Top 10 Cool Uses For Old Computers And Laptops

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So you finally bought a new computer and your old one sits in the corner and is collecting dust. That’s too bad because there are a number of good uses for old computers.

Whether it’s a desktop computer or a laptop, whether or not it’s broken, and no matter how old it is, it can still be useful to you or someone else.

So if you still don’t have any idea what to do with it, you might find some inspiration in this article.

1. Run a Geek Beamer

It’s an unlikely scenario, but say you had an excess TFT screen, maybe with a broken backlight so it remains black, you could still use it to build your own geeky projector. You will need a working overhead projector and a computer or laptop to run the movies or whatever else you want to watch with it. Here’s the how-to video:

Unfortunately, Tom’s Hardware Guide took down the complete guide.

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2. Create a Digital Photo Frame

good uses for old computersIf your old laptop screen is OK and if either the hard drive or CD/DVD drive are working, you can use it to build a cheap digital photo frame. With a working wireless connection you could even make it show your latest Flickr photos.

You’ll find detailed instructions all over the net. provides an extensive list of instructions sorted by laptop models. Unfortunately, some links are outdated. If you have a spare G4 Powerbook, try this article at Instructables, and for the digital photo frame connecting to Flickr, Mike from PopSci used an old IBM ThinkPad T21 and Slickr, as described here. Shuttertalk has instructions using a LCD monitor and laptop.

3. Create an External Hard Drive

good uses for old computersIf parts of your laptop or desktop computer hardware are broken, you can salvage the working parts. So if the hard drive is still working, you can dismount it and transform it into an external and portable hard drive for your new computer. You’ll have to invest in a USB caddy, which can be acquired cheaply through eBay, Amazon or your local hardware dealer. Be sure to get the right format and connector for your hard drive. For a laptop hard drive, you’ll need a 2.5″ IDE or SATA caddy. For a regular hard drive, generally a 3.5″ IDE or SATA caddy is in order.

4. Make Money

good uses for old computersYou can dismantle your entire broken computer or laptop and sell the working parts on eBay. Hard drive, RAM, A/C adapters, motherboards, graphics and audio cards, and even an intact case will return some cash.

It’s not a very unique use, but you may be able to save up some extra money to buy that cool tool you’ve been wanting to get.

To learn more about the inside of your computer, try Karl’s Own PC Building Guide, a free MakeUseOf free guide. To succeed on eBay, apply my 7 Tips for Private eBay Sellers.

5. Make Someone Happy

uses for old computersThe next best way to use your still working old computer is to make someone else happy!

You could offer the computer on your local group or ask friends, family, and people in your community whether anyone needs a computer for simple tasks. Alternatively, you could donate your laptop or computer through an official organization, such as Computers with Causes.

Freecycle is mentioned in my post about 6 Amazing Web Communities for Exchanging Favors.

6. Donate CPU Time

uses for old computersIf you would rather donate to something bigger, such as science, you could hook up the old computer to the internet, install a program such as SETI@home or Proteins@home, and run these programs all day and night.

The computer could sit in a dead corner of your house and would require a monitor only occasionally. You would invest as little as a bit of electricity and bandwidth.

Ryan has composed a great article about how 10 Ways To Donate Your CPU Time To Science.

7. Try Linux

uses for old computersIf you’re a Windows user, having an extra computer to play with is your prime chance to get familiar with Linux. And you may just be surprised by how smoothly Linux runs on your old machine. The reason is that Linux demands much less power.

Stefan has written a Linux guide for Newbies, which will guide you through setting up Ubuntu and your first steps with it.

8. Use it as File or Print Server

Transform your old computer into a workhorse with only the essential software components, including Windows File and Printer sharing. Next, hook up all your external devices to it, such as an external hard drive or printer, and make them available to all other computers in the house.

9. Set up an external Firewall or Router

use of old computersSeparating your firewall from the PC you are using, and running it on a standalone computer that sits between the internet and your actual operating system, is a powerful way to protect your data. With Linux as the firewall computer’s operating system it’s almost perfect.

Lockup has a guide on how to turn your old PC into a NAT firewall router. At Associated Content, you will find an article that explains how to use free software to set up a first class firewall. And finally, Instructables has a guide on how to build your own gateway firewall.

10. Turn it into a Media Station

use of old computersLoad all your music and videos onto this computer, if necessary supply it with an external hard drive, set up your favorite media player, listen to, install a TV tuner card and record movies, record music from radio stations, download MP3s, stream music throughout the house using wireless speakers etc.

There are many more options of how you can use an old computer for entertainment purposes, just be creative!

To help you set it all up, we have some material in store for you. Will wrote about the Top 5 Free Media Players For Windows. Ryan covered the Best Sites To Watch TV On Your Computer Over The Internet. Using a wireless connection, you could set up this additional “internet TV” in the kitchen or office. If you would like to record music, read my article about 3 Easy Tools to Record Streaming Music as MP3 Files. And I’m sure you’ll discover many more resources on MakeUseOf.

Can you think of even better ways to use an old computer or laptop? Let’s hear!

Image credits: ryas, dolar, svilen001, ilco

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Comments (18)
  • Pocas

    I run debian 5.0 in my old compaq presario 1700 (256mb Ram) and use it to surf the web and as a portable arcade machine. And it runs good even with gnome

  • Lorraine Kerwood

    Better YET! Donate your computer and other electronics to a nonprofit like ours-NextStep! We will use your donated hardware as a training tool for marginalized community members who might never have been employed or have been considered unemployable by the main stream employment market. We have four different training programs that are “fed” by our electronics donation stream. 1: technology refurbishment-we train community members how to refurbish computers, printers, cell phones, AV equipment, household electronics, etc. 2. Technology Education-we train community members to educate others on the importance of not tossing electronics in the landfill. 3. ReUSE-we train community members on retail sales. 4. Recycle-we train community members on how to recycle all the stuff that is not refurbishable. Everyone who participates in our technology training programs also receives an Internet ready computer for their own use. We also place technology with community members referred to us by social service agencies. A TOTAL WIN WIN for our community-keeps working hardware out of the shredder and the landfill, recycles obsolete electronics with an auditable organization, and empowers and educates our community-offering job and social skills training to community members others have written off. There are other orgs like ours in the country-do a web search for “computer refurbisher” or visit to find an org in YOUR community.

  • books

    interesting topic but it is useful for students, learners only.

  • Zachary Snyder

    Great Article, but you missed a very important use for old PC’s… using them to make a MAME Arcade!
    I’ve made two using old PC’s
    One in a coffee table for $200:

    One in a bookshelf for $100:

    Definitely a cheap way to turn an old PC into something awesome…


    Okay, Aibek thanks for the info.

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This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.