(More than) 5 creative uses for old computers

By Jeremy Lesniak

aNewDomain.net Many of us have old computers lying around. There was a time when you couldn’t do everything with a single computer, but that’s changed. Increasing amounts of storage and computing power makes it easy to use any desktop or laptop as a workstation, media server, and music player all at the same time. New computers used to mean selling or donating the old one. That’s not the case anymore. Here are some projects you might find more entertaining.

1. Backup Server So long as your old system has a decent-sized hard drive (anything more than 120GB) you could use it as a local backup server. The amount you backup will depend on the amount of space available, of course, but even a few gigabytes are usually enough for your hyper-critical documents. There are lots of ways to automate the backups, but my favorite is Karen’s Replicator.

2. Workstation During Travel Many people are concerned about web browsing when on open Wi-Fi, and they should be. With an old computer at home, you can easily set up any number of remote access applications to access it. This way, you’re actually browsing from your home computer over a secure connection. As a bonus, this configuration is often faster than doing all of your work over the shared connection in the coffee shop, hotel or bookstore.

3. Part it Out There’s some good stuff inside your old computer. The magnets inside mechanical hard drives are incredibly powerful, good for many things. If you don’t want to destroy it, the hard drive could go into your new computer as virtual memory space. You could use the video card (if it has one) to add a second, third or even fourth monitor to your existing computer.

4. Test Bench If you’re someone who tests parts or upgrades often, now might be the time to build a dedicated “bench” computer. There are lots of ways to do this, but the easiest one is to leave the computer as is and pull off all the panels you can. The faster you can access the innards, the faster you can test that RAM module you found under your bookshelf.

5. Something Else There are many single-purpose ideas for an older computer. Connect it to a weather station out in the garage. Buy a large, cheap flat screen TV and use it as a family bulletin board displaying the calendar for everyone in the family. Add a camera and turn it into a self-contained, portable video surveillance system. Think about uses that might involve harsh conditions. This is where that “useless” computer gives you the most value.

I don’t like to waste anything, so I hope you find these ideas useful or trigger an idea for you. If you want to share ideas of creative things to do with an old computer, leave them in the comments below. If we get enough good ones, maybe we’ll do a part two on the subject.

Image credits: Jeremy Lesniak for aNewDomain.net

Based in Vermont, Jeremy Lesniak is managing editor at aNewDomain.net and founder of Vermont Computing, Inc. and whistlekick.com Follow him@jlesniak, on Facebook or email him jeremy@anewdomain.net

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