Everything old is new again. This doesn’t just apply to bells and cassettes (seriously, cassettes are making a comeback), but also your old technology.
You have already learned to reuse an old tablet; Now let’s focus on that laptop that you have kept in the back of your closet for many years. Even though this is a slow, virus-infested mess, you might be surprised at how much more life you can squeeze out of it. You probably won’t have to spend any money either.
But, first: assess his condition
First of all: does it start? If it has, for example, a faulty hard drive, cracked screen, or missing / broken keyboard keys, it might be time for the trash / recycle heap. It is neither difficult nor expensive to replace a hard drive, but there is obviously a cost.
But if the material is still good, you have a lot of options. The most obvious: reformat the hard drive and reinstall Windows. (You’ve already moved your data to your new laptop, haven’t you?) It’s worth considering if you have the media you need (i.e. a bootable Windows disc and / or a USB stick ), but it may not be necessary. In fact, assuming the machine is running an older version of Windows, it may not even make sense from a security standpoint. (Best bet if you plan to stick with Windows: perform a clean install of Windows 10.)
Let’s take a look at some cool and practical ways to get that old laptop back up and running.
The old standby: install Linux
This might be my favorite option, as it accomplishes so much at once. When you install Linux, it (possibly, but preferably) overwrites your existing operating system, warts and everything. In its place is a fast-booting, virus-resistant, Windows-like environment capable of anything.
In case you didn’t know it, Linux is an open source operating system that can run thousands of programs, including, but not limited to, office suites like LibreOffice and OpenOffice. It can run browsers such as Chrome, Firefox and Opera; games, like Civilization V and Minecraft; email clients, like Thunderbird; and Photoshop-level image editors, like GIMP.
Need a program only available for Windows? A tool called PlayOnLinux can probably run it on Linux.
If there is one downside, it’s that some areas of Linux have a learning curve, especially when it comes to configuring certain settings. And you may experience compatibility issues with external devices such as printers.
Having said that, I very recommends giving your old laptop a Linux makeover. The only real question: which version (or “distro”, short for distribution) of Linux? There are many to choose from, with Mint and Ubuntu arguably the most popular, with the former coming closest to Windows UI replication.
You don’t know how to do it? Stay tuned for a how-to guide on installing Linux.
Turn it into a Chromebook
What’s a Chromebook if not a regular laptop with limited processing power and a Google-powered interface that doesn’t need a lot of processing power?
So your old laptop should be more than up to the task to run this operating system, called Chromium. Why choose that over Linux? Partly because it works nimbly even on the most modest hardware, and partly because it’s Google end-to-end – a fact that might appeal to Android users and others who participate in it. Google ecosystem.
Indeed, if all you want from your old PC is a web browser and cloud apps, Chromium might be your best bet. And there are at least two free and easy ways to get it: Cub Linux and Neverware’s Cloudready. I’m a fan of the latter, but it’s very easy to try both.
Create your own network attached storage (NAS)
If your old laptop has a fairly large hard drive, consider dedicating it to one single purpose: network attached storage or NAS.
It is not a new concept; the idea is basically to connect a large hard drive to your home network, then make the contents of that drive accessible to all your devices: PCs, phones, tablets, etc. Best of all, you can access the drive not just at home, but anywhere you’re connected. Instead of dumping all your photos in the cloud, you can upload them to your NAS. Instead of storing movies on your phone, you can stream them from your NAS. Do you have the idea?
The oldie-but-goodie choice for this: Free NAS. It is designed to share files both locally and online, and it also offers media streaming features. It works from a bootable CD or flash drive, from which it configures an IP address for your PC. Presto: Quick and easy remote access to laptop hard drive.
Build your own home media center
It is a slightly different animal from a media server. The idea is to turn your laptop into a media center that serves your TV, connecting directly to it for everything from recording broadcast TV stations to watching Netflix on the big screen.
I’ll be honest: I don’t see a ton of value in this option. Netflix isn’t hard to find, and many older laptops don’t have the power for the DVR. (Plus, you need a tuner, antenna, remote control, etc.) Damn it, if yours doesn’t have an HDMI output, the project is pretty much done before you start.
That said, if you want to give it a try, check out this tutorial on how to set up a home media center with Kodi.
Give your brain to science
Remember SETI @ home? This is one more thing. In fact, it started to exist so long ago that you might not recognize the name. SETI @ home connects your PC to a distributed network, using its processor to help analyze data from the radio telescope. In other words, your remaining laptop can now aid you in the search for alien intelligence.
All you have to do is download the Boinc software (available for Windows, Mac and – hint-hint – Linux), then choose SETI @ home from the list of available projects.
If aliens aren’t your thing, Boinc also allows this type of “benevolent math” for things like medical research and climate analysis. The only cost to you is the electricity and the (very minimal) bandwidth required to run the laptop.
Turn it into a webcam
Admit it: you’ve always worried that someone would use your laptop’s webcam to spy on you. Flip the roles with iSpy, an open source video surveillance application for Windows. With it, your old laptop becomes a surveillance camera, which you can use to monitor children, pets, babysitters, the outdoors, or just about anything else.
This could be very useful if you want an inexpensive way to keep tabs on, say, a sleeping baby. On the bright side, iSpy is free for local use (i.e. in your own home), but if you want to view your webcam remotely, the service costs $ 7.95 per month.
Turn it into a digital photo frame
For the serious DIYer, there is nothing more satisfying than taking a laptop apart to its bare parts and then turning one of those parts into something cool – in this case a digital photo frame. After all, that big, high-resolution display needs to be put to good use, right?
There are many tutorials online devoted to this subject; I recommend the aptly named Digital photo frame from a laptop on Instructables. It’s pretty simple: disassemble the laptop, put the screen in a frame, mount the guts of the PC behind the frame, now run photo frame software. But there are plenty of other ways to do it, so run your favorite search engine for more options.
Oh, and as you have already disassembled, put this hard drive in an external case and use it as a USB stick!
Do you have any other ideas for reusing old laptops? Share them in the comments!