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12 ways to reuse an old PC

Recycle your old machine at home

At some point in your computing life, you'll end up replacing an old machine in favour of a shiny new computer. But what should you do with your old PC?

You'll probably feel guilty about throwing it out. After all, it's perfectly functional. When you first bought it, it was near state-of-the-art. If your new PC replaces one that's really on its last legs, by all means, take it to a reputable electronics recycler. But it's amazing how many users ditch perfectly good machines when they pick up a shiny new system.

You can do plenty of things with an old PC besides sending it to the recycling heap. Let's take a look at a few ways you might put that old system to work.

1. Convert it into a NAS or Home Server

If you're running a home network and have multiple users - you, your spouse, your kids - reuse as network-attached storage or even as an actual server may be just the ticket for an old system.

However, it's not just a matter of plugging an old PC into a network connection and starting it up. Most desktop systems aren't configured to be effective servers or storage systems. For one thing, they probably use too much power. You'll want to set BIOS power management to run cooling fans in quiet mode, if that option exists. You'll also need to set up the operating system so that it doesn't shut down at inconvenient times, yet run in a low power state when it's not being actively used.

Bear in mind that you'll probably want to run your server 'headless' (that is, without a monitor), and sans keyboard and mouse as well. While you'll need a display and input devices for the initial setup, make sure the system will work properly without them. Having a scheduled reboot hang because the system halted during start-up (it couldn't find a keyboard, perhaps) is annoying, to say the least.

Also, the operating system is likely not well suited for storage applications, particularly for multiple users. While Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7 can function well as a storage repository for a couple of users, you'll want to take the time to create user accounts for each person who might need access. In some cases, you may want to set storage quotas.

A better solution would be to install a proper network operating system. One choice is Windows Home Server. However, that will cost you somewhat north of £70, and WHS may prefer newer hardware. An alternative is FreeNAS.

FreeNAS is open-source software designed to turn a PC into a network-attached storage device. It's based on FreeBSD, a UNIX variant. If you're uncertain whether you want to commit to an unfamiliar OS, FreeNAS can be downloaded as a LiveCD version. This is an ISO file which, when burned to a CD, will boot off an optical drive and run completely from memory. You can keep your old OS on the hard drive until you determine if FreeNAS is suited to your needs.

NEXT PAGE: Donate it

  1. Recycle your old machine at home
  2. Donate it
  3. Dedicate it to 'Distributed Computing'
  4. Secondary computing server
  5. Sell it


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