How to: 6 cool things to do with your old computer
| by Rossi Fernandes
We’ve all cycled through PCs and notebooks and there always comes a time when you can’t upgrade your PC any more, or even sell it. The only option left is to sell it off as scrap or let it lie around gathering dust. However, there are a number of things that you can do with your old PC by just installing a bunch of software on it. Here are a few of our suggestions.
As a Home Theatre PC
We’ve already spoken of this in the past. One of the easiest things to do with an old PC or notebook is to use it as an HTPC. All you need to do is connect it to a TV or a large screen using a connector -preferably HDMI - or any other option available.
Your old PC - your home entertainment playback system
Once you’ve done that, all you need to do is install a free HTPC software called XBMC. The software has a simple user interface, similar to those found on media players and consoles such as the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The software also supports Android remote controls apps and DLNA, so you can even stream media from one PC to another over the network. XBMC is available for Windows, Linux, OS X and even as a liveCD called XBMbuntu.
As a remote torrent downloader
Many of us download torrents. It’s one of the most convenient ways to download content off the web without much trouble. There are many different clients available for different platforms. uTorrent is one of the most popular torrent clients available for Windows. The program is tiny and runs in the background, consuming close to no resources at all. With an old, low-power PC, you can have it downloading data all the time. You can even remotely control it over your network or even over the Internet on your mobile phone.
Remotely control torrent downloads
To do this, download and install uTorrent and then enable the WebUI component from the Preferences menu. Now, create a scheduled task in Windows that forces uTorrent to load in the background without having to log in. This way, uTorrent always runs in the background without you having to manually start it. Also, set a download folder in uTorrent so newly-added torrents download directly to that folder. Subsequently, register for a free domain service such as DDNS so accessing your PC is easier. Now, with webUI enabled, you can access the uTorrent interface on a PC, notebook, tablet or even your phone. Remember to look out for free uTorrent apps for your mobile platform. If you prefer using Linux, there are other alternatives such as rTorrent and Transmission.
As a NAS device at home
Our homes are increasingly connected these days .Every device seems to have some kind of network connectivity option. People these days use one or two PCs, a notebook, a smartphone, and sometimes, even a tablet. There’s a lot of data that transferred around and it’s ideal to have a single server that takes care of all your data needs.
You can use one of your existing PCs or notebooks and attach a large enough hard drive to it, say 1 or 2 TB, depending on your requirements. If you’re going to be streaming movies and music, you’d need this kind of space. For photos and documents, even a 500 GB hard drive may be more than sufficient. In the case of a notebook, you can simply use an external hard drive. In the case of a PC, an internal hard drive is the more economical option available.
While it’s possible to enable file sharing on Windows or Linux, it’s better to use more specialised software. FreeNAS is a specialised NAS server software that is basically a very light-weight operating system; it is just a 96 MB download. You can configure the server via the software using a web interface, remotely. You won’t even need to use a monitor to use the server. All you do is burn the image on a disc and install it on your PC or notebook. The software supports pretty much every popular file system out there. You can use this network server to stream movies to your HTPC or even as a full-fledged data server.
Set up a full-fledged web server
If you’ve always wanted to host your own site, you can do it using a simple web server, but there are other environments such as MySQL and Perl that are required to make it all come together. You also need a relatively fast internet connection with decent upload speeds. Fortunately, instead of having to install and configure each aspect of a web server manually, there are easy solutions available in the form of LAMP or WAMP servers. They’re basically a package of web server software with all the additional components pre-configured.
Setup your own little web site
One of the popular WAMP servers for Windows is called, well, WampServer, and it’s available for download free of cost. WampServer gives you an infinite number of possibilities once you have it installed. There are packages for setting up a web site, for setting up galleries and even forums, available for download. Most of these are free and you’d usually have to pay for them if you were to use the server, but with your own infrastructure setup, running a site is completely free.
As a PBX board
While most of the solutions we’ve spoken of so far are free, setting up a PBX (private branch exchange) board isn’t. A PBX basically allows you to set up a voice communication system within your office. This isn’t useful for regular home users, but SoHo users will find this extremely handy. Other than the hardware, there’s no real expense whatsoever.
Using your old PC as a voice-comm server
The first thing to do is install the hardware components in your PC. Then, you can install Asterisk, a popular, free PBX software as a package on your Linux operating system, or even the entire software using a distribution called AsteriskNOW that’s available on the Asterisk site. Once set up, you'll be able to make phone calls using just a few lines and even receive calls from outside via a voice-guided system. There's also the potential to use VoIP to make calls over the web.
As a retro gaming console
If you’re using an old notebook or PC, one of the fun things you could do is to actually install a game emulator of your choice on it. This will let you play games from your/your father's childhood on your TV. These titles have very low system requirements, so emulators will run on pretty much any hardware. You can then delete any accounts you have on Windows except for one so Windows directly boots to the desktop.
Simply create a shortcut to the emulator in the Windows Startup folder. This way, Windows will load up directly into the emulator. It’s also advisable to install two game consoles so two users can game on the PC connected to a large monitor or TV. ZSNES, for example is a popular emulator for Super Nintendo titles. There are similar titles for the Nintendo 64 and the first Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).
Well, that’s our list. If you think of any other ways to make use of your old PC, drop us a line in the comments section or even head over to our forum and post a thread with your ideas.
Cover image credit: Getty Images
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