BOOT CAMP ARCHIVE 2005

  

 

BOOT CAMP 369 (2/03/05)

TEN THINGS TO DO WITH AN OLD PC, Part 2

 

Very few products depreciate in value as rapidly as a PC in fact some machines can be worth less than half what was paid for them within just a few months. Naturally many owners are reluctant to throw their old PCs away, having spent hundreds, possibly thousands of pounds over the years on hardware, but the harsh truth is that computers more than four or five years old are practically worthless. Nevertheless, as we showed last week, there are ways of to avoid or at least delay the trip to the scrap yard; here are some more ideas.

 

 

6. UPGRADE

If you’ve ever wondered what makes a computer tick then what better way to find out than by upgrading your old PC to breath some new life into it? Most desktop machines are entirely modular in construction and you can replace any part, usually with nothing more complicated than a Philips screwdriver. There are several upgrade paths, the simplest being to install a faster processor and some extra memory. You will need to do a little homework, to find out which type of CPU socket your PC’s motherboard uses, and the fastest processor and maximum amount of memory it will support. You will find this information in the motherboard manual that came with your machine, or visit the manufacturers’ web site. Even if your model is already using the fastest available processor there’s probably some useful performance gains to be had by increasing the memory capacity. You might also consider installing a larger hard disc drive, and again this can be a very cost-effective and worthwhile upgrade. Otherwise the only alternative is to replace the motherboard and processor but this needn’t be expensive and prices for both components start at around £30 from online sellers. Just make sure the new motherboard has the same ‘form factor’ as the old one, and is compatible with the power supply.  Have a look at Boot Camp Articles 313 to 316 and 321 to 314 for some useful tips on upgrading and building PCs.

 

 

7. STRIP FOR SPARES

There are a lot of salvageable parts inside a PC that’s past its sell by date, which can be recycled. For example a video card, preferably a ‘PCI’ type, can be used to provide your current machine with dual monitor display capability. A sound card could come in handy, as an emergency replacement should your present one fail. You never know when you might need a network card, extra memory or even a power supply and an old dial-up modem will let you send faxes from your PC if you have a broadband Internet connection. Some computer parts still have resale value and a working motherboard, CPU and memory can fetch from £10 upwards on the ebay auction site. Finally the case; if you can’t get down to the local tip then a sheet of glass over the side will turn it into a mini greenhouse for raising seedlings.

 

 

8. AUTOMATION, HOBBIES AND SECURITY

With a few plug-in modules you can turn a modestly specified PC into a home automation centre, capable of controlling everything from central heating and lights, to drawing the curtains when it gets dark. In fact there’s almost no limit to the number of things you can hook up to a computer, including model railway controllers, automated woodworking tools, measuring and diagnostic instruments, even home-built robots. PCs also have many useful applications in security and surveillance, as intruder alarms and video recorders (see Boot Camps 366 and 367 in the Connected Archive). Here’s a few web addresses to whet your appetite:

Home automation: www.homecontrols.com/

Model railways: www.merg.org.uk/

Robotics: http://mapageweb.umontreal.ca/cousined/lego/

2-Robots/comp-robot/ and

www.hobbyengineering.com/prodARobot.html

Security: www.digital-cybermasters.co.uk/

 

 

9. HOME ENTERTAINMENT

Take any reasonably recent PC (preferably 800MHz or faster), install a large hard drive, a video capture and display card and some software and you have the makings of a decent digital video recorder. Plans for a DIY personal video recorder can be found at: www.byopvr.com, and there’s video recorder software at: www.showshifter.com/index.htm. If your PC isn’t up to video recording why not turn it into a CD player and MP3 jukebox? Even a 20Gb hard drive can store thousands of tunes and you can connect the PC’s audio output to your hi-fi for some quality sounds.

 

 

10. INSTALL LINUX

Find out what all the fuss is about and install the Linux operating system on your old PC. Linux is maturing fast and is now a viable alternative to Windows for many home and office applications. All you need to do is reformat the hard disc and obtain a Linux ‘distribution’ like Red Hat or SuSe, which also come with bundled office suites, browser and email programs. Many Linux distributions free and can be downloaded from the Internet and ‘burnt’ to a CD ROM (see: www.linux.org/dist/download_info.html). Ready-made discs are widely available from computer stores and online sellers for less than £30. For more information about Linux see Boot Camps 318, 319 and 320 in the Connected Archive.

 

Next Week -- Troubleshooting Outlook Express Problems

 

JARGON FILTER

 

DISTRIBUTION

A complete Linux package containing the main operating software, a ‘shell’ or desktop program plus a selection of popular applications

 

FORM FACTOR

Set of standards defining the size and layout of a PC motherboard. The most common types are: AT, Baby AT, ATX and Mini ATX

 

MP3

Motion Picture Experts Group audio layer 3 -- digital audio compression system commonly used to send files containing audio and music over the Internet and for storing musical files in personal audio players

 

 

TIP OF THE WEEK

If you have exhausted all of the possibilities and you still have an old PC to get rid of don’t just toss it in a skip or try to dispose of it with the household rubbish. Computers and most peripherals contain a cocktail of potentially harmful materials and toxic chemicals that really shouldn’t be allowed to get into the environment by being incinerated or dumped in landfill sites. CRT monitors in particular need to be handled carefully and can be really dangerous if dropped. Most local authorities now have collection points for computers and electrical equipment at waste disposal sites and if you can’t take it there yourself

many councils will arrange to collect bulky items for free or a small charge.

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