Most of us have old computers which we no longer use. I personally have 5 working computers and 2 laptops. Of course, I only USE one desktop and one laptop. The rest is all excess hardware that I used to use and no longer need. So, what do I do with it?

Here are a few ideas.

Learn Something New

A spare computer is an ideal toy for playing around with software that you might not want to install to your primary computer. For example, been wanting to play around with some of the various Linux operating systems? Want to give Ubuntu a try but don’t have the cahones to set up a dual boot setup on your perfectly working system?

Linux runs pretty well on older hardware, and your old PC is a perfect setup for playing around with Linux. In fact, your old computer might even run better than it ever has while running Linux. You might be surprised.

Cure a Disease

seti You can put your old PC onto a worldwide network by joining a distributed computing organization. What these guys do is, via the internet, connect a whole bunch of computers together and use spare CPU power to form a big supercomputer. That supercomputer could then be used toward all kinds of things such as finding a cure to Alzheimer’s and other diseases or searching for extraterrestrial life.

Options here include [email protected], Boinc or SETI, among others.

To get started, you’ll download their client application, install it, and designate how much of your CPU you’re willing to donate to their effort. Once in full swing, you won’t even need a monitor attached to the machine. It will need to be connected to the internet, and you can just remotely access it if necessary.

Hand It Down

One commonly done thing to do with old hardware is to spruce it up and hand it down to other members of your family, a church or any other group you’re affiliated with. Many times the person you’re giving it to doesn’t need that much horsepower to do what they need. Word processing and surfing the internet doesn’t require much of a computer.

Before you give the computer away, you’ll want to clear out your old data, clean up the drive with something like CCleaner, execute a defrag, and more or less ensure that the computer is running OK without too much excess baggage.

Create a Backup Server

If you want to safely backup your data, a good option has always been network-attached storage. You can buy network storage drives, of course. But, if you have an old PC laying around, you have what you need to create your own. It doesn’t take much of a computer to create a backup server. After all, it isn’t going to be doing much but writing to the hard drive.

To get started, just make sure the PC has a big enough hard drive to be useful as well as a network card connected to your network. Put the computer onto your network as accessible from the rest of the machines on the LAN. Then, install a backup program such as Backup Server 6.2 (freeware). There are many others available, but be sure you pick one that allows you to schedule full or incremental backups over the network.

Once its all set up, just back the computer away somewhere out of the way and let her rip.

Build a DVR (Who Needs Tivo?)

Without too much trouble, you can turn your unneeded PC into a digital video recorder. Using a PC as a DVR provides a lot more flexibility than one provided by your cable company. You also avoid the monthly fees associated with the cable company’s DVR.

To get started, you first want to clear out the old computer. Your best bet is to format it and re-install Windows XP. If the hard drive is small, go get a bigger one. The more storage you have, the better. You’re also going to need a TV tuner card. You can get an internal model or, if you’re uncomfortable installing hardware inside the box, an external model that connects via USB.

For software, you’re going to want something that is easy to use and allows you to skip commercials, pause live TV, and all the other things enjoyed by DVR users. Something like Snapstream’s Beyond TV works well. SageTV also provides a nice option. If you want to go the free route, you might want to check out Yahoo! Go.