Breathe New Life Into an Old Computer

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Intro: 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

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 Ubuntu.com 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

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

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.

Laptops

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.

Desktops

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

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155 Discussions

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antisubae

3 years ago on Introduction

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!

5 replies

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.

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KardolfIstarian

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

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.

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NoobTantisubae

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

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

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Coasting

4 months ago

I have an ancient single core Toughbook that I put small SSD in and upgraded to Puppy Linux. The SSD made all difference. Its usable for basic stuff. RAM maxxed out at 1.25GB. This is enough for Puppy but just barely enough for modern browser. This laptop was made for early not so bloated version of XP. I dont think even later versions XP would run well on it.

I had another old laptop similar and for whatever reason it likes 32bit version of Xubuntu better than Puppy. No idea why. Puppy usually faster booting on most.

Saying this, DONT go out and buy a single core processor computer. If you already have one or somebody gives you one free then ok. But buying laptop, you can get an older two core processor computer that is upgradable to 4GB RAM for $15 to $25. So much faster than something like my old Toughbook, that it isnt even funny. By way lot current low end laptops with celeron or atom processors that arent really any faster than those early two core processor computers (usually Intel core2duo or AMD Turion). And on two core processors, you really want 1.5Ghz or better. There were some truly slow two core processors made and sold at low end. The old buisiness computers tend to be best bargain, they cost beaucoup bucks originally and made to last forever and be repairable. Low end consumer quality antiques not nearly as reliable. And as somebody else pointed out, on old laptops, worth cleaning out cooling fan/vents/ducts

Of course Microsoft hates linux, so have gotten hardware manufacturers to implement UEFI bios on most win8 and up computers in some insane idea it offers security. This on many such computers can be disabled but I have run into one Lenovo where it couldnt. Most linux distributions now support UEFI to some degree, but its still not stupid simple to install linux like it used to be. In other words they knew they werent going to completely frustrate long term linux hobbyists determined to install linux, but they were going to make it darn hard for newbies to try it.

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ciscobigtruck

3 years ago

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.

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jtb26ciscobigtruck

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

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.

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jtb26ciscobigtruck

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

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.

Screenshot from 2015-01-12 06:14:42.png
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techboy411jtb26

Reply 2 years ago

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

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jtb26techboy411

Reply 2 years ago

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.

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Istarianjtb26

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

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,

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rseiter1ciscobigtruck

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

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

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rseiter1ciscobigtruck

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

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

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ciscobigtruckrseiter1

Reply 3 years ago

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.

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jtb26ciscobigtruck

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

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.

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lqlarryciscobigtruck

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

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.

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Istarianlqlarry

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

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.