E-mail Machine
Get a nice flat screen monitor for it, put it in the kitchen, office or living room and make it your household writing system. If you remove all the programs, and reduce system tasks to a minimum, your old computer will make a great text editing station.