Repurposing Your Old PC
Now that we’re all hooked on our tablets and smartphones, let’s face it, those old “PeeCees” are getting less and less use in our everyday lives. But that hardly means their usefulness has run out! Here are some great ideas to extend the lives and functionality of your aging hardware.
Hook it up to Your HDTV
Your living room widescreen isn’t much more than a huge computer display. Many laptops and desktop PCs come with HDMI ports these days, so connect it to your TV with an HDMI cable (and beware: if you’re asked to pay more than $20 for ANY HDMI cable, I don’t care how much unnecessary gold it has, you’re being had), grab a wireless keyboard & mouse combo and off your go, watching silly cats in 40+ inches! If you’re running an older desktop without an HDMI port (sorry, this doesn’t apply to older laptops, but your TV might have a VGA port if you’re lucky), new video cards can be had for cheap from online retailers like Amazon and NewEgg, but you’ll need to be sure that your computer can handle them. Follow these eHow directions to check on the compatibility of your system with a particular video card or take your PC to your trusted electronics expert for the upgrade.
Turn It into a Network Storage Hub
Many households these days have multiple laptop and/or desktop computers. Setting up one computer to share files such as music and movies between them all will cut down on time, frustration, and redundant storage. Pick out one computer, make sure it’s connected to your local network, uninstall any unnecessary programs to free up storage, maybe add a high-capacity USB hard drive, and follow these steps from lifehacker.com for setting up Windows 7 HomeGroups (or Windows XP or Windows 8).
Turn It into a Steam Box
Steam is the largest name in buying and playing PC video games and, with the right hardware, can rival the XBox 360 or the Playstation 3. If your desktop computer is powered by a 2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo or more powerful processor, you can follow the steps in the HDTV section above to add a powerful graphics card capable of running the latest and slickest games. Plug in an XBox 360 Controller for PC, hook it up to your TV, install Steam and you’ve got a custom gaming rig for hundreds less than a brand new console!
Stream Media to Your Tablet and Smartphone
This is similar to turning your PC in a network storage hub, but while Apple and Android tablets and smartphones don’t play nicely with Windows file-sharing, you can install media server programs on your PC to stream to these devices. For video on iOS I highly recommend AirVideo Server—for $3 you can stream any kind of video file from your PC OR Mac to your iDevice; on Android, get yourself setup with Emit. For audio on iOS, all you need to do is setup Home Sharing inside of iTunes on your computer and on your iDevice; on Android, give Subsonic a shot.
P.S. There’s no reason your PC can’t be both a Network Storage Hub and a Media Server for your mobile devices at the same time.
Get it Ready to Recycle, Donate, or Sell
Maybe you just want to free up some space in your home, give the PC to a friend, sell it or take it to a local electronics recycling center. Whatever you choose to do, there are some steps you must follow prior to parting with your one-time technological wonder.
First and most importantly, make copies of any files you’d like to keep. Back them up on DVDs, flash drives, external hard drives, whatever your choice, because once that machine is gone, it’s gone!
Second and most importantly (Yes, yes, both steps are most important—it’s my blog post. I’ll write what I like.), you’ll want to erase the hard drive. Most computers come with utilities to restore a factory image of the hard drive so that once the utility has been successfully run, it’s like you’ve got a brand new computer again. Problem is, these utilities don’t actually erase the hard drive’s contents. Even if they claim to reformat the hard drive, these utilities never do anything of the sort. To truly erase a hard drive, download a free utility I’ve come to love called DBAN: Darik’s Boot and Nuke, burn the .iso file to a CD, and boot your computer from it. Follow this guide from Cornell’s IT department to erase every last bit of information from your hard drive.
Once that’s done, if your computer came with restore CDs, you can reinstall Windows, or download and install a version of Linux, such as the popular Ubuntu—get MakeUseOf’s complete guide to installing and using Ubuntu for Beginners. Or, just leave it blank and recycle, donate, or sell it.
So, don’t just scrap that old machine—be good to the environment and yourself and find a new life for it!