how re-use an old computer
recyle your old laptop
If you’re anything like me, you have one or more old computers laying around. Oh, they still work but they’re under powered, the hard drive is too small, it doesn’t have enough horsepower for what you want to do, etc., etc. But for whatever reason, you just can’t throw it out.
Me? I collect old Thinkpads. I have a thing for them. My son says it borders on a fetish. What do I do with them? I use them Tor servers, they run BOINC and help search for a cure for malaria, in the past I ran web cams, one is both a backup for my Dropbox account and a Netflix streaming box, etc.
Here’s how I configure an old XP box as a machine on autopilot:
reset the machine Return it to factory condition. Format the hard drive if you’re feeling ambitious. At least re-install Windows. Plug it into your router because it will take a while to download and install all of the Windows updates. Either devote a chunk of time babysitting the process start to finish or do it over time, clicking the OK button every time you walk by.
turn off auto updates The goal is a computer that runs all by itself. The last thing you want is a machine resetting itself at 3 a.m. after an auto update. I configure Windows updates to be downloaded automatically but I do a manual update. The same goes for antivirus software updates as well. Make updating software a regular habit. It only takes a couple of minutes. Patches plug holes.
install anti-virus software Protect yourself. I use AVG Free myself. Wired had a review of antivirus software. Your router should be locked down too. Do not schedule updates and scans to run automatically.
no extra sh*t No Flash, no Acrobat, no Real Player, no QuickTime, no nothing. Don’t introduce potential vulnerabilities. Install only what you need.
help find a cure for malaria A computer spends most of its time doing nothing, waiting for us. Put those spare cycles to good use by running the malariacontrol.net screensaver Or search for other distributed computing projects.
Now you have a clean machine that you’re going to run manual updates of Windows on when you scan it with anti-virus software. There’s a restore point so you won’t have to start all over again except in dire situations. What next?
Well, what do you want to do with it? Stream video with YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, you name it. If you use Dropbox, synch your Dropbox files on this computer so you always have yet-another backup. Instead of Dropbox, take a look at Wuala. It encrypts locally before uploading, stores files across a number of computers, supports friends and groups, and more. You can configure it as a web cam (I like TinCam). My personal favorite? I run Tor relays to help others surf anonymously and securely. Setup a phone booth whether you like Skype, Google Voice, Vonnage, or some other VOIP solution. Plug it into your router or network because it’ll be faster than WiFi. Use a good headset or microphone and spring for a decent camera. Consider a weather station especially if you can upload your data to Wunderground. Extra machines make great firewalls or routers. Run your own web server (WampServer), NAS (FreeNAS or CryptoNAS), or RADIUS box (FreeRADIUS or TekRADIUS) if you’re so inclined.