Web Culture

What to Do With Old Computers: 10 Cool Uses for Used PCs and Laptops

Tina Sieber 26-09-2009

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.

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. Repair4Laptop.org 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 Unfortunately, some links are outdated.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 How To Build Your Own PC It's very gratifying to build your own PC; as well as intimidating. But the process itself is actually quite simple. We'll walk you through everything you need to know. Read More , a free MakeUseOf free guide. To succeed on eBay, apply my tips for private eBay sellers 7 Tips for Private eBay Sellers Read More .

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 FreeCycle.org 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.

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 10 Ways To Donate Your CPU Time To Science Read More .

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 Last.fm, 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 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 easy tool to record streaming music as MP3 files. And I’m sure you’ll discover many more resources on MakeUseOf to help you find cool uses for your old PC.

If you’re in the market for a new computer, our roundup of the best Windows PC laptops The 5 Best Windows PC Laptops of 2019 What is the best Windows laptop for you? Here are the best Windows laptops of 2019 to help you find one that suits your needs. Read More will help you make the right choice for maximum portability.

Image credits: ryas, dolar, svilen001, ilco

Related topics: Computer Maintenance, Recycling.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Nancy
    January 4, 2018 at 11:50 pm

    Why not donate? In this age it's so important to stay connected, especially because almost everything is digital. There are those that don't have the means to obtain computers on their own, so if you happen to be able to donate then I would encourage you to do so. Plus you get a nice tax deduction that can be super helpful on your taxes. Visit https://www.computerswithcauses.org/computer-donations.htm

    • Tina Sieber
      January 21, 2018 at 2:34 am

      Thank you for sharing, Nancy.

  2. Paul Mc
    September 28, 2016 at 11:46 am

    I cannot do a Windows build in one step but Microsoft used to be able to so it.
    When I buy a new PC Windows is on it so from a usage point of view it is one step.
    I say "used to" because the "free" Windows 10 update is more of a marketing stunt than an OS.
    Even with this Linux has not stepped in with anything better, maybe it is too diluted with the 27 (estimate) different versions.

    • Tina Sieber
      September 29, 2016 at 7:38 am

      Well, Linux is spreading its brand thin with all the different distros, but I don't think it matters. It's open source and the developers behind it made a distro that's perfect for them. In the perfect world, they wouldn't have to care about whether anyone else likes it.

      With Windows it's a different story. Microsoft has to make a profit, so they have to please at least a majority of users.

  3. Paul Mc
    September 27, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    DO NOT try linux. Every time I try linux it is a big waste of time. It is painful to get working and always slower than windows. In his 12 steps to better code Joel Spolsky asks "Can you make a build in 1 step" For linux the answer is a resounding NO

    • Tina Sieber
      September 28, 2016 at 11:38 am

      Thanks for your input, Paul.
      Can you make a Windows build in one step? Haven't seen that yet.
      So what do you use?

  4. Hellozach.co
    January 24, 2016 at 12:41 am

    I would suggest to be careful with energy usage. An old pc with energy settings configured incorrectly can cost you up to about $9 a month to run.

  5. Pocas
    February 4, 2010 at 2:26 am

    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

  6. Lorraine Kerwood
    November 4, 2009 at 1:07 am

    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 http://www.refurbisher.org to find an org in YOUR community.

  7. books
    October 29, 2009 at 2:40 am

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

  8. Zachary Snyder
    September 30, 2009 at 7:33 am

    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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wjk25JZMJtY

    One in a bookshelf for $100: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BL-NNPpPIg8

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

    September 29, 2009 at 8:10 am

    Okay, Aibek thanks for the info.

    September 27, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    Test comment: My comment I wonder always disappears and is never published here!

    • Aibek
      September 29, 2009 at 5:42 am

      It doesn't disappears it just goes to moderation queue, once we have approved it, your future comments should appear instantly.

    September 27, 2009 at 10:30 pm


  12. Rick
    September 27, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Load it up with edubuntu and donate it to a family with kids that has no computer. Your local school counselor will be able to hook you up.

  13. Alex
    September 27, 2009 at 4:35 am

    where you place the LCD screen is a lamp or a videoproeittore?

    • Alex
      September 27, 2009 at 4:36 am

      where you place the LCD screen is a lamp or a projector?

      • Tina
        September 27, 2009 at 4:41 am

        It's an overhead projector.

  14. venkat
    September 26, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    Trying linux is a good thing as we can't upgrade hardware for old PC.

  15. Guy
    September 26, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    I'm sorry but a lot of the old hardware are energy hogs. And I don't mean in terms of "oh my good, people. You must go greener. Save the earth etc. etc." I mean in terms of money you will have to pay for electric. If you want a fileserver or firewall you are probably better of with buying a super small computer with todays energy specs.

    • Tina
      September 27, 2009 at 4:51 am

      Electricity isn't gas, it's rather cheap. Nevertheless, I guess you're right and this factor should be considered.

      But since you mentioned it...
      To keep an old computer and use it productively is probably better for the environment than to buy a new model that will serve the same purpose. Recycling old electronics is very difficult and expensive, which is why some parts are never recycled.

  16. Noah
    September 26, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    Although Linux uses less resources, most distro's still need 1 GB + of ram to run well, and at least a 2.5 GHZ single core.
    However, you do get ones like Puppy and DSL which can run on 50 MB of RAM.

    • Calcifer
      September 26, 2009 at 8:35 pm

      Yep, but maybe the author means the Linux without GUI~ Or use the lightweight environment.

    • Paul Z
      September 28, 2009 at 1:45 pm

      Dont totally agree. My Tablet PC with a 1.2 ULV runs ubuntu like a champion.

      • MorbidTheINHALER
        January 10, 2017 at 1:51 pm

        I'm running Mint on an old laptop with 512MB (it maxed out with WinXP.) Mint runs like a champ.

        • Tina Sieber
          January 10, 2017 at 3:11 pm

          Thank you for sharing!

          Do you feel comfortable running Mint on an unsupported version of Windows? How do you keep Windows XP safe? Do you keep the laptop offline?