Sunday, October 14, 2012

11 Ways to recycle an old computer

11 ways to recycle an old PC
Spring is in the air and, for many of us, so is the accumulated dust and clutter from winter. If you’ve recently purchased a new computer system with Windows 7 and are finally retiring the old one you’ve had for years, here are some creative ways you can do that. Still searching for the perfect PC? Have a chat with our interactive PC Scout to find the one that’s right for you.

1. Use it as a DVR

Windows 7, Windows Vista Home Premium, and Windows Vista Ultimate come with Windows Media Center, which records and plays back both broadcast and non-scrambled cable TV for free. You can even play back your recorded programming on your TV for those shows that absolutely, positively must be watched from the couch.
Recorded TV in Windows Media CenterYou can record and watch TV with Windows Media Center
Learn more about recording TV in Windows Vista and Windows 7.

2. Help find a cure for cancer

Did you know you can sign your computer up to help crunch data for scientific researchers? Distributed computing is one of the most philanthropic uses there is for an old computer. Scientific projects often require awesome amounts of processing power to analyze data to help find cures for diseases like cancer or to analyze reports from telescopes scanning interstellar static for signs of alien life. You can let them use the processor in your old PC.
A computer signed up to one of these projects receives data over the Internet and analyzes it with its spare processing cycles. Set up your PC in a spare room and connect it to a distributed computing project; everything after that is automatic.
For more information on distributed computing projects, check out the website or this Wikipedia list of distributed computing projects.

3. Donate to charity

You might be living in the Internet Age, but there are still plenty of people out there who don’t have easy access to computers. Many local schools or nonprofits will gladly accept old PCs that are in reasonably good working condition or only need minor rehabilitation.
There are also various organizations, such as Computers with Causes, dedicated to collecting old PCs and giving them to charitable programs.
One thing to be aware of before donating your PC is the data that might be on your hard drive. Even if you reformat the drive, the data can still be recovered, so use a tool like Eraser to make sure your sensitive data is removed.

4. Bequeath it to a family member

Why not bequeath your dear old PC to your dear old great aunt? Think of all the candy you’ll get in return! Forget about hard drive size and high-def video playback quality—as long as the PC can browse the web, display digital photos, and run Microsoft Word, it’ll be a perfect starting point for an Internet and PC novice. The points you’ll earn for setting her up for video chatting alone will likely be paid back in a metric ton of knitted clothing.
Video chatYour old PC is useful for all kinds of things—you can even set it up for video chat

5. Environmental recycling

Tossing your old computer into a dumpster is certainly the easy solution. However, by taking it to a dedicated PC recycling firm, it’ll either be refurbished for use by people and organizations in need of computers, or recycled with the least environmental impact.
If you don’t have the time to track down a recycling firm, consider giving the computer away via

6. Use your old monitor as a television

If your old computer has cried ‘uncle’ for the last time, you can always put your 19-inch CRT monitor to good use as a second television—it might be the only way you’ll get the spouse to agree to a TV in the garage. Get yourself an external TV tuner (they retail for about $50), plug an antennae cable into one end and the VGA lead from your monitor into the other, and you’ve got yourself an extra TV.
A TV tuner and remote controlA TV tuner and a remote control will help you turn your old monitor into a new TV

7. Make a games server

If you play online multiplayer games with a group of friends, it’s preferable to play on your own server rather than on someone else’s. When someone else hosts the server, which could be anywhere in the world, you are subjected to time-lag and the whim of moderators you don’t know. However, if you host the server on your own PC, it won’t perform as well in the game because it’s spending precious system resources to keep all the other players in the loop. What to do?
Enter your old PC. Surprisingly little power is needed for a dedicated server whose sole purpose is directing the web-traffic portion of the game. Since it doesn’t have to load the game itself, it doesn’t need a fancy 3-D card or a super-fast CPU. Most games have an option for a dedicated server in their Start menu folder, so setup usually isn’t too difficult.

8. Set up a security system

Any old webcam can be used for a makeshift, always-on security camera. Or pick up one of the latest webcams, which not only include software to capture video or pictures upon motion detection, but will probably capture better quality images than an old webcam. Some webcams even send email notifications when they capture moving images, with the images attached to the email. Or the images can be uploaded onto a predetermined, private webpage. Or, instead of email, you could have a real-time, live feed on a webpage so you can always check in on what’s happening. Learn more about setting up webcams.
A webcamYou can use an old webcam as a security camera

9. Artful recycling

The guts of your old PC can be transformed into versatile craft material that will raise eyebrows on artists and geeks alike. How about a stick of memory hanging off your key ring or a working clock face mounted on an ISA network card? The careful extraction of an old printed circuit board can have infinite uses in gifted hands. Here is an example for creative inspiration.
Keyboards used as artThere's no end to the creative projects you can do with spare computer parts

10. Moving picture frame

Why take loads of photos on your digital camera only to leave them languishing unseen on your hard drive? If your old PC is running Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7, you can create a screensaver to display your digital photos for all to enjoy. Affix a nice picture frame to an inexpensive flat-panel monitor, hide the old PC behind a bookcase, then leave the screensaver running 24/7—and you’ve got yourself an eye-catching conversation piece.

11. Use it as a backup device

Rather than saving all your precious photos and files on a pile of CDs, you can easily copy all important files from your main PC to your old one. The Backup and Restore feature in Windows 7 or Windows Vista will prompt you to choose a hard drive for your files and you can designate the old PC for this use

About the author

Leif Pettersen is a writer, traveler, juggler and mixed martial arts master(‘s cat sitter). He has visited 47 countries, lived in Spain, Romania, and Italy, and his travel writing has appeared in over two dozen print publications, including several Lonely Planet guidebooks. He lives in Minneapolis.

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