Ten Things To Do With an Old Computer

Just because you purchased a new computer and your old one will not run Vista or the latest games doesn’t mean you should throw it away. There are a lot of projects you can do with an older computer.

Note: Many of the examples include video how-to’s from the great tech DIY podcast Systm hosted by Revision3. If tech is your thing, Revision3 probably has a podcast for it.

1. Turn it into a file server

Have a large collection of digital photos or music files? Have multiple computers and want to have the same files available to all of them? With just a few minutes time, you can turn that old computer into network attached storage (NAS) using FreeNAS. The only gotcha: hard drive space can be limited in older computers, so to really make use of this tip, you will want to invest in a larger hard drive.

2. Turn it into a web browsing station

For many people a web browser is all they need. Plug in your internet connection and go. Now your friends can surf the web without messing with your computer. Or the kids can surf the web without kicking you off of your machine. Recommendations: Install Microsoft SteadyState along with current anti-virus software (like AVG) on Windows XP machines, or use a Linux Live CD (see tip #5)

3. Turn it into a high-end firewall

Many consumer grade routers have a simplified feature set that caters to mass-market appeal. Using the open-source software IPCop, you can turn even really old hardware into a great firewall. If you are looking for a firewall with easier administration or more features you can also try: Smoothwall, m0n0wall, or ClarkConnect

4. Record, Playback, and Share Video with MythTV

Most people are familar with Tivo, the device that lets you record, pause, rewind, and playback live tv, and many cable and dish providers have their own DVRs, but did you know that with a low-cost video capture card and MythTV you can turn your old pc into a Lost recording, sports highlight watching Tivo beater? This works best when you either have network attached storage setup or a large hard drive in the MythTV server (see tip #1).

5. Install an alternative OS

Most people only use the operating system that came preloaded with their computer. On 99% of the computers in the world, this means Microsoft Windows. Learning to use a different operating system will teach you a lot about how computers work. There are many different alternative operating systems out there, with the most popular being linux. What confuses many people is that there are many different distributions of linux, each one with different software bundled and installed out of the box. For first time linux users, I recommend distributions that emphasize ease of use, like Ubuntu, Fedora, or openSUSE. Each one of these distributions also have Live CD versions, which means you can burn them to a cd and try out the operating systems without installing them on your computer. If you don’t like them, pop the cd out and your machine returns to normal.

6. Upgrade It to learn how computers work

An old computer can be a great tool to learn about computer hardware, upgrading and troubleshooting. You can tear it apart, break it, put it back together again. EPC has tons of spare parts and pieces for computers, contact our sales department to find out what we have, or go to our eBay store.

7. Home Automation and/or Security Camera system

Similar to tip #4, you can automate your home using LinuxMCE. LinuxMCE includes a phone system, home automation using X10, security camera video control, recording, and playback, and TV / video recording and playback. The initial configuration can take some time, but if your goal is whole house automation, LinuxMCE is an awesome project.

8. Turn it into a work of art

In the non-working computer category: turn your old computer into a work of art. Some have turned their computers into aquariums (also works great with computers with a side window), planters, mini-fridges, and other works of art. With a little creativity, you could be the Picaso of Computer Parts.

Many charitable organizations, like Goodwill, take your old computer parts and sell them to raise money. Look for a company in your area. Many tech schools will accept old computers to use in labs or as training tools.

10. Recycle It

Lastly, but definitely not least – do not throw your old computer parts into the trash. There are many hazardous chemicals in computers that should not end up in landfills. Find a reputable recycler in your area that will dispose of the electronics properly. Those in the St. Louis area, bring them into EPC’s retail store in St. Charles.

About Brian Wahoff

Brian is the Chief Technology Officer of EPC, Inc. He loves coding, reading, and all things baseball. He can be followed on G+ at: http://plus.google.com/100790194652208537537


  1. Mar 24, 2009
    4:04 am

    Atlanta Private Investigator

    Excellent article. Thanks for sharing. I hadn’t thought of the “work of art”. Nice.

  2. Mar 24, 2009
    12:28 pm

    Brian Wahoff

    One of my coworkers let me know about an alternative to SteadyState that works on Windows, Mac, and Linux: Deep Freeze from Faronics.

  3. Apr 3, 2009
    10:25 pm


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