Using old technology: the ultimate reboot

By Dirk Averesch

When your computer outlives its usefulness, do you sell it, donate it or take it to the dump? Or how about applying some DIY thinking and find another use for them. Here are some suggestions:

* Put some housing on your hard drive
This one is very easy to implement. Even if it's just a 20-gigabyte (GB) drive, an old hard drive is ideal as an external drive for data backups. All you need is a housing with a USB connection, available in most stores.

You'll need a 3.5-inch version for PC hard drives or a 2.5-inch version for laptop hard drives. Be careful when setting up the connections. Older drives use the IDE plug while newer ones use a SATA plug. Even if your notebook or PC lacks a USB 3.0 port, it's still worthwhile to buy a housing that supports the newer, faster USB standard.

Turn a computer into a network driveOld PCs or unused laptops or netbooks can be turned into a home network drive. First, take out everything that's unnecessary and uses up power (like graphics, sound and video cards). For software, you can always use an old Windows licence with the freeware FileZilla server. When installing, pick the option "Install as a service started with Windows", so that the program starts with Windows. Users who want to access the mini-server need the free FTP client FileZilla.

* Turn your PC into a media centre
If you don't have a digital video recorder or a network-capable receiver, turn your PC into your living room's home movie centre for accessing movies, pictures, music or internet radio. If your computer doesn't have the appropriate TV connections like HDMI, you can always buy a cheap graphics card with the proper ports.

The software you'll need to set up the media centre is usually free, like the open source MediaPortal, which can work with a variety of remote controls.

* Routers into repeaters
An old wi-fi router still has a long life ahead of it. For example, it can be repurposed as a repeater, or signal amplifier, to expand the reach of a house's wi-fi network. That expanded signal can then, for example, reach into upper storeys or the garden. This works best using the wireless distribution system (WDS) with a router made by the same manufacturer. Routers that don't support WDS can often be turned into repeaters using the free Linux software DD-WRT.

* Laptop as second monitor
If you need a second monitor and have an old laptop handy, turn that mobile computer into a second screen for your PC. Since laptops have no video input, you'll need special software like Maxivista. This installs a virtual graphics card on to your PC and tricks Windows into thinking that an additional monitor has been connected to the computer. This forces the operating system to expand the desktop over both graphics cards. The virtual graphics card then sends its part of the desktop to the notebook via LAN or wi-fi, where the second desktop half is then displayed.

* Processors as fridge magnets
A well-affixed magnet can turn an old processor and other chips into refrigerator magnets. Cooling elements of processors or graphics cards can also make great business card or letter holders.


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