The Ultimate List of Uses for Old Computers

Are you wondering what to do with that old computer? Well, I will start by skipping the usual… I will not talk about the obvious uses which you probably already know like: “Sell it on eBay”, “Cannibalize it”, “Give it to the Kids”, “Donate it”, “Recycle it” etc. If you wanted to do any of those you wouldn’t be reading this article in the first place, would you? Or other uses that are simply not practical for 99.9% of us… Like building a cluster… That is, if you have more than one old pc, and are prepared to spend more on electricity than what these computers are worth. I am going to give you real no-nonsense uses, which will save you money, make your life easier, and will be plain fun. I will provide you with links that will help you and not just leave you with empty-handed suggestions. Furthermore, I am limiting the applications involved in these projects to the most important, that way you will not loose time trying software not backed by good community-based support.


File server:

freenas logo

I would venture to say that this is easily the most popular use for an old computer now days. Practically any old (p2, p3, p4) computer with sufficient amount of memory and a good hardware-based RAID card can be perfect for a robust file server (or NAS). I’ve read articles claiming that these servers, which are usually built on old computers, are not good enough for the workplace. Not true, it all depends on the amount of users in your organization if you use software or hardware RAID. However, be very careful when building a file server, you do not want to put your precious data at risk. A machine with a good hardware RAID card will do just fine for a small to medium size company. Read my article on how to build your own NAS server. The following are the most popular applications for this project.

Application Recommended Guide
FreeNAS Build your own NAS using freeNAS
Openfiler OpenFiler Installation Guide


Build your own TiVo:

knoppmyth logo

I am sure many of you have wondered, why should we have to pay a monthly fee to record a program we are already paying for. Get that old computer, buy a good hardware video decoder TV tuner card (like the WinTV PVR 250 from Hauppauge), download and install your preferred DVR software and start recording absolutely everything that comes out of your TV screen. (for MythTV I suggest Knoppmyth, since it is the easiest to install). A word of advice, do not try to save money on the TV Tuner card unless are prepared to spend quite a while building this. For example, MythTV is made to work out of the box with the Hauppauge WinTV cards (except the 150). I made the mistake of building one using an old $20 software-decoder TV Tuner card, and yes I got it to work, but after about a month of tweaking and talking in the MythTV forums. The following are the most popular applications for this project:

Application Recommended Guide
KnoppMyth (MythTV) MythTV Installation Video
Freevo Save Money with a Linux Media Jukebox


Build your own SLINGBOX:

Want to watch programs at work? Or any place away from home for that matter? Use your newly built MythTV with the MythStream plug-in. Additionally, if you have Cable or Satellite TV you can purchase an inexpensive IR interface that will send IR signals to your cable or sat box and change the channels, all of that from your remote computer. You can even send a wake-on-lan command from your router to wake your MythTV box so that it does not stay on all the time. If you are not comfortable with Linux yet, there are two other options with Windows that you can try. Orb and Skype.

Application Recommended Guide
MythTV/Mythstream plugin Mythstream Install
Orb Intalling Orb
Skype Create your own ‘free’ Slingbox using Skype


Build your own CCTV (Security Camera) System:

zoneminder logo

Worrying about that new crime wave on your city and want to watch your house from work? Or want to spy on your nanny? Install Ubuntu Linux, install Zoneminder and connect a cheap webcam to it. You can even use a USB hub and connect several webcams. Bear in mind that even if you use USB cable extensions you can only reach about 15 feet. However, if you use a USB to Cat5e extender you can increase that length to 150ft! I will be writing and article about this very soon, so stay tuned!

Application Recommended Guide
Zoneminder and Ubuntu Home video security with Ubuntu and Zoneminder


Build a Home Automation Server:

linuxmce logo

Wish you could control everything on your home theater system? Record programs, dim the lights and lower the air conditioner automatically when a movie starts playing, control your home security system, including alarms and motion-sensing video cameras, all from one server? LinuxMCE is the answer. LinuxMCE is a free and open source PVR/Hone automation system which works with Bluetooth technology to automate different systems in the house. LinuxMCE also supports gyroscopic remote controls.

Application Recommended Guide
LinuxMCE LunuxMCE Intallation and Demo Video


Game Server for Free XBOX Live or PS Online Capabilities:

xbconnect logo

Build a game server that will let you connect with other Xboxes or Playstations on the web using XBConnect. The way XBConnect works is fooling your game console into thinking that it is connected directly to another console close by via a network cable, when in fact it connects you with hundreds of players live on the web. It achieves this by having the XBConnect server running on a third party computer on your home network. That third party computer will identify itself as another xBox (or Playstation). In addition, since all XBConnect does is link your console to other consoles, it does not need powerful graphics or a powerful processor; you will do just fine with your old computer. Just follow the guide listed below and you will be playing live online for free in no time.

Application Recommended Guide
XBConnect Getting started with XBConnect


Build your own Arcade Console:

mame logo

You definitely do not need a powerful machine to play old games; you just need a good game console or arcade machine emulator and your ROMs. For those of you not familiar yet with emulators, there are numerous places on the web that have good material on them. Emulators are basically programs that “emulate” game consoles (or any other machine for that matter). ROMs are games extracted from the original media and stored as files on your computer. Install your favorite flavor of Linux, load MAME and your ROMs, and you are set. You will find plenty of guides and videos on the web on this popular subject. The guide below is what I consider to be the best introductory one.

Application Recommended Guide
MAME How to build your own arcade system


Build your own Firewall/Router:

pfsense logo

You are probably thinking… why would I want to run a firewall at home? Well the uses and advantages are countless. The word firewall does not mean it only protects you from the outside world. Firewalls like PFsense, m0n0wall or Smoothwall are free and they are extremely versatile. You can run Squid Proxy and have a catching proxy at your house which could increase your web speed significantly. In addition you can create different profiles with passwords to use the web. That way your kids will be restricted from reaching websites not aimed at their age range. You can also run a web server inside your home network and use the firewall to route (or NAT) the connection from the outside world to your server and vice-versa. Try doing this with a Linksys router, you will probably not get very far. Here is a list of the most popular free firewalls. Many more exit, however, I do not want to waste your time trying others that will do the same or less and do not have good community–based support.

Application Recommended Guide
Pfsense Installing PFSense
M0n0wall M0n0wall – PC Platform Quick Start Guide
Smoothwall Smoothwall Gateway Installation
ClarkConnect HOWTO – Clarkconnect – Linux Router/Firewall
IPCOP IPCOP Installation Manual
DevilLinux Build your own network firewall


Build your own Web Server:

xampp logo

Want to run your own blog from home? Or want to host big files on your website for download?. Host it at home for free. Build yourself a firewall like the one stated above and connect to FreeDNS. Which, as it name states, is free. Free DNS offers a solution to your ever-changing dynamic IP. Your firewall/router will ensure your web server always connects to FreeDNS and free DNS will translate your dynamic IP into a static one. FreeDNS will even give you a URL if you need one. If you want to run your blog from home you are going to need PHP and MYSQL as well. Now things got a little complicated right? Not so, just install XAMPP. XAMPP comes with everything in one package to make the installation process easy for you. XAMPP installation is so simple that you will be surprised how easy it is. In addition, XAMPP runs Apache, the most popular web server in the world, and it can be installed on both Windows and Linux. Some internet providers are not comfortable with letting its customers running their own web server from home so make sure you read your provider’s TOS before embarking on this project.

Application Recommended Guide
XAMPP / FreeDNS Installing Xampp and WordPress


Build your own Print Server:

This is probably the easiest of all projects, just network your computer somewhere in the house, install your printer drives and share them. This would be perfect for a small office using a workgroup. However for home, in my opinion, it will be a waste to have a computer running all the time just to print occasionally, unless you want to install other servers on your machine, but up to you to decide. It will make more sense to share your printer using an existing computer. A better choice would be to get a low-powered appliance built solely for this purpose; yet these can be a little pricy.

Application Recommended Guide
Linux or Windows How to convert an old pc to a network print server


Build your own Proxy Server:

squid logo

I actually have this running at my workplace. Loaded up an old gateway PIII machine with Fedora (free version of Red Hat Linux) installed Squid proxy and it has been working for more than a year without a hiccup for 200 employees. Ever since I installed it, it has never gone down; in fact I would venture to say that it is my most reliable server at work. Configuration through Webmin is a breeze, just make sure you enable squid during the Linux installation process. I learned that old computers could be used reliably in the workplace early in my carrier. I used to work for a national electrical utility company that had their whole security access card system running on an old dinosaur IBM x86 computer, talk about ancient!

Application Recommended Guide
Linux with Squid System administration with Webmin – CH 12 squid


Create an internet Radio Station:

icecast logo

Wish you could listen to all your mp3 collection? Have you ever dreamed of becoming a radio station host? Look no further. Icecast can make your dreams come through. Icecast is an open source audio streaming server.

Application Recommended Guide
Icecast How to create an internet radio station


There are a few things to consider before deciding to give new life to your old computer. You must take into account the amount of time this will take you, the amount of electricity it will consume and the aesthetics. It will not do you any good to build a server if your loved one prohibits you from having it. ;) Also, bear in mind that you can run more than one application on these servers. Since the majority of these projects run on Linux and are not distribution dependent, you can run more than one on the same server as long as one application does not affect the performance of the other. For instance, you can have a File/Print server combination, or a PVR/Streaming server combination, etc. That way you will utilize you server more efficiently. Hope you found this information interesting.

11 comments:

  1. Linuxiac38, 24. August 2011, 13:55

    Juk? Old computer Juke box server plays the chosen songs on multiple individual networked computers…
    Yep, there is potential to serve movies! The quality depends on number of network nodes and bandwidth.

     
  2. Lawn Care Advice, 10. June 2011, 2:30

    I use my old Mac as a game machine for my little boy, as well as a media centre. I hate seeing people throwing away old computers when they are still so useful. I’m trying to get my hands on an old PC so I can turn it into a dedicated media centre running Linux!

     
  3. deepa.v, 3. May 2011, 5:19

    computer is the one of the most useful to man in day today life.comp. is the best article.

     
  4. dacree, 31. March 2011, 9:14

    I did not know about Orb. Thanks for this.

     
  5. Old Computer: not ok | 41cmc's Blog (Pingback), 5. June 2010, 20:32
  6. Top Ten Uses For an Old Computer (Pingback), 5. May 2010, 5:59
     

    [...] "computer art" or "recycling them") so here's an article that talks about it The Ultimate List of Uses for Old Computers | geekyprojects.com Reply With Quote [...]

     
  7. blah blah black sheep, 26. December 2009, 15:11

    Make headless BOINC clients. Good for P2+. Install a light-weight Linux distro (with or without GUI). Get internet going on it (ethernet or wireless). Install BOINC. Let it go to work. Put that ‘puter to work on life-changing science.

     
  8. Doug, 4. December 2009, 15:37

    I use old laptops to make music playing tables. Good for parties.

     
  9. Sajith Rathnayake, 26. July 2009, 22:07

    Excellent!!!
    Keep going.

     
  10. Naphtali, 22. September 2008, 15:57

    Wonderful article! I’m sure I’ll be trying out some of them in the near future. Good luck on your website.

     
  11. andy, 20. May 2008, 9:24

    Great article. I always thought I was weird running all my recycled appliances at home.

    The best thing is this: I have NO Linux/FreeBSD knowledge but I have successfully run three appliances for YEARS!

    I run Zoneminder (video surveillance) and FreeNAS (i reuse all my old harddisks into a huge terrabyte backup solution) and for Firewall I run IPCOP/COPFILTER (firewall, filtering, spam etc) for 3 years it is a wonderfully sound and easy firewall appliance. You should add it to the list of must-haves.

    Yes they do generate heat. But aesthetically – ? What’s not to like!!

    thanks :-)

     

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