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What to do with an old laptop

While your old computer might not be able to play the latest games or be fast enough for your daily tasks, it still is quite useful! After saving and transferring any valuable data, don’t dare think about throwing it in the trash. Instead, here are some great ideas about what to do with that old laptop instead!

If you want to buy an old laptop, here are some tips on buying a refurbished MacBook.

Learn a new operating system

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When you’re ready to install a new operating system on that old computer, you could just re-install the OS that was on it before. Here’s a great chance to learn something new, though. If you’ve always wanted to learn how to use Linux, this is a great opportunity to do it. You won’t have to worry about ruining something on your main computer, and you can take as long as you want to work on it.

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If you don’t have much experience in Linux, there are many places to start. Udemy offers a good bootcamp for around $20, or you can find free training versions at The Linux Foundation. There are many versions of Linux for various operating systems, but the easiest place to start is just by downloading Ubuntu and starting a training program to learn what you’re doing. This also goes for other things you may have wanted to try on a computer before.

Learn new skills and contribute to an open-source project

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There are literally thousands of open-source projects on the internet that offer some very useful tools and great learning opportunities. Projects range from website scripts to web-based learning and web-based databases. A great place to start is by learning about PHP and MySQL. PHP is a server-side scripting language that is easy to learn and well-suited for web development. MySQL is an open-source database that powers a large percentage of the web’s databases.

Other popular beginner open-source projects include Apache Commons, Google Guava, and AVA. Pretty much every platform has some kind of open-source project connected to it. Use your old laptop to experiment with extensions, add-ons, and coding your own solutions without worrying about bricking applications on your current computer.

Make a separate, extra-private computer

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Would you like a machine that’s built just for extra-private browsing with no chance that ISPs or others will be able to peek over your shoulder? Consider turning that laptop into a private browsing station. Equip it with TOR, choose a great VPN, and consider moving to a TAILS framework for the most secure rig around. It won’t be as flexible or fast as your old OS, but there’s no chance of spying eyes.

Serve or play your media

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Another great use for an older computer is as a home theater PC (HTPC) or a media server.

An HTPC is a computer configured specifically to allow you to play your media (music, movies, and images) on regular home theater components like stereos, TVs, and multimedia projectors. Since an HTPC is only used to play a few file types and that’s it, it can be a stripped-down OS and can be set up to run very efficiently. A great place to begin is downloading the amazingly versatile Plex and setting up your computer for streaming to your TV and speakers while managing your entertainment files in the most efficient way possible.

Your old laptop does need enough storage to make this feasible, though, which might be difficult with smaller drives. Older computers may also struggle to manage 4K video and similar high-demand processes even if you have enough bandwidth. Here’s some more information on how to get your PC to run 4K.

Create a retro arcade

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Another popular project that can utilize your old computer is MAME — the Multiple Machine Arcade Emulator. MAME is a project that emulates old arcade games for use on PC hardware. There are arcade emulators for most operating systems, too. Downloads like MAME don’t require much to run emulators and give you access to thousands of various old school games, many of which are compatible with controllers.

You can also get products called keyboard encoders, such as the I-Pac, that you can use to hook a regular computer up to real arcade controls, such as the arcade parts sold by Happ Controls. A great place to start, besides the MAME site, is Arcade Controls. Take a look at their project pages for inspiration. There are some incredible arcade projects out there and a lot of dedicated people willing to help.

Make a game server

PC Gaming Gamer
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These days, at-home gaming servers aren’t very common, as they aren’t great solutions for the most popular multiplayer games. However, tools like SteamCMD still allow you to create your own gaming server, which can work for low-demand online games if you’re interested. You can also check out shared gaming server options at Game Servers to see what you might be able to help with.

Contribute to a distributed computing project

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Distributed computing is the use of idle CPU and GPU cycles from the computers of volunteers all over the world working to solve a common problem. There are many distributed computing projects around the world working towards many different goals, including fighting nasty diseases. These programs work on large projects like analyzing potential bugs, studying complex GIS data, and generally exploring phenomena that we don’t know much about yet.

Folding@Home is one of the most popular distributed community project hubs right now, and it’s extra easy to implement. You can find a long list of other projects at DistributedComputing, but this list is not always well updated and some projects may no longer be active.

Keep in mind that these projects take relatively little bandwidth, but you do need to keep your laptop running, so that will cost electricity and produce heat, costs that you should weigh before setting up a dedicated volunteer machine.

Take it apart and learn how to build a computer

computer components build your own pc
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If you have never built a computer or installed components, your old rig is a great place to learn. You can work on it without the fear of ruining your main workstation. If you take common precautions, you really can’t ruin anything, anyway.

Once you take it apart, those parts may be useful for someone else, too. You’ll usually get more money if you sell part by part instead of the whole computer. Put a few items on eBay (here’s how) and see how it works out. You might be able to buy something else of value from the proceeds of your eBay sale.

Recycle it

A man standing in e-waste
Zoran Milich/Getty

These days, e-waste is a growing concern, as our computers are filled with toxic metals and often improperly disposed of in landfills or burnt, releasing toxins into the air. If your laptop is too old to wipe and resell, then you need to make sure it is properly recycled. Look up your local city recycling guidelines to find where you can drop off electronics for recycling, or consult a site like Recycle Now to learn more information.

Keep in mind that even after wiping, data can still be recovered from hard drives. To truly protect private data, you need to take out the hard drive and physically destroy it or send it to a shredding center.

Tyler Lacoma
Former Digital Trends Contributor
If it can be streamed, voice-activated, made better with an app, or beaten by mashing buttons, Tyler's into it. When he's not…
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