What To Do With Your Old Laptop

Once you shove your slow, beat-up laptop aside for a newer model, you need to decide what to do with the older machine. While it’s tempting to take a baseball bat to the laptop, as the guys in the movie The Office did to the copier, there are plenty of useful functions for your digital ex.

Gizmodo suggests five potential uses for the old machine, issuing a step-by-step guide for each of its ideas:

*Turn it into a home server. Back up your files to the old machine and stream files without having to waste your new computer’s precious hard drive space.

*Transform it into a digital photo frame. Rejigger your screen into a frame, hang it on your wall, keep it plugged in and let your Harry Potter-like picture frame cycle through slide shows.

*Make it a wireless bridge. Extend the range of your wireless router by sticking the computer in a dead zone.

*Transform it into an external hard drive. Rip out the hard drive, insert it into a casing you can find online for cheap, and voila — extra storage space.

*Use it as a second monitor. Play a computer game while watching a movie, or IM while writing without having to click back and forth between applications.

How many laptops have you gone through in your life, and what have you done with the old ones?

Five Things to Do with Your Old Laptop [Gizmodo]

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  1. Alvis says:

    Office Space, Phil

  2. wrjohnston91283 says:

    Use it as a second monitor. Play a computer game while watching a movie, or IM while writing without having to click back and forth between applications.

    I’ve never seen a laptop with VGA/DVI in.

    • Derv says:

      There are some utilities that will allow you to do this…it’s actually super handy. Check out “Maxivista”

    • Burzmali says:

      I think they really mean using it as a second desktop computer, based on the “Play a computer game while watching a movie” comment. Any video game that doesn’t allow for a windowed mode won’t let you utilize the video card to also play a move to a second screen. When the game takes over the video on a card set to dual monitors, it takes over the second output as well. It may not actually use the second output, but it will mess up the resolution and your movie will only partially appear on the screen. The aspect ratio will probably be wrecked, too. Plus, you don’t want to take performance away from the game, which will happen when you play a movie at the same time. You’ll either get significant framerate loss in the game, or the video will go out of sync or hiccup, or both.

      Also, “IM while writing without having to click back and forth between applications” definitely means a second computer because the only way to do that on a single computer without clicking back and forth between applications is to have a word processor program with IM built in.

    • yurei avalon says:

      What about if it has an HDMI port? Would that not work?

    • Yorick says:

      I’ve been using my laptop at home as a TV machine (hulu or a DVD or movie in itunes etc) while I do work on my Desktop (uh … surfing the net counts as working, right?)

  3. scoutermac says:

    You can always sell it…

    • gStein_*|bringing starpipe back|* says:

      my old laptop (this one, actually) is nearly 5 years old, and i have literally worn through the paint on the wrist rest and mouse buttons. (the hinges are also pretty loose). there’s not much value in trying to sell it, it’s more valuable to me as a bedroom computer (watch movies on it while falling asleep)

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        mine was that bad and someone still stole it. it never turned up in any pawn shops though so it must not have been saleable

      • AnthonyC says:

        Heck, it’s valuable enough for recyclers to ship it all the way to Asia to have precious metals extracted from it…

  4. tborodarc says:

    Who says taking a bat to it isn’t useful?

    H. Simpson: “Urge to kill… fading… fading… fading – rising! Fading… fading… gone.”

  5. Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

    Old laptop, I mean OLD, 386, 486, P90:

    These make great starter laptops for kids. Load win 3.1 or Linux, add some freeware, abandon-ware, shareware, and for less than the price of a toy “Barbie” computer, your kid has a real laptop. (You can also put videos on them if they’re fast enough)

    • jesusofcool says:

      I’d also recommend this to people who have elderly parents. Load an old laptop with Ubuntu and add some free software like Open Office and a browser. Works really well for those that want to do nothing more than email, a little word processing and a little web surfing.

  6. jason in boston says:

    Phil, you never disappoint.

  7. danmac says:

    When my laptop bites the dust, I frantically do everything I can to get everything illegal off of it and then shoot it into the sun.

  8. phil says:

    +1 for Linux on old laptops. I’ve got a vintage (probably close to 10 years old now – nearly worthless as a resale) Sony Vaio that does pretty well with a stripped-down Xubuntu load. Duties have included audio sound effects for my church’s puppet shows!

  9. KTK1990 says:

    I used to use mine as a netflix box. Had a bluetooth keyboard and mouse and plugged it into my tv.

    Not much I can do (or want to) with a old Dell Inspiron 6000 with a dead backlight or screen.

    • akiri423 says:

      This is about what we do with mine – hook the TV up as a second monitor, use it to watch shows and movies and the like.

  10. Red Cat Linux says:

    I install Linux on them and they still work fine for browsing the Internet and so on. I loan them out on occasion.

    • obits3 says:

      +1 When my 5 year old Gateway gave me the blue screen of death, I said “No more,” and put Ubuntu on it. Best decision ever.

      • danmac says:

        Seconded…I’ve got a Netbook that I recently decided to format after its performance got lethargic. On a lark, I installed Ubuntu instead of XP…I’m very, very happy with it. It’s also nice that there’s a free analog to almost every commercial program you would purchase on a PC.

        An added bonus? My sister, who owns a new $3,000 MacBook Pro, is extremely annoyed that “it looks almost exactly like my computer’s interface”.

  11. bruce9432 says:

    gut it, except for the battery and a few lights and you can carry a concealed weapon in it

  12. NumberSix says:

    3 and so far all I’ve ever done is recycle them.

  13. Hi_Hello says:

    i wouldn’t use it as a home server, unless the files are on a external hd connected to that laptop. since the laptop is old, the hd might die and you’ll lose all your data.

    also, you can transform it into an external hd, but make sure it’s used for temp storage. hd would be unreliable for anything important.

    I have used my old laptop as a bridge/wireless access point. pretty neat. mainly I use it to watch netflix before netflix was on the wii.

  14. Nighthawke says:

    Older laptop hard drives are a general hazard to say the least. They are not designed for 24/7 duty, even if they are treated well. Plus, you can buy USB externals that you can share over the NW easier than setting up a file server on an old clunker.

    Sure, it would be fun and challenging, but it would only be for that, and of little utility for anything else.

  15. skwigger says:

    Another option is to donate it to a non-profit like Caring Compy http://caringcompy.blogspot.com/ which will find a new owner for your old computer.

    • Hi_Hello says:

      i wish there was a place around here. the only place around here, only wants newer system(2-3years old not 10 yrs old). P4 systems, min… I think. I forgot, I just know that it was newer than the old stuff we have hear that we were trying to donate.

  16. pyehac says:

    I’m trying to install Windows 7 on my old Dell Latitude c610. I just need a crossover cable to install it via the network.

  17. MaytagRepairman says:

    *Transform it into an external hard drive. Rip out the hard drive, insert it into a casing you can find online for cheap, and voila — extra storage space.

    The left mouse button is flaking out. I found the replacement parts but the money isn’t worth it compared to just buying a newer laptop (which we did). Yes, I could plug in a traditional mouse but that isn’t very useful sitting on the couch.

  18. Rachacha says:

    Donate it to the National Christina Foundation http://www.cristina.org or your local school or other local charity (ask them if they want it fist, don’t just dump it on their doorstep). Several years ago we purchased an all in one printer/scanner and got rid of our stand alone flat bed scanner. We talked to the office at our local school and they were very pleased to get computer equipment like that as they could use the $200 for a new one to purchase other things. If the school can’t use the equipment, ask them if they know of any low income families where the child might benefit from having a computer.

    The school that my kids go to still have machines circa 1997 running Windows 95 on them, so a 4-5 year old computer will seem super fast to them

    Just make sure that you clean your drive of any personal information and uninstall any software that you might need on your new computer.

    • brinks says:

      “The school that my kids go to still have machines circa 1997 running Windows 95 on them…”

      When I worked at Staples, it always boggled my mind why students always had a 500 mb flash drive on the list of school supplies that their teachers supplied, even though 500 mb flash drives haven’t been made in ages. It finally now just occurred to me that their computers might be that old, but can a ’95 PC even use a flash drive?

  19. chucklebuck says:

    I installed Jolicloud on mine (replaced Vista). Pretty much anything I do with it is through some web-based service anyway, so it made perfect sense. Definitely runs a bit quicker now, but it’s still an old laptop, so it’s going to feel slow to some degree when compared to my zippier MacBook Pro at work.

  20. Hoss says:

    What I’ve done is take every screw out of the old laptop and sell each component on eBay. Even the plastic case is valuable to someone. The sum of the parts is more $$ than an old laptop

  21. wrbwrx says:

    All of these ideas seem to be sponsored by the ANTI-GREEN movement. every suggestion involves using inefficient devices for extended hours.

    • OutPastPluto says:

      Making a new device isn’t “free” either. There is an environmental cost associated with manufacturing a new machine rather than just using an old one. This is less obvious but it’s not necessarily non-zero.

      Besides, an older machine is bound to be less of a power hog due to the simple fact that it is far less powerful. It’s simply not something that would be prone to suck down a lot of juice like some 3Ghz multi-core monster.

      In the absence of real kill-a-watt numbers, the “green” position is all just guesses and wishful thinking.

  22. mblitch says:

    Smashing the copier was a scene from ‘Office Space’ the movie, not ‘The Office’ (unless the bit was stolen from the American or British version.

  23. Buckus says:

    “Put it on a stack of papers so that a breeze won’t blow the stack away.”

    There, fixed it for ya.

    If it’s a relatively recent laptop (3-4 years old) you can probably hock it for $100+. Otherwise, it’s probably not worth it to do any of those other things with it.

    As a picture frame, it will use too much energy compared to a dedicated LCD frame, plus the LCD is likely not quite as bright as it used to be.

    To “Save” space on your new computer is absurd, since your new computer is likely to have a hard drive 3-4 times larger than the old computer.

    Using the old hard drive as an external almost makes sense, until you realize that for an extra $20 over the price of an external enclosure, you can just get one with a hard drive already in it.

    Wireless bridge? More complicated, unsightly and power-hungry than a dedicated bridge.

    Second monitor? Ok, sort of. But with actual second monitors costing under $100 these days, may not be cost effective in the long term and has the bonus of being harder to setup.

    • Traveller says:

      So says you.

      I have a seven-year old laptop running XP that I use for two main purposes: playing DVDs and for transferring audio cassettes to a digital format. I have a Griffin iMic that I connect to the XP machine for the purpose because the iMic does not work in Vista or Win7. Mostly due to DRM in Vista and 7 that isn’t in XP.

    • James says:

      Almost agree. Hard drive enclosure at Amazon is $3.

      I’ve pulled the HD’s from the last three computers and have used them for duplicates/backups.

      Total cost for all three is around $10.

      James

    • comedian says:

      I think your numbers are a bit off.

      Back in June of ’06 I bought a Toshiba Satellite A105 for $399. I just “gave” it to my brother-in-law who’s getting back on his feet after being out of work for 5 years.

      I ran comps on ebay and I figure I could have sold it whole for $175 to $200. More if I parted it out, but I didn’t feel like stripping it, and the BIL could really benefit from having a way to exploit the “free” WiFi that came with his new apartment.

      A working laptop with at least 1GB of memory, a DVD drive and a legit copy of Win XP seems to be worth at least $100.

      Not a huge chunk of money, but enough to pay for a bit of its own replacement.

  24. We Have a Piper Down says:

    After going through 5 HDs in 6 months and giving up (never buy Western Digital HDs) because the repair cost was more than a new laptop, we actually DID take the laptop into the field behind our house and smash it to bits to release the frustration of all the data I lost.

    We then encased it in a lucite display box and made it into art (and a warning to other laptops not to try that with me).

    • s0s has a chewy nougat center says:

      “…never buy Western Digital HDs…”

      Really? Because WD HDDs are about the only ones that don’t flake out on me routinely. I refer you to the graveyard of Seagate carcasses in my closet, that invariably go right after the warranty or are next to impossible to get the damn company to honor their warranty on.

      All of my WD HDDs that I’ve replaced, it’s been because I decided I wanted something bigger and/or faster. Plus, they make one out of the… two? 1TB laptop drives that are currently available. Sure, it’s only 5200RPM and doesn’t have a great cache (only 8MB), but it’s done me surprisingly well for all of that.

  25. Wawa says:

    Only surplus laptop I’ve had, I sold a few months ago on Ebay. I listed it at 99 cents minimum with no reserve. It was *beyond* old – predates USB. It was a pentium 1 166. With a working modem, Ethernet card, and Windows ME, I got $46 plus shipping.

    If you live in populated area, Freecycle is pretty easy.

  26. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    What if you’ve got computers that are too old for any of this….? Any good ideas for those?

    • Rachacha says:

      Smithsonian Museum of American History???

      Depends on how old we are talking. Many charities will gladly accept machines made in the past 12years (Pentium III or better). Beyond that, recycle it.

    • framitz says:

      Target practice. GREAT Fun!

      Sell hits.. 25 cents per blow with a bat. Lots of people like destroying technology.

  27. rmorin says:

    I turned my last one into a juke box of sorts in my living room. It isn’t the fastest laptop in the world, but it can still play itunes and stream music from the internet so I attached speakers to it, and put it on a book shelf that is at a height comfortable enough for to stand and pick the next song or change the playlist. People at parties like that they can walk up and pick songs.

    • jesusofcool says:

      I think the “home media player” idea is a great solution. I’m planning to do the same thing with my current 5 year old laptop when I get around to buying a new one – except in addition to my speakers, I’m planning to attach my to my living room computer and also use it as my cable box.
      There’s a lot of media player programs you can install that work really well with these types of set-ups and allow you to browse through your movie, music and tv show files on your computer via your tv, as well as surf hulu, netflix and youtube.

  28. mrvw says:

    When our 6 year old Acer bit the dust, we took it out and used it for target practice. It’s amazing what a .45 will do to a laptop.

  29. guaporico says:

    Install a slimline OS (old Windows or Linux) and use it to remote desktop into your modern PC. Works great.

  30. Shadowman615 says:

    *Make it a wireless bridge. Extend the range of your wireless router by sticking the computer in a dead zone.

    Hmmmm…maybe you shouldn’t actually put it in a dead zone.

  31. jiarby says:

    “precious hard drive space”

    LOL!

    Newegg was selling a 2 TeraByte HDD yesterday for $79. How precious do you think that space is? The old laptop HDD is probably only worth $15 max. Don’t spend $15 for an external enclosure for that 30gb HDD!

    Sell it for whatever you can get and spend your time doing somehing more productive.

  32. Saltpork says:

    For the DIY types, I’ve used an old laptop as a car pc before. This was a few years back before mp3 players became the norm.

    Power inverter, usb external sound card, a shock box to prevent hd damage and an external lcd touchscreen off ebay. For a few hundred bucks you can have your entire music library at your fingertips.

    Now it’s not so useful, but it was pretty cool back then.

  33. brownhb says:

    I can’t remember the site, but I sold an old crappy laptop to a used place. And I got a decent amount for it – over $100 I think, for something I was just going to recycle. I think it was cashforlaptops.com. Mine was dying and missing a few keys so it wasn’t worth much to me anyway.

  34. bcsus83 says:

    I’ve gone through…um….7 laptops, not including the one I’m currently using. All but one, which was hopelessly screwed up, I’ve taken the hard drive out and kept for an XHD, and then sold the computer on ebay. Most reached over $200 even without the hard drives. :D

  35. lonestarbl says:

    Office Space…. fax machine

  36. Rachacha says:

    The suggestion to transform it to an external hard drive does have some merit to it, but for a slightly different purpose. When I get a new computer, I transfer whatever files that I think I might need to my new computer (actually to my NAS), and I then take the hard drive out of my old computer and store it in an anti-static bag and put it in a safe place. This way, if I discover months or years later that I need a file that I forgot to transfer over (usually for an application that I have not used in several months or years), I can simply connect the hard drive to my current computer and pull off whatever data I needed. It does not happen often, but when I have had to go back to an old archive, it really saved me. It also serves as sort of a 4th or 5th level backup of my data as I normally save everything to my NAS with a backup to a partition on my internal hard drive and I make secondary and tertiary backups that I store off site. By removing and storing the old hard drive (that served as my primary backup) I now have a permanent archive of my old data (until cosmic rays erase the drive or the bearings freeze) that I can use in case my primary, secondary and tertiary backups all fail at the same time.

    If I am repurposing the old computer to give to the kids, I buy a new inexpensive hard drive for the old computer and install the OS and any applications on it

  37. Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

    Dedicated Magic Jack computer. This works well because running a bunch of crap while using Magic Jack is the main reason magic jack screws up. Power consumption is low enough that running 24/7 is not a big expense, and the battery provides built in back-up power.

  38. framitz says:

    Photo Frame.
    The last obsolete laptop I had was a very old Compaq running win98. I set up to be a photo frame and it served that purpose continuously for over 3 years.
    The hard disk finally crapped out and the laptop was recycled properly.
    The real photo frame we use now has a smaller screen, but it does look nicer.

  39. teacherdave says:

    Or you can sell it (or hey donate it) to me or other teachers! I teach middle school and I have had great success finding low cost, older laptops (usually between 700mhz-2.4ghz P4′s) and buying them for super low cost from sympathetic people online. I refurb them (anything from a simple reformat and OS install, to getting a new hard drive and RAM, or replacing the keyboard).

    I have had great success engaging my students with this low cost technology (I have purchased a dozen laptops for less than what one new Mac costs my schools system) and I don’t mind lending one out to a needy student over breaks. Yes, I have had them come back destroyed, but as long as I keep finding nice people online to cut me a break and help out – no worries! I’d rather be out a $50-$75 laptop than deprive kids of something (technology) that brought me so much joy.

    Yes we have a computer lab – we get to go for 1 hour every 3 weeks…

    So if anyone has old neglected laptops laying around – get in touch! If not with me – ask a local teacher before you toss ‘em!

  40. turkishmonky says:

    Our oldest laptop will probably end up as a media center in our bedroom eventually. We already have a 7 TB home server (with automatic local and remote backups) with all our “media” on it, it will probably just stream from that.

  41. Burzmali says:

    I think they really mean using it as a second desktop computer, based on the “Play a computer game while watching a movie” comment. Any video game that doesn’t allow for a windowed mode won’t let you utilize the video card to also play a move to a second screen. When the game takes over the video on a card set to dual monitors, it takes over the second output as well. It may not actually use the second output, but it will mess up the resolution and your movie will only partially appear on the screen. The aspect ratio will probably be wrecked, too. Plus, you don’t want to take performance away from the game, which will happen when you play a movie at the same time. You’ll either get significant framerate loss in the game, or the video will go out of sync or hiccup, or both.

    Also, “IM while writing without having to click back and forth between applications” definitely means a second computer because the only way to do that on a single computer without clicking back and forth between applications is to have a word processor program with IM built in.

  42. Jane_Gage says:

    You can always spot an article by Laura or Phil because of the cat pics that are sheer overkill.

  43. Joseph S Ragman says:

    Kill it with fire till it’s dead …

  44. Augie says:

    Kids mobile movie player. Bigger screen than most portable dvd players, can take a little more abuse too.

  45. HogwartsProfessor says:

    My big laptop will be my home pc and my new, slightly smaller (and much lighter–oof!) laptop will be my travel / work one. The Pentium IV Insignia Best Buy desktop I nicknamed Zombieputer WILL. NOT. DIE. I use that one mostly for peripherals and in case emergency power supply failure prevents me from using the laptop.

    I might put XP on the older laptop if I can, because I have a video game that won’t play on Vista but will on XP. That way I can still play that game, which I love. The new one has Windows 7.

  46. davidsco says:

    Pull the hard drive, take it to Worst Buy, Give ‘em $10, they give you a $10 gift card. Done. You could also pull the memory and sell that on the side on Craigslist

  47. Gizmosmonster says:

    We gave our 3 year old Macbook to our 12 year old nephew in October. We never had a minute of trouble with it. He managed to break the cd drive and fry the hard drive in 6 weeks.

  48. FrankReality says:

    Ok, my old laptop had Windows 98 first edition, hard drive was trashed, batteries wouldn’t hold a charge, keyboard was broken, still have it, but is not worth fixing. My second laptop, an IBM T60 Thinkpad, is still going fine on the original hard drive.

  49. waicool says:

    i stepped on my laptop getting out of bed one morning breaking the screen, everything else still worked so i docked it and hooked up an old monitor. now i use that station for all of my media (music and video) tasks.
    broke another laptop by accidently stubbing my toe on the protruding wifi card. this time all i could do was gut the thing and i learned alot by taking it apart piece by piece. i still have the harddrive and may try looking for one of those exterior cases for that.

  50. luftmenschPhil says:

    After reading through all these comments, a baseball bat doesn’t sound like a bad idea after all!

  51. Rockfish says:

    I use my old laptop as a remote control for my jerry-rigged media server beside my HDTV via WinVNC . . . works great.

  52. operator207 says:

    I have one old laptop sitting next to my chair in the living room. If I need to look something up (something on a TV show, or movie, or a walkthrough of a game I am stuck on)) I have something right there. It’s not fast, but gets the job done. Ubuntu 9.something is what is currently on it. Another laptop was in the garage, but the drive finally died. Now there is an old desktop out there, and an old LCD monitor. I use it for when I am working on one of my cars, and need to look something up. The newer laptops end up as kids toys, since they are a bit faster, and can run what the kids want to run. (mostly flash games)

    Alomost everyone that comes over to my house and goes to the garage, asks why I have a computer in the garage. It’s either that, or throw it away. Seemed wasteful to me. My way of recycling computers that still work.