When you’re doing work on-the-go, an old laptop can feel like it weighs a million pounds, even if you’re only lugging it as far as your local coffee shop. In recent years, Intel-powered devices like Ultrabooks have become increasingly lighter, faster and sleeker. Some even have the ability to transform from a laptop to a tablet in an instant.
But don’t ditch your old device just yet! There are a number of ways your aging laptop can still be used to make your life easier, even if its traveling days are over. Below are some creative ideas to put your old laptop to use again.
If the computer is in good shape but simply too slow for your needs, it might make a fine server. Consider connecting your existing printers to your old computer and setting up a network to your newer machines. You can consolidate data from multiple computers — ending the “where the heck is it?” debate — and you’ll be able to print from any networked machine to any networked printer, or share one printer among multiple machines. You’ll also have only one directory to back up. When it comes to visual space, two laptops – old or new –can be better than one.
If the monitor on your newer laptop is too small for some of the things you view, pair up the new with the old in about five minutes. You’ll have a double-sized screen that can split your view or even run two separate images. By adding software, you can also connect one existing external keyboard and mouse to both machines to swap back and forth as needed.
Spare DVD Player
Assuming your laptop was built within the past 8 years, you should be able to play standard DVDs on it. If the unit was manufactured after 2006, your laptop’s DVD drive may even play Blu-ray discs as well. A bonus here is that such units will also have a monitor that is much higher-res than your basic television (and certain high-def TVs), meaning your discs will look good, too.
Digital Jukebox or Photo Album
Install your favorite digital music software on your old machine and you’re on your way to a digital jukebox. You’re also taking strain off your new machine, as music files use a lot of space. The same goes for video files and photos.
Your outdated laptop is still perfect as a search (and storage) tool for recipes, supplier of news feeds and even social media outlets such as Twitter. Or, equip it with a pair of headphones and a camera (if not already built in), and make it your dedicated Skype or other video communication station.
With the right software, your laptop can take on home automation duties, such as running sprinklers, controlling thermostats or switching on lights. Connect your old laptop to a home automation product and you’ll be able to use your computer to switch on lights, control thermostats, set a burglar alarm and even replace your sprinkler timer. Newer but slower machines can also use answering machine software to replace your passé telephone-based unit.
If the kids are begging for their own TV, modify an old laptop and save yourself a few dollars. It takes some know-how, and the new “set” probably won’t be high-definition or be able to record programs, but it will get the job done. You can also use it as a spare unit for other parts of the house, such as a den or basement.
Ever wonder what a new software program might be like (especially shareware), but afraid it might wreck your system? Try it on your older machine first — as long as it’s not a single-user license, and assuming the old-timer’s specs can handle the product.
Kids’ Learning Tool
Even an old laptop can be a great early training tool for small children, who will eventually use computers in school. Load up the old machine with educational apps, as well as games and the internal camera, and they’ll be perfectly at ease behind a keyboard when they enter the classroom.
An older laptop’s webcam can become a useful, low-cost home monitoring system. Use your laptop’s existing webcam, or hook up an inexpensive external unit, and place the entire system somewhere appropriate with an Internet connection to form a low-tech, personal security monitoring station.
Digital Picture Frame
Sure, digital frames already exist, but they’re spotty quality at best. Imagine taking your old laptop’s higher-res monitor and making it into a showcase digital picture tool. This is not a simple task, but the tech-savvy can pull it off with help from a primer.
Car, RV or Boat PC
Get a 12V to 120V power inverter or buy an auto adapter and you can use your old laptop to listen to CDs and watch DVDs while you or your family are on the road or open water.
Resurrect it with Linux
Because of its lower resource demands, operating system Linux can give new life to older machines. This free, Unix-like operating system for PCs is perfect for older machines as it offers stripped-down versions of popular software such as Firefox or Word that take up far less system resources than the standard PC versions. Your old laptop won’t be lightning fast, but it will plow along faster than it runs now.
Your local school or school district might need your one-time best-in-the-world machine, especially as many still rely on older versions of education software not available for the latest versions of Windows or OS X. Online donation sites such as The Freecycle Network or Computers With Causes can help you donate, and always remember to scrub your hard drive clean with a product such as DriveScrubber or BCWipe Total WipeOut before you send it off to parts unknown.
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