Introduction: Breathe New Life Into an Old Computer

Picture of Breathe New Life Into an Old Computer

Breathe New Life into an Old Computer with Simple Hardware Upgrades and Linux

Do you have an old 'junker' computer lying around the house that you have not gotten around to sending to the recycle plant? Don't get rid of it yet! Breathe new life into an old computer by installing a new (free) Linux operating system on it and making small inexpensive hardware upgrades. This sounds hard but it is really easy. It only takes about 30-45 min and it will have any older computer (suggest 2003 and later) feeling like new.

Oftentimes as a (Windows) computer ages it will become slower and slower. There could be many reasons for this but oftentimes it is because as the computer gets used more files are added that take up space and resources. Also, as new software comes out it may require more memory than older software (think running a highly intensive new a new game program on an old machine, it just does not work). However, one of the main culprits is often the Windows operating system itself that can take up HUGE amounts of computing power. Changing over to Linux is one way to get an old machine going fast again. The computer can have many uses after Linux is loaded including setting up a home server, hosting a small website, simply having another computer to browse the web, file backup and many other things.

This post is from Tech4Noobs (T4N)

Caution: If you do a full Linux install it may wipe your hard drive depending on the exact configuration so make sure that if there are any important files on the computer they are backed up somewhere.

Step 1: ​Finding a Suitable Computer

The good news is that just about any PC will do(I have never tried this with Macs). I suggest using a computer that is not physically damaged and is not made before 2003. If you do not have an old computer at home but are interested in doing this fear not because cheap old computers can be found all over the internet.

Check out this Tech4Noobs post for where to find some deals.

Step 2: Decide What Variation of Linux You Want

Picture of Decide What Variation of Linux You Want

If you are a Noob I suggest going with Ubuntu since it is the most popular are arguably the easiest to use. However there are many others such as Mint, Fedora, OpenSUSE to name a few.

Step 3: Check to See If Your Computer Is a 64 Bit or 32 Bit Build

to do this in Windows 7 or Vista click the start button > right click computer > click properties > a window will pop-up and on the screen there will be something that says "System Type" and after that there will be either 32 or 64 bit.

Step 4: Go to and Download the Latest Desktop Version for Your System Type

Or whatever Linux distribution you decided on.

This will download an ISO file to your desktop.

You need to pick the ISO file based on what type of system build you have 32 bit (these are sometimes listed as x86) or 64 bit.

Step 5: Now You Need to Decide If You Want to Use a CD or a USB Stick to Boot From

Now you need to decide if you want to use a CD or a USB stick to boot from. With a USB you will need to download an additional piece of software called Universal USB Installer

Directions to boot from a CD

Directions to boot from a USB

Step 6: Booting Ubuntu

Try inserting the CD or plugging in the USB and restarting the computer. It may boot directly into Ubuntu if it does skip to step #12 below. If it does not follow the directions immediately below for booting into the BIOS.

Step 7: Going Into the Computer BIOS

Once you have a CD or a USB with the downloaded ISO on it (and nothing else) you will need to restart your computer into what is called the BIOS. To do this look at the list below and find your computer type (if it is not in the list just type into Google [Computer manufacturer name] boot to bios.

Dell - When the Dell logo appears on startup hit F2 a few times

Asus - When the ASUS logo appears hit F2 a few times

Step 8: Change the Boot Order for Drives

Picture of Change the Boot Order for Drives

Once you are in the BIOS you will want to change the Boot order. You will want the CD-ROM or USB to come first in the list. Depending on your computers age and who the manufacturer is this may look a little different but the picture below is what you are looking for.

Step 9: Change the Boot Sequence

Picture of Change the Boot Sequence

Once you are in the boot section re-order the boot sequence so the CD (or the USB aka removable media) boots first. It will look similar to this.

Step 10: Save and Exit

Save and exit with the directions in the BIOS and restart the computer with the option in the BIOS

Step 11: On Restart Ubuntu Will Start Up

If your CD or USB are plugged in it should boot into Ubuntu

Step 12: Install Ubuntu - Guided Directions

Follow the directions to install Ubuntu (there is an option to just try it out as well). The install may take as long as 30 min.

Step 13: Restart the Computer When the Install Completes

Once it is complete it will likely ask you to restart. Once it comes back up you should be done.

Step 14: Upgrade Hardware

There are multiple small inexpensive hardware upgrades that can breathe new life into an old computer to get them running faster. I will break this into Laptop and Desktop upgrades since they can be slightly different. These are not all of the upgrades that can be done to a computer but are some of the easiest and cheapest.


Upgrade the RAM - As applications use more and more memory extra RAM is a good thing to have. However if the computer already has 3 gigabytes of RAM or more you may be okay depending on what you plan to use the computer for. If you have questions on RAM check out this Lifehacker Post .

Get a new Battery - Laptop batteries degrade over time. A new battery can make a big difference.

Get a Mouse - I have found that track-pads wear out after a few years. Getting a small portable mouse can save some headaches.


Upgrade RAM - Same as above if there is less than 3 gigs in the computer it may be a good idea to put in some more.

Get a new Video Card - This can be a cheap and easy way to breathe new life into an old computer that can give an older computer HDMI capability.

Step 15: Limitations

While loading up Linux, upgrading RAM (memory), upgrading video cards and replacing batteries is great, on really old computers or computers that are physically damaged this will only go so far. I suggest looking at the cost benefit of upgrading old hardware vs. buying new hardware before making an investment. I am personally getting to the point where I will need something new to keep up with the times


antisubae (author)2015-01-11

This is almost hilariously coincidental, because I was just given an identical "broken" Inspiron 1525 a few days ago. After replacing some bad RAM it booted right up, so out went Vista and in went Ubuntu. :-) After verifying that the machine was 100% working, I cloned the old drive to a newer 250 gig unit I had in the spare parts bin as well. This is a great Instructable, and even though I didn't actually use it, I'm always glad to see other like-minded people recycling older hardware. Since I don't actually need this laptop for myself, I'll end up giving it away to someone who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford one. Hopefully it will see another couple years of use before it ends up in the recycle bin!

jmrobinson (author)antisubae2015-05-10

Do you still have it?

This is almost hilariously coincidental, because I was just given an identical "broken" Inspiron 1525 a few days ago.

In my experience, most Dells come that way out of the box (note the caveat before trolling, please). I can't believe it hasn't gone belly up... Yet. Michael must be using his own cash to float the company.

Strange. I have an old Dell laptop (P4 2000s) that works fine. I'm sure it's at least 8-10 years old. Perhap it is the newer ones or simply that model/line of laptops that have problems.

Kardolf (author)Istarian2015-01-13

I still have my first laptop at home. A Dell Latitude CP, if I recall correctly. I really should get rid of it, but never have. Once in a while, I dig up the power cable, hook it up, and sure enough, it still works fine. That machine has to be from about 2000 or 2001. I've run Linux on it a time or two, but nothing as new as Ubuntu. Primarily old Red Hat. So, I agree - must be a newer line that has problems.

NoobT (author)antisubae2015-01-11

That is great to hear. I also plan to give mine away to a student or family in need.

ciscobigtruck (author)2015-01-11

Ubuntu is definitely not the right OS for an older computer. If you don't have at least a 64 bit processor don't install Ubuntu.

jtb26 (author)ciscobigtruck2015-01-11

Running full Ubuntu 14.04 on a 2004 HP ZD8000 - 32 bit. It runs great, no problems at all. Dual booting with Win7.

I run full Ubuntu 14.04 on an 8 year old Dell Inspiron 531, and a very cheap HP desktop - on I got for my kids long ago.

None of this is high spec stuff, but I've been running Ubuntu on all of these since 12.04. As long as you have 2 Gigs of RAM - a very cheap upgrade, recent versions of full Ubuntu run A OK.

ciscobigtruck (author)jtb262015-01-11

You can run it, but it is to slow to be useful.

jtb26 (author)ciscobigtruck2015-01-12

Right now for this response I am using the HP zd8000 set-up I talked about - full Ubuntu on a 2004 computer - screenshot attached. No lag at all. I do all the basics with it - browsing, email, the occasional document, spreadsheet and Linux game. It's a great basic use machine. It's not at all laggy. It's my go-to home machine for financial transactions - i.e. banking, ordering things online on Amazon, etc. And it's doing it on just a 15 Gig partition within a 60 Gig SCSI (yes, SCSI) hard drive. And it's humming along beautifully.

Attached is screenshot - browser open, displaying the info window from settings to show what it's running.

Youtube works great, but the one only area where it has issues is streaming Netflix or Hulu, which still works but comes in at a low frame rate.

On my Dell - an 9 year old computer, but one that I've upgraded to 8G RAM and a decent video card - running full Ubuntu I run Steam games for Linux, GIMP, use it both to play full 1080 HD MKV files of blurays with VLC, rip the occasional DVD and use it as a streaming video server for PLEX. Works great as a PLEX server.

I have 6 computers at home running full Ubuntu in dual-boot, most of them with only 2 Gigs RAM, and they are all great basic-use PCs. Ubuntu-is my go-to OS for daily use. I only switch to Windows to rip the occasional Bluray, or to run Windows-only games.

I'm no techie, and it all runs seemlessly with full Ubuntu. Again this is home use, but that's the point, isn't it? The fact is Ubuntu is, with Redhat, one of the few versions of Linux with actual commercial support - there is a paid professional team always working on it. It kind of makes sense that it works well. I play with other versions of Linux - Puppy is a neat project and super useful in its context, but it doesn't come off as a professional OS. Others are similar.

There are tons of Linux desktop projects out there, but most don't have real backing - many, many are simply one-man or small group projects. Ubuntu is one that actually comes off like something you otherwise would be happy to pay for.

techboy411 (author)jtb262016-03-28

I can't imagine the heat those P4's are making.

jtb26 (author)techboy4112016-03-28

I've enjoyed toying around with Linux over the past few years, but it's suddenly harder to justify spending time on Linux as a non-pro user like me.

Though Ubuntu still works well on those old PCs, my goal had been to keep PCs running as a cost efficiency thing.

But lately I've started working from home, and the fan noise issue is now an issue. It wasn't an issue when I just used my home PCs on the weekend and after work.

I have a fanless ultra-book from my company for work, and wanted a second PC on my desk for personal stuff that I want to keep off my work computer, like music/Pandora, personal browsing and video.

I find the better option than using an old PC with Ubuntu is to use a Windows tablet with a docking station (from Plugable), which allows my entire workspace set-up to operate noiselessly. I already had the Windows tablet, and the dock cost @$90. $90 is a good value for silence in my workspace. It's amazing how much functionality they pack into a cheap, silent tablet! And it frees up a lot of space.

I still have two old PCs with Ubuntu - the ZD8000 and the old Dell (which is actually a decent game rig if I don't insist on the latest games) - but I find I use them less and less.

Istarian (author)jtb262015-01-12

There are a fair number with that are well supported (in the sense of development time), but far fewer where you can get paid support specific to that distribution.

Besides Redhat and Ubuntu there is Debian and SuSE and there are some reasonably well managed smaller ones.

You should be happy to pay for any of them given that they are complete systems. You certainly couldn't write your own. Besides for the most part Linux is Linux. All of them are essentially the same at the system software level. What differs is the user application software end and if you were willing to compile things rather than expecting a pretty installer application you'd find that most software can be installed on any of them,

rseiter1 (author)ciscobigtruck2015-01-12

it must be your machine , because nobody here agrees with you i use ubuntu all the time on low end machines and have for years

rseiter1 (author)ciscobigtruck2015-01-11

You can easily get 32 bit versions, one of my favorites is ubuntu 10.4, its lightwieght and works great on a 32 bit box

ciscobigtruck (author)rseiter12015-01-11

Doesn't matter it will run so slow it will be useless. I've run Ubuntu for years and it like a lot of power.

jtb26 (author)ciscobigtruck2015-01-12

Maybe for big spreadsheets or busy servers, but for basic home machines, as a family man buy pcs for wife and kids, I tend to buy low-spec stuff for home use.

Full Ubuntu is just fine for basic home PCs. If your concerns are writing documents or small spreadsheets, surfing the web, watching Youtube, and email, it's not slow at all. One of the PCs I run Ubuntu on I bought for $285 (desktop with monitor!) at least 7 years ago as a first computer for one of my kids. Ubuntu is just fine on this machine. I don't do fancy stuff with it, but I do use it actively for browsing, and when I am using my main PC desktop (an old $450 Dell Inspiron) for something resource consumptive, I will use that old $285 desktop for Netflix, Youtube, etc.

Perhaps for professional uses Ubuntu may be slow - I'm just a home user serving family needs here - but for basic home computing it's pretty snappy, even on the low-end computers I tend to buy for my family.

lqlarry (author)ciscobigtruck2015-01-11

There are other 'buntu's around. Right now I'm using Kubuntu, which is a resource hog but I favor Xbuntu which uses less resources than Ubuntu. For even older computers there is Lubuntu. Just Google these for more information. I'm not a gamer so I can't vouch for how fast these would be on games, but I know Steam is stepping up to the plate.

Istarian (author)lqlarry2015-01-12

Xubuntu uses less memory because the window manager/gui/graphical shell/desktop environment (the Windows equivalent is explorer.exe, which is different than iexplore.exe) is XFCE, which is less memory heavy, instead of Gnome/Unity or KDE.

Istarian (author)ciscobigtruck2015-01-12

The problem likely isn't strictly Ubuntu persay, it is probably the graphical environment (Gnome/KDE) sucking up memory. Unfortunately setting up an alternate one may not be easy with the easy installation.

These days 2GB ram is really the lowest you want to go unless you're a nut who enjoys tweaking things.

notimeoff (author)2015-01-11

I just purchased an HP refurbished with win 7. to us as my desktop with a dual boot system with Ubuntu.

First thing I did was NOT connect to the LAN/ internet then start the system out of the box, it installs some much junk on startup but just get it running.

After you get it running reinstall fresh windows 7 and all the junk stuff should be gone, now connect to the internet and do all the updates from microsoft.

Then install Ubuntu (or you favorite linux distro) now you have a clean dual boot system.

ThanZ1 (author)notimeoff2016-02-08

I already made a dual boot system my self using Linux Ubundu. I prefer this distro, because it has 100% support for greek characters. The otehr distros - Mind, Fedora - dissapointed me when I tried to read greek documents.

My PC has a dual-core intel CPU, 2GB RAM and 1 TB hard disk drive.

you've already mucked it up by installing all the Microsoft updates there are 100 gig of them in windows 7 and Ubuntu will fragment the Windows partition a lot making it slower and slower over time.

I need to run both systems on the same machine for now, Disability has me in a bad place right now, $150.00 was all I had. just trying to be helpful.

No no not at all I wasn't knocking what you have done it does work running two OS's on one machine many here have proved that, in what they say.

if you read the whole thread there is a mention above about not updating windows, and I put a bit up about which updates to cherry pick which will allow windows to run a lot faster, I don't know why so many people think that they will have much better security downloading all the windows updates it is just not true, I didn't download all the security updates in windows Xp either they just made the computers grind to a halt or develop further problems, I have read a fair bit on people complaining that windows 7 becomes to slow or crashes when certain updates are downloaded and having tested this myself found that allowing windows to update automatically every single update the total came to 100 gig of updates.

on a 160 gig drive this doesn't leave you much room for storage especially if your video editing very large files like I am. I know disability very well Ive been there 25 years, so I do understand your position.

dianad1 (author)2016-01-06

I would love to try this on my old Dell XPS M 1710. It's the model Sheldon Cooper had on early "Big Bang Theory" episodes with the flashing lights and flashy red case. Unfortunately, Windows XP is not working. I almost had it running and connected to the internet (after hours of chkdsk, reboots, and attempts at reinstallation) when it crashed again. Can't even get to where I can download Linux. The dang thing cost me thousands back in the day (an early gaming laptop), and I hate to relegate it to doorstop status. Not sure if I have the energy to do a complete wipe. But it's tempting.

spinnerator (author)2015-11-22

I have turned a couple of old P4's into home media machines by installing OpenElec, which is a dedicated version of XBMC or Kodi as it is known now. Because it is just a basic streaming box, it doesn't need much except a good ethernet card.

TammyC21 (author)2015-10-22

Hi, I have a question and I desperately need some help because I've been messing with this for a month now and I'm literally going to lose my dang mind!! Can I ask my question here? Or is there another process I need to follow? Thank you, Tammy

poppaIT (author)TammyC212015-10-30

I believe that any questions in this comment area must pertain to this instructable, otherwise you might try one of the instructable community forums. :)

Another option would be to shoot a message to my inbox and I would be happy to attempt to help.

JRV31 (author)2015-04-28

Good advice, I hope it gets more people running Linux.

xyndaen (author)2015-02-13

and ssd disk make improve the performance very much. Lubuntu (my preference) and Xubuntu are special version of Ubuntu designed for old computers. Then, if it possible to find adding ram will really effect the performance.

Then, you will have a zombie computer...

john1a (author)2015-01-31

Great. I want just to add that you can install Linux Mint instead of Linux Ubuntu, as it is more stable and is easier to use.

CreativeGeek (author)2015-01-31

You suggest '03 or later, however the oldest I personally would go is 2010, as a Nehalem i3, i5, or i7, while still rather old and unable to support the latest OpenGL/DirectX with onboard graphics, which can be solved with a good dedicated GPU of some sort, will still outperform a Netburst P4.

Arroz (author)2015-01-11

Meant Linux

JohnN3 (author)Arroz2015-01-11

if you go with Ubuntu you have the option of placing it "beside" windows thereby creating a dual boot system with option of booting to either at startup. Optionally you can wipe the drive, and simply have an Ubuntu system. If you want to try out Ubuntu I'd go for the dual boot option. You will need enough disk space to house both.

Although a great idea to have two OS on one disk drive the Unbuntu OS really mucks up the windows OS it will need a lot of daily maintenance.unless you have an especially large disk drive 500 gig plus.

I`ve multi booted several machines with ubuntu, and various windows versions without issue. I even had one with boot options for u untu, win 7, vista, and xp.

I didn't mean to imply that it wasn't possible just that Ubuntu fragments the windows partition quite a lot. at least this has been my experience of several Ubuntu installs sharing the same Hard disk.

rseiter1 (author)JohnN32015-01-11

You can run it on your USB stick or DVD if you just want to try it, its alot slower but at least you can see a little how it works

Uncle Kudzu (author)2015-01-08

Thanks for the Instuctable!

People more familiar with Linux really should try Puppy Linux on old equipment. Puppy creates a ramdisk and can actually feel quick and agile, running as it does from RAM.

alloydog (author)Uncle Kudzu2015-01-09

Puppy Linux is very good and very fast for old stuff. However, if you find you have some hardware which isn't supported, it is quite difficult to tweak things to get it working.

Luckily, there are so many lean and light distros out there, you have plenty of chances to test which one suits you better.

jtb26 (author)alloydog2015-01-11

I agree - Puppy works great on my oldest computer -a 2004 HP desktop replacement laptop - blazingly fast, in fact - but it won't work on my 4 year old Toshiba laptop. I have two older desktops, too, that Puppy doesn't play nice with (maybe a video card support issue?). But when the Puppy works, it's got some helpful utilities. That said, I wouldn't want to make it a daily use system. Also the security defaults I kind of worry, so I don't really want to use it for stuff like financial transactions. I'd rather use a fuller distro with stricter security defaults.

fred.fanackerpan.3 (author)jtb262015-01-25

I have found that Toshiba Laptops can be fussy about what hard ware is installed I remember having a lot of fun trying to upgrade RAM in one about five years ago even with what seemed to be the correct upgraded memory it refused to boot unless one of the old Toshiba sticks was installed. I have since learnt that this is something done at the factory to ensure you always buy Toshiba Memory and nothing else, its a rip off and their momory is expensive to.

sorry mean't Memory. in last sentence.

jtb26 (author)fred.fanackerpan.32015-01-25

I use a cheap Toshiba Satellite that I bought about 4 years ago, and use it pretty regularly, especially for games that my 12 year old HP won't handle (which is most games from the last 7 or 8 years. I upgraded the RAM to 8 gigs with an inexpensive brand that I found on Amazon that is unassociated with Toshiba, and had no issues it all -just stuck it in and it worked. Maybe it was $28 or so? I also installed an SSD, a Samsung, again with no issues. My son knocked that laptop down to the floor once, and, with a cracked screen, I even personally did a screen replacement ($40 on a replacement screen beats buying a new PC). So I've found my Toshiba, a C655d - one of those Best Buy specials at the time I bought it- to be very serviceable.

I also upgraded the RAM to my son's Toshiba gaming laptop, again, with no issues.

But neither is that old, though, 4 years or so. Maybe the older models use more proprietary parts? Even Apple has moved away from many proprietary parts for their computers, as it sounds like it's pretty easy to build a hackintosh.

When buying RAM for any computer you do need to run a compatibilty check, but my understanding is that applies to any PC. I think all I did on Amazon was put in my laptop model, followed by RAM the search Amazon. I'm no techie, but I've upgraded the RAM to 6 PCs over the last couple of years. The only issue I've ever had was with my first, when I didn't check compatibility before ordering. But having learned that

anthonywh (author)2015-01-09

There are a lot of things you can do with an older computer. I use one for a juke-box; another for photo processing and storage; one to surf the web and another for on-line shopping and bill-paying. I even have a separate box for games. Sure, I could use one machine for all this but by compartmentalizing I add security, extra storage capacity and just plain fun to my life.

For my linux machines I prefer Zonin Linux because it can mimic different operating systems and it just looks great. You can run it right out-of-the-box and its free to download. For low capacity machines there are lighter linux distros like Xunbuntu and Antix which run on practically anything; or something wild like Robolinux. All can be upgraded with free applications you download to make your machine do whatever you want.

You can get a servicable old machine at a thrift store for little-of-nothing or buy one from a friend who had just gotten a new box. I've had people give me perfectly good computers that just needed a new operating system. Oh, and don't spend your money on a new monitor. You've got that fifty inch LCD TV to use during the football off-season.

gfeikens (author)anthonywh2015-01-12

Damn, that's 5 systems to work with? Imagine the size of the workbench :p

I would never get permission fomr the Mrs, I can assure you that! Two laptops was the absolute limit ;)

we have one system built into the bedroom wall for streaming movies on the bedroom TV with a very quiet pwr supply, another system under the Smart Plasma TV in the front room running windows 7 ultimate Media Centre, it does all the recording of Digital TV programs, another Main computer under the stairs and a laptop, and finally a tablet which is the most annoying Android operating system. these are all networked together mostly wired for the big computers and wireless for the laptop and Tablet.

ymasullo (author)anthonywh2015-01-12

Great ideas.

jtb26 (author)2015-01-11

Another thing to try, especially if you find you have an old Windows 7 disk/license not being used, is simply to install Windows 7, maybe adding a little RAM.

A few years ago I took over my Dad's HP ZD 8000. Built in 2004, he had only 500 megs of RAM on it, but for only $20, I upgraded it to 2 gigs. Even with just a reinstall of the original XP OS, this thing was flying. But with XP retiring, I had an unused Win 7disk -and, amazingly, it installed way, way faster and more effortlessly than XP. XP required tons of updates and i had to download lots of drivers off the HP site -video drivers, wifi drivers and about 12 others. But Win 7 worked out of the gate without having to download any drivers at all, and it is very quick booting, running old Windows games (I'm a fan of old FPSs on GOG) running Office, etc. The one place it falls down is streaming from HULU, Netflix and Amazon (youtube's fine). It works, but it comes in at a very low frame rate. But for everything else I do, it runs great. Tried Win 8 too, but no luck with Win 8. (For all the complaints, Windows 8 is a faster, lighter OS than Win 7 - if it will work in your old machine).

The above said, I dual-boot it now with Windows 7 and full Ubuntu 14.04.

A word of advice for anyone trying out Linux who wants to stream premium video services like Netflix. Download Chrome directly from Google. This may have changed, but other popular Linux version browsers like Firefox and even Chromium (the open source browser that Chrome is based on) would not run Netflix videos. There are lots of tweaks on the web for getting Netflix to work, but I wasted hours on these, and they were at best klugey and highly unstable. But a few,months back Chrome in Linux started fully supporting all these premium video sites like Netflix.

Official Chrome is NOT downloaded from the Ubuntu store (which only seems to officially offer the fully open-source Chromium version - Chrome and Chromium are directly related, but maybe Chrome is not considered open source?). You have to download directly from Google. But so far, from my experience Chrome is the easiest way to enjoy Netflix on Linux. For many Linux home users, no out-of-the box support for Netflix was the biggest problem as a daily use issue. Google fixed that issue very nicely.

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