[IDEA] Uses for OLD computers

I've often been frustrated by what I'll call the "cheap computer paradox." It goes like this: "The people who can least afford a brand new computer are the ones who most need a brand new computer." There are LOTS of old computers out there at prices ranging from cheap to free (if someone else is throwing them away.) Unfortunately, in order to understand what can and can't be done with old equipment, and to make it do what you want, it generally requires a bit of experience and "hacker talent" (old definition of "hacker.") The brand new clueless newbie really needs a brand new computer so that he can be pretty certain that the add-ons and software he buys at Target or Walmart will work, the help desk at the other end of the phone line won't laugh, and the Books he finds are relevant and helpful. Us "experts" who can think of useful things to do with 68k Macs running netBSD collect too D*mn much hardware, and we can't GIVE it away to people who could use it, because, well, those people probably COULDN'T use it. Sigh.

I suggested in another instructable that such machines could be turned into lab equipment. People objected on the principle that they were still generally useful.

SO. The idea is to collet here hints and comments on how to effectively use old computer hardware for normal and less than normal purposes. Assume for the sake of argument that the computer in question has something between a 266MHz PII and a 1GHz PIII, and 128M or less of RAM.
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Hycro4 years ago
Looks like an old Dell I got for free once...tried to strip it for parts for the old IBM PL300 with a P3 550 in it that I had, but found none of them would work in the IBM, and I ended burning out the Dell's PSU, so I couldn't even use the Dell anymore, so I stripped it for its electronic components, I still have the CD drive kicking around somewhere, it's one of those ones that's easily converted to a plain CD player, and all that's needed is just a power supply for it, has its own play/skip forward/stop buttons on it. One of the LED's out of the Dell is now my HDD usage light for my custom built computer, with 4 case fans, 2.9GHz AMD Athlon X2 64 processor in it, 4GB RAM, 750GB total for hard drive, there's more stuff I put in it when I was building it, but I don't feel like going through all of it, and although it's not the most poweful computer out there, it's still pretty good, and yes, I am running Vista Home Basic on it, because most of the games I play on it require a Windows operating system, and a couple require that it be Vista Home Basic or higher, Everything but the GFX card I'm using rate 5.4 or higher for the "Performance Rating" that Vista uses. Desktop graphics are the lowest, rated at 3.4, and with overclocking the GFX card, the 3D graphics performance is 4.3, I could probably get it higher, but I risk making it unstable, already made it crash by overclocking too high, but not so much that the computer told me that it was too high, I had to press my "Magic Red Button" (I made my otherwise silver Reset button on the front into a red button)
Xellers6 years ago
Is is possible to strip out some laptop components and install an old TV tuner and antenna to make a simple LCD TV? I have an old laptop ~1.5 GB Hard Disc, 128MB RAM, 200mHz MMX CPU I also have have 4 desktops -One with 6GB Hard Disc, 128MB RAM, 400mHz PII CPU, CD Reader -Another with 10GB Hard Disc, 512MB RAM, 500mHz CPU, CD reader -A 1990 Macintosh LC (terrible), u8nfortunately, it has a funny monitor connection, so it is headless, no connections (no floppy or CD drive, no USB connection, and no internet connection) -Finally, a broken one that is only a few years old, 80GB Hard Drive, 2.8gHz pIIII CPU, 512 MB RAM, 64MB Video Card with digital and analog output
You should get a mac to vga adapter, they exist. I have a Macintosh LC II, which is the slightly better, but stupidly constrained successor to the LC (ie, 32bit processor on 16bit bus). Mine has a floppy drive. You think you have a lot of computers... Desktops - PII 400MHz MMX Dell Optiplex G1 - 256MB RAM, 8GB HD - PII 450MHz MMX Dell Dimension XPS R400 - 256 MB RAM, 100GB HD - PIII 450MHz Gateway (this used to work, but is broken) - 64MB RAM - P4 1.5GHz (has weird power issue) - 512MB RAM - AMD Athlon XP 2900+ (2GHz) - 1GB RAM, 80GB HD - Macintosh LC II (circa 1990, absolutely useless) - 12MB RAM - Performa 6100/66 w/DOS Card (66MHz) - 32MB RAM, 700MB HD - Bondi iMac Flavor (Rev. B) 233MHz - 64MB RAM, 4GB HD Laptops - Hitachi M-100D ~800MB HD, 24MB RAM, 100MHz - Dell Latitude CPtS ~no HD, 96MB RAM, 500MHz - Dell Latitude CPtC ~no HD, 32MB RAM, 400MHz - HP Pavilion ze5600 ~80GB HD, 512MB, 2.66GHz (heat problem)
olny 4 ? I got about 16 computers now...
westfw (author)  littlechef376 years ago
All running? No fair counting the machines that are so old That no one will buy them.]
Well it depends on what you define as old able to run linux but not windows or able to run windows ?
No, by now I have moe computers plus many motherboards, HDDS, CPUs, Various Drives, etc. laying around.
Ya, just grab a USB TV tuner that supports viewing without recording. If you have Digital Cable of Satellite, the Adaptec VideOH! works good, but it requires Windows 98 or better.
98 or better is fine! But I don't think I'll spend money on some old junk like the laptop. And right now, it's broken and I've acquired many more computers. Also, I might be getting a G4 Mac Laptop, so I won't need most of this tuff (except for the PIIII PC that I managed to fix).
Xellers Xellers6 years ago
I fixed the PIIII PC so now I only have the other junk plus a lot more since I posted my previous comment.
You might try a TV tunner card for it.
For what?
westfw (author)  Xellers6 years ago
Not easily. The LCD in a laptop is all digital and doesn't interface to TV signals without quite a bit of effort.
Istarian6 years ago
I have a laptop older than that.It's a 100MHz Hitachi M-100D which has 24MB of Ram. It runs win98 has Microsoft Office that's newer than word 97 and can connect to the internet through it's ethernet port, albeit web browsing s slow and a little distorted. Of course I also have 2 400-450MHz dells witha bout 256MB ram each, one runs ubuntu 7.04 and the other runs windows xp. I have older macs too, one of which runs system 7.0.1,to prove the point that people who like computers accumulate old mostly useless hardware... ~Istarian ~Istarian
dla888 Istarian5 years ago
24mb of RAM???!!! That makes me think of the Commodore 64 or my old Texas Instruments laptop(memory on that is measured in KB)
Istarian dla8885 years ago
Yeah, I was a bit surprised when I figured that out, since win98 works. Unfortunately the TCP/IP protocol/stack got corrupted or something so currently I can't get it connected to the internet, but whatever. If you think that's tiny, I have a Mac LC II that has 12MB of ram.
dylanwinn6 years ago
My getto Non-Microsoft Tabletop PC: 1) Get an old PC, install Xubuntu or DSL on it. 2) Throw in a touchscreen and a WI-FI adapter. 3) Mount it in your coffee table, and you're good to go!
Nice! I'm trying to put linux on an old macbook, but apple makes that so hard.
westfw (author)  dla8885 years ago
How old of a macbook? Have you seen
dsandds20036 years ago
I think these machines are great for LINUX operating systems and you will find they work better with LINUX (which is free for the downloading) or you can help support these free systems by buying the operating system on CD. Which is also CHEEPER than windows and can be installed on as many computers as you have for no charge. Just your time. It is also ALOT easier to install LINUX today as compared to 5 years ago.
Red Hat ain't free... But wait there's Cent OS. Close enough to Red Hat.
westfw (author)  dsandds20036 years ago
Beware, however, that as linux has been made more windows-like in its user interface, it has also become more windows-like in its demand for resources. I doubt whether a full gnome/kde/etc based system will run much better on an old PII with 128M ram than WXP would. Stick to your more basic xterms and such and it'll work much better.
n4zou westfw6 years ago
I loaded xubuntu on an an old PII 350 with 128m memory. It works just fine as an internet terminal. ;)
Well i guess it all depends on what you want to spend on the computer and alot of older boards will not support XP totally. I ran into this with several older boards and found if you use the LINUX CD ( where you run LINUX from the CD) it works pretty good. Also i have found alot of older motherboard sites do not even exist anymore. I found it cheeper and easier to either install or run LINUX from the cd easier that trying to use an operating system prior to XP as most sites do not even support ME,98SE,98 or even 95 anymore. I have founf LINUX to be MUCH faster than XP on older machines with at least a 300 MHZ. processor and with 128 meg of ram. ANYthing lower than 300 MHZ and less than 128 meg of ram. This is what i have found with my playing around with these things since the dark ages of DOSS. The BIG question is do you want to spend $90 dollars For XP or try a FREE LINUX system? BELIEVE ME you will be suprised at even a clean install on a older machine.
I would recommend something like Ubunutu or xubuntu - I've set up some of my old compaqs 266 series and its perfect. I've converted most of my family to ubuntu with the same - for simple browsing of the interwebs, word processing, presentation design (of the powerpoint type) and spreadsheet data crunching - ubuntu comes with gnome OS, openoffice and mozilla - and it costs about 0 $ - the cd's can even be obtained for free by order.
fooboo5 years ago
"So this ancient Dell (?) (266MHz)" Look like a Dell G1 to me going by the case design. They ranged from about 266Mhz to 450Mhz. I used to have a 450Mhz one that I ran Gentoo on as a testing web server. A friend of mine had a 350Mhz one he ran his business off. It was his web server, he ran it without X and did all of his editing in command line programs. He was a committed user of old equipment. He also got his old Psion 5 running Linux and would edit on that and upload it to his server via the serial cable that came with them.
ok guys heres the skinny, you can keep anything p2-300 and newer and run xp. some of my more fun projects was rewriting bios on an old sx2 to run xp and web bios funnything was it zoomed online video and all, xeltek superpro Z universal eprom programer is the $hit for any would be hacker/programer/EETwizard. as far as the old-old stuf you can keep it stock and collect software for retro museum collections but most of it is done gone. I done quiet a bit of factory and office upgrades in the last 15 years and prety much got one of everything to be had but I know I have recycled 50 million in computers at their new price any way. I love turning them into robots, automate things with them or even run my cool qb ai progs and just put them all in the garage for a few weeks talking to each other and see what they learn my preference is p2-300 and up for the use of usb webcams on robots and built some funky servers from them too I am amazed how usefull the buggers still are...preciated the opp to rant a bit.
d1ndian6 years ago
what are the best things in an old computer to use in a new one or to use in an experiment to make something.................
westfw (author)  d1ndian6 years ago
Well, this is the big problem. Once a computer reaches a certain age (and it's not that old), the pieces are nearly useless in a "new" computer, because standards, sizes, and expectations change so rapidly. Consider my youngest kid's Dell 2400, which is about 4 years old now:
  • 128m DDR memory, upgraded to about 768M. But a new computer will use DDR2, or FBD memory. So the memory isn't very useful. I've go like whole trays full of assorted obsolete memory technology. Depressing.
  • sound blaster SB live audio card; might be useful. I haven't kept up with the relative goodness of onboard sound vs sound cards.
  • CDRW drive. Useful, but I wouldn't put together a modern system without some sort of DVD capability, at least for read (in fact, the computer has an add-on DVD drive.) (value: maybe $20)
  • 80G EIDE disk. 80G is SMALL by modern standards (thanks to multimedia really taking off. Video: 12GB/hour for standard miniDV resolution. Sigh.) And modern systems tend toward SATA disks. It wouldn't make a bad "live backup" sort of destination, but... (another $20 item.)
  • PCI GigE ethernet interface. Still useful. In fact, already moved into a newer system where the GigE speed was more important. OTOH, PCI is getting less common. (value: $15)
  • Onboard video, upgraded to 256M PCI card. The card may be useful for adding 3rd and 4th monitors to a modern system, if there are PCI slots, but it's not very State-of-the-art. (value, $40 ?)
The annoying thing is that it's far from a useless system "as is"; it's just feeling its age, and the parts are not useful elsewhere. I'm thinking of trying to turn it into a DVR (all it needs is a tuner card or two and some big disks.)

My Mac (Dual PPC 1.25GHz, about the same vintage, but not as "minimal" a system at purchase time) is worse off, since Apple has less of qualms about burning bridges. DDR memory, IDE disks, PCI cards - all useless in a new mac. Even the lovely 23" ADC display will require a $100 "adapter" to use on a new Mac (DVI only.)

Since when is an 80 gig hd considered "small"??? It's huge, IMO. And most of the hd's I see for sell on various tech sites are around 140 gig. It's not THAT small. The laptop I'm using now has only a 10 gig hd. LOL I have what I thought to be a more "modern" system in the living room; has 80 gig hd, 1 gig ram & DVD-RW drive. *shrug* These standards are getting ridiculous.
westfw (author)  questionable_intent6 years ago
Well, mostly since multimedia. I've got 11G of music, 55G of photos and about 180G of movies on my Mac. Today's rather inefficient "I'll store images as .BMP and sounds as .WAV pluse a couple hundred meg worth of trailers" games and applications aren't any help either. The kids' 80G PCs were getting full... Now, if you want to do just WORK on your PC, 80G isn't bad :-)
until about 2 years ago I had a computer with 3 hard drives with a total space of just over 2.5 gb and space was never a problem until i got my first digital camcorder. but now my cellphone has more memory that that.
Ahhhhh.... well, I don't keep a lot of media stored on my pc. Any music or movies that I download is immediately burned to to CD/DVD, and I delete them from my hd, after burning. I guess it really depends on the person. I can't imagine having 55 gigs of photos stored on my hd. LOL My pictures folder is currently at about 300 megs. Music folder is close to 1 gig. Then again, if I ever needed more space, I'd just buy another hd (probably external). Pen drives are a great option, as well. But, for now, 80 gigs is more than ample for me.
westfw (author)  questionable_intent6 years ago
In general, all the photos and movies are uploaded from cameras rather than downloaded from the internet. (which is one of the things that makes them so big. In general, no compression, which means about 12G/h for standard miniDV camera resolution.) The music is mostly ripped from CDs. And the new cameras have more pixels, and HD-video is starting to look attractive (although that seems to be compressed more often.) I suppose that the main problem is that the best way to preserve digital data is to make sure you copy from your old computer to your new computer. It only takes about 15 years to collect 15 years worth of data :-)
80 GB is tiny! Even my 5-year-old laptop has a harddrive that big! GO 2 TB!
(removed by author or community request)
westfw (author)  questionable_intent6 years ago
Have a bad day? The neat thing is that you don't have to be "rich" anymore to afford that 2T of disc. A terrabyte costs about the same as 10 cartons of cigarettes... (do people still smoke 2 packs a day? So 10 cartons is about 2 months worth?)
I'd rather have the smokes. I have no use for 2T's of disk space; it would be a waste of money.

Please note that not everyone's computing needs are the same. 80 GB's is massive for me, because I rarely download any type media, and any media that I do download is burned to dvd, and the file is wiped from the pc hd. I really don't understand why everyone using their comps as a storage facility.
2T terra bytes is quite much however 80gbs is not small. Personally I have a 160 gb external hdd And I am quad booting four operating systems. 2 Tbs is more for borrowing movies from the internet or running a server. You can quad boot on a 40gb hdd.. It all depends what you do with your space. Its like a house some people dont have much stuff and they just want a place to sleep and some people have six uhauls worth the stuff in there homes.
westfw (author)  littlechef376 years ago
I dunno why everyone is assuming that disk space gets used up quickly by downloaded-from-internet media. Of the 250G or so that I mentioned in MY media collection, almost all of it UPLOADED from cameras (I think I've got 20 or so MP3s downloaded from iTunes.) UPLOADED video is much larger than downloaded video, cause it's less compressed. (12GB/hour for direct uploads from mini-dv videotape, for instance.)
d1ndian westfw6 years ago
thankyou very much westfw for the information about recycling an old computer...thanks again
Derin6 years ago
you could also get a switch plus a router to set up a network for connecting those together and tada mirrored server room
dylanwinn6 years ago
How do you use the P4 box to run x86 Linux apps in OSX?
westfw (author)  dylanwinn6 years ago
I run Mac-X (X windows) on the Mac, and use it as the display for the linux apps (which tend to be X-windows based.) You can even set up mac-X "applications"
like "EAGLE" to execute 'ssh -n my-linux-server "eagle -display my-mac:0"'
And "linuxWindow" = 'ssh my-linux-server "xterm -n linux -display my-mac:0"'
Mr.Grinch7 years ago
Have any of you heard of Recycling centers for computers? they're awesome. you just walk in pick up different parts and leave, all completely free. i believe one is called SOCCRA. when people are done with there computers, they bring them to SOCCRA instead of throwing them away. it's like a scrapyard for computers. They have bins for monitors, graphics cards... even laptops (rarely though) if you get there early enough, you can get a top quality computer!
I went to one, picked up some awesome stuff, and then got yelled at by a worker, was forced to return the parts, and was kicked out.
i went to soccra recently, and they changed their policy, my city gets a couple of bucks per 4x4x4 foot box of computer stuff (most of it pretty recent stuff), and a worker told me to go home. try going on one of the days nobody is there, then pop the trunk, load up and drive off. (i'm not responsible for your actions, or your detainment in the city jail, a friend told me to do this)
Stanislaw6 years ago
one could also beowulf the computers
ghostaliaz6 years ago
I do not give my old PC's away either because I use my old boxes for running x10 home automation software in my home,myth tv/media centers. Also a cool thing to do is to make it download things for you,you can record Internet or sat radio using a cheap cord & plug it into your sound card,You can make it especially an old laptop a glorified ebook reader which to me is way better then the sony one & the Amazon one that is coming out because my cheap old laptop I got for free and I then bought another on ebay for 20 dollars & I use it when I go somewhere like the hospital or you know like waiting rooms & then I use the old laptops to read ebooks,text files,docs & I can even read pre downloaded rss feeds or you can simply data mine all your favorite websites and save the whole site if you do not have wifi access where ever you are going and use any website. Also I like to make web boxes I call them out of these old computers by putting linux on them which I want to do in everyroom in my house so I can have a Internet box in everyroom & I do not know about you alls boxes, but my old pc;s running linux & with them connected to my cable broadband then they surf pretty fast, of course they can't hang with the big boys, but they sure can do simple browseing like what some of our old parents do & garnd parents do. I have created several old linux boxes for older peple to use & they love these boxes because they are more secure using linux plus they do not ever install anything, but I did have to make sure that they had flash & most of the vid & aud codecs and players to play those & some dvd playing ability. have fun.
Nice. My dad's working on setting up a home network with a headless server in the closet, and a bunch of dumb terminals connected to it via XDMCP -- it's a lot like this, but there are a few kinks to sort out still; graphics can be lost in translation (which means I can't have dual monitors D:), and music doesn't work, but it's pretty good. Anyway, I mainly wanted to way that this I find this rather funny, because I'm sitting infront of an identical computer (a G4), but my G4 itself is running linux.
and i can think of tons of things i'd do with bits and pieces from all those computers....unfortunatly i was only given the gift of thinking not actually doing.....
Guys guess what happened to me my mom was going to get a new computer for the family right (to be clear me, my sister, and my dad all had farelly old computers) so im like cool when does it get here shes like tommarrow im like cool and that was it. So i get home from school and and all the old computers (even the one in my room with all my software) where gone i asked my mom about and she said she gave them away since now we have the new onw we dont need those old ones so now i cant test out my hax0r skills on the new computer because my mom says she doesnt want it "broken". I cried my self to slep that night.
I love old computers. I bought a apple imac (built in monitor) g3 off of ebay for 20 dollars and put debian linux on it and It works great! I also have an old p1-166 mhz laptop which was given to me that i also put linux on. Apple and Microsoft OS not required anymore.
hondagofast6 years ago
I had a 1GHz PIII gateway in my basement and I made it into a nice media computer for our living room. It runs a super slimmed down version of Windows XP.
if thats an older P4, you could do this with both of them, and piss off alot of mac fanatics in one go. g3 to p4 conversion ftw.
MR WEED6 years ago
woops i forgot . With dumbster diving i get a fully working 80486 laptop and a pentium 2 ( 266 mhz )it's funny and easy to get stuff for project this way . Just look in the industry containers and in containers where people with more money they live. Happy diving ;-)
MR WEED6 years ago
I had an old Olivetti Echos portable with a pentium one 133 mhz no cd /dvd only floppy . I get it for 150 Danish ( abouth 20 $ ) work perfect with an extra spare battery and a harddisk 200 meg . I put a 10 gig harddisk inside and a pcmcia networkcard for cumunication with my other computers. Now i use it as a drum-machine to my guitar with both fasttracker and cubase ( for controlling midi drum-machines ) I even use it as a testcenter for my electronics ( testgenertator / osiloscope / picburning / printlayouth ect ) I use both windows 2000 and ms dos and i think abouth linux too. Anyway great idea. only one comment : personaly i would say if a newbie want to learn abouth computers m the best would be to learn abouth the good old stuff m because every computer even today work on the same principles ( 80086 / 80186 / 80286 / 80386 / 80486 / 80586 / 80686 ect ect ) learn the most basic and the understanding of the new would be much easier . I learn it the old way , YES the XT when i started the 80386 exist and my knowledge from the xt was gold. Try running ms dos on a brand new pentium 4 wow fast ? and funny . nice day from a nerd :-)
Web_MST3K7 years ago
Using salvaged, obsolete computer parts, I am in the process of building an automated MP3 sound system. It will be running on a Linus OS, of course, since I am of the opinion that anyone who has a Windows system does not wholly own it. Microsoft always owns a piece of it, and if you don't believe me, check on how many of those Bill Gates Mandated programs you actually use and how many of them actually do things the way you want them to.

But I digress. What I want is the type of sound system George Jetson might own. Walk into the room, and a motion detector wakes the computer up, causing it to greet you by helpfully asking how it can be of assistance. Later, a timed program would put the computer to sleep, and an external timer would wake it up again in time for it to wake you up.

Anyway, getting to the final stages of the project is likely to take some time, since I am a beginner
gph10047 years ago
I'm aligned with this whole discussion. One thought I haven't seen in this thread is the use of older workstation technology. I have a mid-90s Sparc 20 with dual 75mhz processors that surfs the web and runs OpenOffice just fine. In fact I prefer solaris to XP. I suspect for many this is cutting across the grain, but I like it. I think Sparc 20s are basically free when you can find them.
bmlbytes7 years ago
My suggestion is to format the computer. Install Linux on it. Download a server program, and run it on that system. I bought a server for this purpose, but any computer will do fine.

Some server programs:
Teamspeak or Ventrilo for VoIP
Apache 2 for website hosting
Search Google for private servers for your favorite games
spinach_dip7 years ago
ipcop and an extra ethernet card...
Slavak8 years ago
"Assume for the sake of argument that the computer in question has something between a 266MHz PII and a 1GHz PIII, and 128k or less of RAM." thats not a computer, thats a caculator :p
liMePod Slavak7 years ago
I have a toshiba sattalite pro 490XCDT. 4 gig hard drive (split in half, one half linux swap {RAM on the hard drive, for the newbie} the rest files) 96MB of RAM, 266MHz PII.

It used to have windoze 98, which crashed daily, if not hourly, and slower than frozen molasses.

It now runs puppy linux. boots up in under a minute, goes from off to the GIMP open in a minute and a half.

in comparison, my Dads laptop (Dell Latitude D600, Pentium M 1.6GHz, 512MB RAM) boots up in about five minutes. takes about ten to open the gimp from off. in your face, windoze.
Amd K62 500, 128 mb ram, 2 x 20 gig hard disk, 10/100 ethernet card + Puppy Linux (breaths life back into old computers ;) ).

= fully working webserver which is happily hosting my site and 2 phpbb boards.. thats one use, can also make an intranet server for home/lab use. or simple dedicated gameserver (as long as the game isnt demanding, san andreas online server (samp) works ok on it.)
weebl Slavak7 years ago
my old windows 95 had 1mb of ram:)
gamer weebl7 years ago
Thats sort of funny, 1 mb. one time i found a computer just lying outside, asking me to take it with me, so i took it. when i got home, my father and i started the machine up and found out it was windows 95, so we both took a good laugh at it, and i brought it up to my room to get it ready for a new life. (by the way we were in 2005)the 10 year old machine lived in my room for 1 year, then i took it apart, because my parents had just gave me a windows 98, hugh upgrade. when i opened up the 95, i found a 1.128 gig hard drive inside, kinda cheap. then i found out that it had about 12 mb of ram, sisce then i never even thought about that computer, until today, when i read the comment above. funny story:)
booga11347 years ago
I'm not giving anything away. I use my old pc's as file servers, download machines(bittorrent 24/7) , ect.
StevenWC7 years ago
What i like to do is take apart anything that is electronic. Whether it is a remote control car or a computer i like to take them apart and use the different parts to make something cool. Like i used old printer parts to make that paintball tank that is remote controlled. It is awesome i messed with the velocity so that it shoots paintballs at 300ft/sec.
davidbacsik7 years ago
I, being the cheap muther I am, have found many uses for old PCs. I agree with the statement that they are better suited towards specialized tasks, rather than general computing. My currents include: Jukebox - PII 233, running Win2K, but hope to switch to either debian or Xubuntu for some more speed. P2P - PI 100-something, again running Win2K and some remote access software (don't remember, haven't needed it yet), runs headless using uTorrent's WebUI. Very quick when you access the webui, but not so fast actually using it in person. NAS - PIII 1GHZ, couple o' hd's, runs FreeNAS, which is pretty much the business for this sort of thing. Ideas: Practically ANY box would work as a router/firewall/vpn/VoIP utility. GeeXbox roxors my soxors, and also runs pretty good on most fairly recent systems. (Ran smooth on my 233) Recipe box (hope to implement my own) should run on just about anything. It would be just a database. And my more out there idea: i assume you could use an older computer to run a digital interface for a kegerator beverage distribution system. I think they did this at some tech conference. seemed nifty.
Second on the utorrent.
I Just recently slapped all 5 of my 47GIG Scsi HDD's and my old adaptech 2940 card into an old compaq! P233, Whopping 128 ram! and a wired ethernet card. Uses onboard everything else. Running Stripped down Win98SE, and uTorrent. It's two jobs are to take the .torrent files from a cd(I use an RW) or floppy, and download them. The other is to serve up the torrents. does that without any changes or issues. If it's a big torrent, I'll crank my upload to unlimited.

Free, recycled computer bits + unused bandwidth = a LOT cheaper than a $250 WL-700gE router that has only sketchy support for SOME torrents.
min specs on utorrent are a PALTRY "Very low. It works on as weak a system as Windows 95 on a 486 with 14MiB of RAM" If you have working hardware, older than that, back up all your software, and put it in a collection or museaum. in another couple of years, it'll be very happy next to that 8088, Apple][, or Atari. Most aren't collectors items yet, but with a unique design, and a few more years... they will be.
Aeshir8 years ago
If you're too lazy to download a Linux OS and don't wanna pay a shipping fee for a CD, go to for free Ubuntu Linux CD's. I already ordered one. They ship tons of different packs, (Mac, 64bit and PC versions in different combinations) and even custom packs.
ubuntu needs at least 128mb ram i think...
Yeah, so I found out when I tried to install it on my old HP. But there's always DamnSmallLinux (DSL) which will never go over 50 MB. And it's free. And it ran better as a live cd than the original Win98 OS running from the hard drive.
westfw (author)  Aeshir7 years ago
Most of the LiveCD unixes end up running from RAMdisk, so it's not surprising that the preform well but take lots of RAM. If you can find a small disk-based unix, it shouldn't need nearly as much RAM. IIRC, I had freeBSD running nicely on my 90MHz pentium with NotMuch memory and rather tiny disk. Of course, that we relatively pre-GUI, running CLIs in text X windows...
superbaguss7 years ago
there is a free vmware-player , depending on your mac-hardware, making your extra poowerconsumer obsolete. for M$ check out addlinux or another project, colinux, both run inside windows...not mac i think.
westfw (author)  superbaguss7 years ago
Part of the point is to have a x86 with "real" parallel and serial ports, for all those hacks that do unlikely things with those ports. Merely running applications is not sufficient.
superbaguss7 years ago
mine is a 80 mhz 16mb ram router /network service provider. gives u all u need, addons like vpn, apache etc very easy to setup, configure via webinterface. boots from floppy, no hdd needed but possible to boot and also NAS. check this too:, u will need a more powerfull cpu for that, the OS is on Cd and config gets stored on usb-stick, good security feature. got questions? contact me via
Depends on how old the computer is I guess. If it isnt too old, you can build a stripped down linux box exclusively for one purpose. I have a computer that runs exclusively in terminal, just for making hard drive backups. I added a swap bay and 240 gig hard drive, made partition sizes for my smaller drives, and backed up everything to it. I find it nice to know I can do that. I am thinking about adding ftp to it so I can ftp grab just a few files at a time. Not to mention the possiblity of a ghost server that is accessible from any internet connected computer.
Jesus105557 years ago
lmao, my mom has an old comptuer with 8mb ram
Lanth8 years ago
Seconding the Car Pc Idea, I have been planning on doing this one with my older Pcs for quite some time now but unfortunately not all parts are compatible. : / Plus, how am i supposed to ower the damn thing? Could someone point me to a Howto please?
photozz Lanth7 years ago
microdot717 years ago
I work with medical data (patient records, billing, etc). There are federal guidelines that require that we make a reasonable effort to remove data from any hard drive that leaves our control.

We have a stripped down PII-350 with a SCSI card running DBAN ( that we use to wipe data off any drives that leave the building because they were being replaced to correct a RAID failure, an equipment lease expired, etc. DBAN erases the data on the disk then makes multiple passes filling the drive with random bits making recovery of the orginal data almost impossible.

Other methods of sanitizing drives may be quicker but are pretty expensive.

· $3500 for a degauser to zap a drive in a magnetic field.

· Tens of thousands for an Industrial Equipment shredder to pulverize the drive.

. The cost of the drive. The above items usually mean that the drive is ruined, violating any service agreements you have because the vendor likes to get back re-buildable parts. (Degaussing can mess up the electronics on the drive)

The solution we use takes longer, a few hours per drive, but was practically free and dosen't ruin the drive.
We have the same requirement at my job.. after a few years of screwing around, we resorted to the highly effective method of using an 8# ball-peen hammer and just smash the crap out of them. Soooo much faster. About 30 seconds. Drives are cheap, and we are just disposing of the PC's anyhow.
microdot717 years ago
I have a couple of Compaq LTE Elite notebooks (486 DX2 75 MHz). One is setting in my entertainment center with a pc-card modem acting as a dedicated caller-ID box. The 10 inch screen makes it easy to see who's calling from 20+ feet away. The other is at work connected to a serial terminal server. It boots off a floppy and I removed the HD to make it run cool and silent. It runs a DOS based VT-100 app and replaces a 20 year old WYSE dummy terminal that died. It operates as the main console for a bunch of head-less SUN Solaris servers.
petars7 years ago
Over the years I've collected quite an assortment of old junk computers, mostly through upgrades (never bought a complete PC ever). So what can you do with an ancient pc? - you can use on with 64HDD and some simple cables to use a PC as a hard drive for your Commodore 64. Fun right? - Network area storage... Shove 3-4 drives into an old pc, why not - Grid computing? - Run a linux web server for personal projects - Run something like Knoppix and use it as a dumb terminal to Remote Desktop to your windows machine - Run some real basic software with a bi-directional serial port to control external devices, combine that with the web server business and you can start your coffee maker from work and have coffee ready by the time you get home ;)
ngenius17 years ago
Many years ago, I rescued an old IBM PC (8086, 128kb ram, massive 10MB hard drive 5.25" floppy drive and green screen monochrome CRT), put in a VGA card, a memory expansion board to get it up to a whopping 640kb of ram. I also added a serial port mouse. I upgraded to MS DOS 3.1, (it originally had MS DOS 1.1-still have the disks & manual, if any collectors are reading this!) and installed MS Works 2.0 for DOS as well as GeoWorks 1.2 and Quicken 5.0 for DOS. I used the windows (3.1) versions of these apps on my "real computer", ( 386DX25 upgraded to AMD5x86 133), and was able to access all my files on backup floppies with this old clunker! (Amazingly, the old PC would usually open the backups quicker than the 5x86!)
VIRON7 years ago
I really need about a hundred ATARI-800's! See me using a 286 laptop as a control panel for my 3D projector? This P4 is really useless especially whenever I stop playing with this stupid silly mouse. An engine that goes 2 gigamiles per second gets no where amazingly fast when it's in neutral! At least I'm not wasting money on that awful Mircosoft Gas!
cmrc VIRON7 years ago
I have some 486 laptops that I use as simple diagnosstics and as a monitor for my other systems.
cmrc7 years ago
I use an old 90mhz pentium laptop in the kitchen as a "cookbook", I have an old ibm 540 laptop in the garage that I use to lookup howtos for working on my cars and for ordering parts on. I find that these older more portable machines still have uses as "specialist" machines. I am using an older tower pc in a closet as my media server. I also used an old laptop as a car pc for my brothers 4x4 so he could have a way to download mp3s and get driving instructions while he was near a wifi hotspot. , it was small enough to fit behind the dash and uses a usb hub that connects to a flash drive as external storage and a usb wifi adapter. the keyboard/mouse store beneath the seat and an indash monitor are hooked up to the laptop.
I've turned an OLD pc into a network attached storage device. Specs: 486 DX2 66Mhz 64 MB RAM 4 x 300 GB Hard Drives 10/100 network card Floppy based Naslite SMB edition (freeware) A video card is only needed when booting the first time, for setup. My Cirrus Logic with 512 KB of RAM worked like a charm. I'll probably "upgrade" that server a little bit, switching the guts of it to a pentium computer compatible with ATX power because the 120W power supply of my server is not able to sustain 4 hard drives so I had to add another ATX 250W power supply in the case to power the hard drives. And therefore, it's really noisy. I still have a 300W silent supply laying somewhere, I'll use it in the "new" server to replace the two I'm using at the moment.
Oh, by the way, Slavak is right about calculators: "Assume for the sake of argument that the computer in question has something between a 266MHz PII and a 1GHz PIII, and _128k_ or less of RAM." I'm sure you meant 128 MB :P Even my first PC (386SX16) had 2MB of RAM
westfw (author)  Sharingan Silk7 years ago
oops. Fixed.
radioeyes8 years ago
I love my old dinosaurs! I can't stand the brats today who turn their noses up at even 1-gig processors. My little 1992 packard bell running DOS and Windows 3.11 served me better than any other one I recall. Who needs power when you aren't playing Doom 3 or running a stupid power-hungry OS that you don't even need? Sim City under MS-DOS was all anyone ever needed to have fun. What's a pentium?
LKTX radioeyes7 years ago
Amen to that, mate. Misuse of Resources seems to be the biggest problem I see in the market now-a-days.
bicostp7 years ago
I have an old Compaq DeskPro SFF PC hooked up to my TV through an old, OLD PC-TV bridge box. I gave it a static IP and primarily use it as a streaming video client with VLC media player. PC Specs: Pentium /// 500 256 MB RAM Windows XP Professional Service Pack 1a (slimmed down with XP Lite) I would have set it up with a minimal Linux system if I knew how, and didn't want to play emulated games on it.
Lanth8 years ago
Sorry for double post, i meant "Plus, how am i supposed to POWER the damn thing?"
COOL! I used several old computers for things like a jukebox, file server... Distributed computing (like SETI@) and then I realized over two months, that I was really just wasting a lot of electricity: Pay to run the machines that really do not get used often (and when they are, not even close to efficiency) The machines then act as little humming space heaters. Then I pay AGAIN to run the AC enough to compensate for the added heat from my humming space heaters that I rarely used. Even if you don't pay for electric, its still wasteful to all of us if you are not really using the older PCs. Take that into consideration before thinking, "I have it, and I 'could' use it, so I might as well!"
gdawg8 years ago
I took my old laptop w/ broken LCD into the garage, and hooked it up an external monitor. Now I pipe music from my main computer, and use it for looking up info when working on projects or my car.
trebuchet038 years ago
Heh... here is what I did today for about 7 hours... (try to)Upgrade to Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 (RHEL4) from RHEL3 and find out that your HD drivers are no longer supported (A Perc2/DC, setup as a raid5 array with a hotswap drive in case of failure). Yeah, apparently the Architects decided that they would not longer support a 5 year old driver and we had to compile a set of drivers, manual add it to the system image, then do some modifications to the initrd config files. Easy now, but damn it sucked. And they wonder why Microsoft continues to make a killing in the market :/ I'm going to post some instructions sometime soon if anyone happens to have this hardware on their machine or server and want to upgrade to the 2.6 kernel. Oh well, just experience for the RHCE exam I guess :P
Wow, looks like you had a hard time. If you still want to try Linux on an older machine, I am pretty sure Xubuntu will do the task (I don't have the link, but a google search will give you some place to get it)
Naw, this is a development server and we're using some of the EL features (the machine is a dual 1gHz with 4gigs of ram etc. etc. etc.) -- yes, it may be circa 6 years old -- it still runs like a champ... We had a bit more to deal with because it's a dual processor and apparently you have to compile/install for a UP -- then recompile and install for the smp kernel... I've found out that CentOS has similar difficulties, only harder. But then again, you don't pay for it :P
Nice discussion. I'd personally set an old pc as a music player for a place in the house where I'm doing other tasks than being at the keyboard. Maybe even set it up as a server to stream the music to any computer connected to it in the house, having all my files in a single machine. (No, I don't own an iPod.)
That's actually an interesting idea. I have a locally shared partition on my server with some music on it. I even run a full ShoutCast server @ .. currently down, but it's there.
elkar8 years ago
I used an old 350MHz computer as a TV media player. I made it silent, no hard disk, booting GeexBox on a 8Mb compactflash. A DVD drive, a S-video out, a simple sound card, a wireless keyboard as a remote : it makes a great divx player. I plan to add a wifi adapter in order to be able to surf and read my mail on my TV, comfortably installed in my sofa.
mikesty elkar8 years ago
That's really neat! I just checked out GeexBox - might be my OS of choice for the little "media" box I was looking at. I have a small form factor win98-era PC that I planned to relocate into a shapely VCR case. I'll probably need to dig something up that allows video output as Svideo. Thanks a lot though :) Any advice for geexbox? I'm new to linux :(
elkar mikesty8 years ago
Nothing special to advice about GeexBox. It's very easy to install, just read the instructions. No linux knowledge needed for the basic version. Some PC customizing knowledge is useful to make the machine silent cheaply (ex : undervolting fans, booting on a Flash card memory ...)
techhut8 years ago
I know that alot of us here have some form of Broadband internet connection, but one idea is a firewall pc. There are great Linux-on-a-floppy distrubutions that offer a full firewall in one diskette, requires only 2 networking cards too. Now another idea is to turn them all into Thin Clients, another great for that is Network Booting. Again, Linux is up to the task, and if you have a decent PC to todays standards, you could get a few network booted computers. Old computers are also great for basic uses, such as put Linux on there, and use the terminal for AIM, IRC, or even for web browsing (if you are brave, because some people pansy out at the fact of no images)
trebuchet038 years ago
Most old machines make GREAT CarPCs (including the one mentioned) ;) I have a few old machines set up as processing nodes for distributive processing (research type stuff). You could make a Linux Cluster (memory permitting), or even a HTPC - that really does not need much processing real estate either.
pinski18 years ago
Actually the apollo missions used TTL, most modern calculators have more processing power ... I have spare AMD 2200+xp MX4400 GFX 512DDR laying around, so I've plugged in a load of old network cards and it's going to be the room server for me. I'm also going to try and make it totally passively cooled.
radioeyes8 years ago
...and don't you forget that a processor smaller than the one in your cell phones was enough to run the computers that sent astronauts to the moon....
Myplague58 years ago
Heh..... My good comp recently died leaving me with my spare. 285MHz Pentium MMX Running Windows XP with surround sound hooked up to PS2 speakers. Wireless mouse and keyboard, wireless internet card, 120GB worth of hard drives. Two rear fans, side and top fans both of which are powerful enough to be plugged directly into the wall..... I feel dirty now.
Oh yea, 384 MB of RAM
ssvalenteno8 years ago
PVR is the way to go with MythTV or a phone system with Asterisk
Ingerson8 years ago
Stick on DOS, MAME and Arcade OS and all those ROMS you downloaded off bit torrent on it and give it to the kids as a games machine.
Slavak8 years ago
heh, thats pretty cool