What To Do With A Spare Laptop

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Rick Broyda is the author of several books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes the popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Traveler’s Podcast (part of the Travelers TV show). He lives in Michigan, where he has two escape rooms (written about in the ebook “I Was a Middle Aged Zombie”).

What To Do With A Spare Laptop

What To Do With A Spare Laptop

Everything old is new again. This applies not only to bell-bottoms and cassette tapes (seriously, tapes go backwards), but also to your old technology.

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You learned how to recycle an old tablet; Now let’s turn our attention to the laptop you’ve been hiding in the back of your closet for years. Even if it’s a slow, messy mess full of viruses, you might be surprised how much you can make a living out of it. You probably don’t have to spend any money.

First things first: does it boot? For example, if it has a bum hard drive, cracked screen or missing/broken keyboard keys, it might be time for the trash/recycle pile. Replacing a hard drive isn’t difficult or expensive, but it certainly costs money.

But if the hardware is good, you have a lot of options. The most obvious: reformat the hard drive and reinstall Windows. (You transferred your data to your new laptop, right?) It’s worth considering if you have the necessary media (especially a bootable Windows disk and/or flash drive), but it’s not necessary. In fact, if the machine is running an old version of Windows, it is not wise from a security perspective. (Best bet if you plan to stick with Windows: do a clean install of Windows 10.)

Let’s look at some cool and practical ways to make an old laptop usable again.

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This is probably my favorite option, because it does many things at once. When you install Linux, it overwrites your existing OS, warts and all (optional, but better). It replaces almost anything with a fast-booting, virus-resistant, Windows-like environment.

If you’re not familiar with it, Linux is an open source operating system that can run thousands of programs – notably, including office suites like LibreOffice and OpenOffice. It can run browsers like Chrome, Firefox and Opera; games like Civilization V and Minecraft; Mail clients such as Thunderbird; and Photoshop-level image editors, such as GIMP.

Want a program that only works for Windows? A tool called PlayOnLinux can run it within Linux.

What To Do With A Spare Laptop

On the downside, some features of Linux have a learning curve, especially when it comes to configuring certain settings. And you may face some compatibility issues with external devices like printers.

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It is recommended to give your old laptop a Linux makeover. The only real question: What version of Linux (or “distro,” short for distribution)? There are many to choose from, Mint and Ubuntu are probably the most popular, the former being the closest to replicating the Windows UI.

What is a Chromebook but a regular laptop with limited processing power and a Google-powered interface that doesn’t require much processing power?

So, your old laptop should be more than capable of running an OS called Chromium. Why choose it over Linux? Partly because it runs fast, even on simple hardware, and partly because it’s by and by Google — which could appeal to Android users and others involved in the Google ecosystem.

In fact, if all you want from your old PC is a web browser and cloud apps, Chromium might be your best bet. And there are at least two free and easy ways to get it: Cub Linux and Neverware’s CloudReady. I’m partial to the latter, but it’s very easy to try both.

Screwdriver And Spare Parts From A Laptop. Keyboard, Brush, Keys. Laptop Repair Stock Photo

If your old laptop has a decent hard drive inside, consider dedicating it to one, impressive purpose: network attached storage, or NAS.

This is not a new concept; The idea is basically to connect a large drive to your home network, then make the contents of that drive accessible to all your devices: PCs, phones, tablets and more. Even better, you can access Drive wherever you’re connected, not just at home. Instead of dumping all your photos in the cloud, you can dump them on your NAS. Instead of storing movies on your phone, you can stream them from your NAS. Get the idea?

An oldie-but-goodie option for this: FreeNAS. It is designed for sharing files locally and online and it also offers media-streaming features. It runs on a bootable CD or flash drive, where it sets the IP address for your PC. Presto: Fast and easy remote access to laptop hard drives.

What To Do With A Spare Laptop

It’s a slightly different animal than a media server. Turns your laptop into a media center that serves your TV, connecting directly to everything from recording broadcast TV stations to watching Netflix on the big screen.

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I’ll be honest: I don’t see a ton of value in this option. It’s not hard to get Netflix, and many older laptops don’t have the horsepower needed for DVR duty. (And you’ll need a tuner, antenna, remote, etc.) Heck, if yours doesn’t have an HDMI output, the project is almost over before it even starts.

If you want to try, check out this tutorial on setting up a home media center with Kodi.

Do you remember SETI@home? This is another thing. In fact, it started so long ago, you might not even recognize the name. SETI@home connects your PC to a distributed network to help analyze radio telescope data. In other words, now your leftover laptop can help in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

All you have to do is download the Boinc software (available for Windows, Mac and — hint-hint — Linux), then select SETI@home from the list of available plans.

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If you don’t like aliens, Boinc also allows this kind of “volunteer computing” for things like medical research and climate analysis. The only cost to you is the electricity and (very little) bandwidth required to keep the laptop running.

Admit it: You’re always worried that someone is using your laptop’s webcam to spy on you. Turn the tables with iSpy, an open source video surveillance application for Windows. In this your old laptop becomes a surveillance camera that you can use to monitor children, pets, babysitters, outdoors or whatever.

This is useful if you want an inexpensive way to monitor, for example, a sleeping child. Additionally, iSpy is free for local use (ie inside your own home), but if you want to view your webcam remotely, the service costs $7.95 per month.

What To Do With A Spare Laptop

For the serious DIY-er, there’s nothing more satisfying than stripping a laptop down to its bare parts, then repurposing one of those parts into something cool — in this case a digital photo frame. After all, a large, high-resolution screen should be put to good use, right?

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There are many online tutorials dedicated to this topic; I recommend the aptly named Digital Photo Frame from Laptop on Instructables. It’s simple: take the laptop, place the screen in the frame, mount the PC guts on the back of the frame, now run the photo-frame software. But there are many ways to go, so hit your favorite search engine for more options.

Oh, and since you’re taking it for parts, put that hard drive in an external case and use it as a USB drive!

Subscribe to our daily spotlight on the best tech deals on the web – from phones to gadgets and more. As much as we like it, laptops don’t last forever. With every advancement in software or technology, the demands on your laptop computer increase until eventually it cannot keep up. What’s new in the box now will have you itching for an upgrade in a few years. All of a sudden, the laptop you used to hide next to the discarded toys of your youth is thrown into the trash or closet or attic.

If you’re someone who can’t let go of old technology, don’t despair, but look at your laptop that lives in the closet. It is possible that the chemical reactions in the battery are off, resulting in an explosion or fire waiting to happen. Many manufacturers have experienced battery swelling over the years, and it’s a concern even if your laptop hasn’t been plugged in for a long time.

What To Do With An Old Laptop: 10 Clever Ideas

Once you’re sure your old laptop isn’t plotting your imminent demise, you can start thinking about what to do with it. Your old laptop doesn’t have to die of old age or spend years in the twilight of the trash. Instead, it will enjoy a fruitful second life with renewed purpose.

Maybe you gave up your old laptop because it didn’t break but it started to slow down and no longer fit your needs. YEAR

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