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5 Ways To Make Use Of An Old Laptop

Giving computers a new lease of life...

Before taking that old laptop down to the local tip for disposal, or placing an ad in the local paper or on Gumtree for a “laptop for parts,” perhaps you could extend its life and get more constructive use out of it? Whether it’s simply fallen behind the times or is broken in some way you may be able to give it a new lease of life.

Here are five ideas:

1.    Keep using it

If something is broken on it such as the screen, trackpad or keyboard making it unusable you may be able to use it as a component of a computer set up. For example, if the screen doesn’t work it could be possible to use it as a desk top computer by attaching an external monitor.

The same applies if the keyboard won’t work or is generally wearing out such as keys sticking or similar. Attach an external keyboard to keep using it, or if it’s the trackpad giving problems then use an external mouse.

Of course, it will lose it’s laptop ‘portability’ but at least it’s still usable as a computer.

2.   Repurpose it

Older computers and laptops can fulfil other uses such as media servers so your music, films and other media can be housed in one place. Laptops make this even more appealing as they take up less space.

If your laptop is being pensioned off because its specification is falling behind the times, then it may be a good option as a media server as RAM demands are modest - 2GB should do and the latest in fast processors isn’t necessary. Hard drive performance is the main criteria, and so long as it’s reasonably fast you’ll be fine.

An easy way to turn your laptop into a media server is to download Apple’s iTunes - a good choice as it’s free, popular and very well supported. Once you’ve loaded your files you configure iTunes to ‘share my library’ so your media is available to other devices.

An option is to have a media server in another room so, for example, music and visual entertainment could be on tap in a second bedroom, den or home office. The Plex media server is a good option, and it is supported by most smart TVs.

3.  Electronic cook book

Rather than a dog eared tatty print book that has various crossings out and pages missing, that old laptop could be your electronic kitchen companion. Using a software package such as Chicken Ping you can create a central source to house recipes, calorie counters, cooking ideas based on what you’ve currently got in the fridge and meal plans.

4.  Digital photo frame

A popular interactive device, turning your old laptop into a digital photo frame saves the cost of buying one or more of them although it does demand a bit of electrical DIY work.

It basically means repositioning the laptop’s body so it sits behind the screen so it’ll stand up. This resource shows how to convert various makes and models of laptop.

5.  Keep using it with a ‘lighter’ operating system

If the laptop is becoming too slow to run later releases of regular operating systems such as Windows or ‘full strength’ Linux, there are alternatives that make more modest demands on your laptop’s hardware to get you back to using a snappy and more responsive machine.

A good option is Linux Peppermint. This is an operating system that can easily be used on older machines with more modest specifications; it can do this by using the cloud to store some of the applications rather than on the machine itself. It’s not dissimilar to Google’s Chromebook laptops that use cloud based software.

If you’ve been using Windows on your laptop, then there will be a ‘learning curve’ to go through in getting used to the Linux interface but, like Windows, it uses a logical graphics-based environment so you’ll soon feel at home.

The computer’s RAM is a key consideration for how fast an operating system will run, and Peppermint’s developers claim it can work satisfactorily on machines with as little as 512MB.

Other uses

Your old laptop can fulfil many more uses; how about gaming? Fast graphics are the key to good gaming so it may be possible to update your machine’s graphics card (if a separate one - yours may have integrated graphics) to create a decent gaming machine. Another option is to turn your old laptop into a security monitoring system; attach a webcam (or your machine may have an integral one) and monitor the front door, children, employees, wildlife in the garden and more.

It’s certainly the case that your old laptop’s days might not be numbered after all.

Wesley Hawes is director of Black Barn Computers, which specializes in providing the public, small businesses and schools with quality refurbished computers.

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