What to Do with an Old Computer


Authored by K. Thor Jensen in Computer Hardware
Published on 09-17-2009

Ten years ago, this question would have seemed almost ludicrous – an old computer was still, in most cases, a perfectly good one. But with the exponential growth of hardware capabilities, what was cutting edge a few years ago can now feel hopelessly out of date, and the obsolescence curve for computer hardware grows steeper by the day. If you have been involved in computing for some time, you most likely have at least one junker machine sitting around gathering dust. Well, instead of throwing it out, I’ve compiled a list of suggestions on what to do with your old computer that may save you money or make somebody else’s life easier. Ready? Let’s get to it.

One interesting use for a reasonably old computer is turning it into a dedicated multimedia player. It’s more than likely that your junker has a sound card on board, and that’s really all it needs to push MP3s out to a pair of speakers. Wipe everything from the hard drive but Winamp, load all that free space up with music, and hook it up to your home stereo to run a low-profile, cheap jukebox. With a little more effort, a $50 TV Out card can make that old box into a serviceable digital video machine as well, pushing downloaded movies and TV shows right to your big screen.

If you’re a little handier, you may want to crack open the case itself and have some fun with the various components of your computer. There’s a vast array of do-it-yourself projects that can be done with the guts of a PC, from repurposing the memory to using the internal fans to cool other projects. And, of course, dozens of wacky things have been done with discarded PC cases, from making them into coffee machines to using them as guitar amplifiers. If the computer is already past its prime, there’s no harm in opening it up and becoming familiar with its inner workings. Treat this as a learning experience and you’ll be better equipped to deal with hardware problems on your own in the future.

And, of course, if you can’t find a use for your old computer hardware around the house, there’s many, many places outside of it that would gladly take it in. Your first port of call should be local schools – with budgets drastically shrinking due to the recession, most public schools are on the hunt for anything that will help them keep students engaged and learning. Many major cities have larger programs that match technology donations with needy parties, but in a smaller town you may have to do some legwork. If that doesn’t pan out, donating the machine to a local homeless shelter, family resource center or other institution that services the disenfranchised is a very kind thing to do. And, if all else fails, you can give it away on Craig’s List – you’ll make at least one other human being happy that way, and sometimes that’s worth it.

Here’s hoping this article has given you a new lease on life for your aging computer hardware.


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