Gray Matter


What Can We Do With Old Desktop or Laptop Computers?

RT Cunningham | January 15, 2021 (UTC) | Computers

old computersEven though we don’t have to replace our computers as often as we did in the past, we still have to replace our old computers eventually. It seems we need to replace laptop computers more often.

What do we usually do with our old computers? What can we do with them? While I have some answers, I’m not even close to having all the answers. Regardless, I want to give you some alternative ideas to throwing them in dumpsters with all the other garbage.

Karaoke Machines

You can turn any old Windows computer into a karaoke machine. It probably isn’t as easy with Linux or Mac computers, but it can probably be done with them too. Besides specific hardware items, all it really takes is the right software.

As far as hardware goes, you may only be missing one or two items. Even old computers come with keyboards and mice. You may or may not be using speakers, and you may or may not be using a microphone that isn’t part of a headset. You need good speakers and a good microphone. Most people want to sing karaoke songs like they’re rock stars or something.

Your computer can play karaoke files, from a CD or from file pairs, with software designed specifically for that task. I’ve only tested one free Windows package called KaraFun but there’s bound to be more like it if you look hard enough.

Karaoke CDs will play on every optical drive I’ve ever tested, including DVD and Blu-ray. They usually say CD+G or CDG on the covers of the CDs, but I’m not really sure which format (probably CD-R) is used. You can order new karaoke CDs at places like Sunfly for a ridiculously high price, or you can buy them for a much cheaper price (second-hand) from other sources. You can play them as is, or you can rip the files from the CDs and store them on a hard drive.

Some computers have more than one audio card (with an audio chip on the motherboard) and you can hear both the music and your voice through the computer. If you can’t, regardless of your setup, you may need a separate audio component for your voice, like a subwoofer.

Convert to Linux Computers

Okay, so your Windows installation is beyond repair. You don’t have to toss that computer out just because you don’t want to install Windows again. You can install one of several Linux distributions and breathe new life into it.

I’ve used four different desktop Linux distributions over the last 15 years: Debian, Ubuntu, Linux Mint and Puppy Linux. I like Linux Mint the most, although I still “distro hop” at times.

Audio Jukeboxes

If there’s one thing that old computers can do well, it’s play music. If you rip your audio CDs and store the MP3 files (or whatever format you prefer), you can have an almost endless supply of music for your audio listening pleasure. This is what I did with an old netbook I didn’t want to use for anything else anymore.

The only thing you really need to make sure you have, other than the software and the media files, are good speakers. Cheap computer speakers just won’t do.

Streaming Videos

You can stream videos (as well as music) from just about any computer with the right software. If the computer isn’t terribly old, it can be used for more than that. I stream media from my laptop to my cell phone using Emby. It’s easier and quicker than copying or moving them.

Recycling Old Computers

While I’m not familiar with them, I’ve heard of places that recycle old computers. Sometimes you can use some parts from your old computer in your new computer (I’m obviously not talking about a laptop). There are usually extra bays where you can install more hard disk drives, solid-state drives or optical drives. If the memory chips are compatible, you may be able to use the old memory chips in your new computer.

In the past, I’ve been able to cannibalize more than you can imagine from old desktop computers. One time, the only thing I didn’t use again was the case itself.

Photo Attribution: Penarc, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Edited and updated. Originally published at one of my other websites in August 2013.

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