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10 ways to re-use an old PC

Bring new life to your old machines

At some point in your computing life, you will purchase another shiny new computer to replace your current one.

As throwing away tech gear isn't exactly environmentally friendly, there's a good chance your old machines are gathering dust somewhere in your house. So why not consider recycling them or retrofitting them to serve a new purpose.

Luckily, older PCs and their kin are more than capable of handling a number of new uses; you can turn them into anything from gaming rigs to media stations where everyone in your family can rip CDs and fill up their MP3 players.

Here are my top 10 choices for what to do with a PC that's past its peak as a primary computing device but still has plenty of life in it for other uses.

1. Use an old laptop as a guitar amp

One excellent use for an old computer is to re-imagine it as a guitar amp. You'll need an audio interface to connect a guitar to the computer, and you'll need used computer speakers.

For my amp, I used a seven-year-old Apple iBook G3 that was loaded with OS X 10.4 (Tiger).

That older operating system could be a problem, because most of the newer apps that work as guitar amps - including Native Instruments' Guitar Rig 4 Pro and the free version of Sonoma Wireworks' RiffWorks T4 - require OS X 10.5 (Snow Leopard).

I ended up using Cockos Reaper. It's free for the first 30 days, and after that you need to purchase a licence. While the full commercial version, which can be used by businesses, is $225 (£156), individuals that want the software for personal use can buy a licence for $60 (£41).

It works well on older Macs because it's a light app that doesn't use all of the latest bells and whistles of the Mac OS Core Audio components. The software has guitar distortion sounds, delays and grungy hard rock settings.

Now that I had my amp, I needed an audio interface. I already had a Cakewalk UA-1G, which is a slimline device with just one volume button, a quarter-inch port for the guitar and an attached USB cable.

The driver for the UA-1G worked great with the iBook 3G running OS X 10.4.

I connected a pair of powered speakers and brought my iBook back from the dead, ready to rock.

Interestingly, the sound quality on this older iBook was still quite amazing, mostly because it's not necessarily the Mac that's generating the sound - your computer becomes a fancy controller for the audio interface.

In fact, quality (and the all-important power output) depends more on the speakers you use. I used a pair of Boston Acoustics RS 334 floorstanding speakers that sounded outstanding.

NEXT PAGE: Use an old laptop as an email terminal

  1. Bring new life to your old machines
  2. Use an old laptop as an email terminal
  3. Use your old PC + iTunes as a home media server
  4. Turn any older PC into a gaming rig
  5. Turn an old system into a Folding@Home system
  6. Install Jolicloud to liven up an old netbook
  7. Use an older desktop for movie night
  8. Try home automation using Hawking Tech gear
  9. Run a dedicated gaming server on any old desktop


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