BOOT CAMP 497 (23/10/07)

Ten uses for an old PC, part 2


If you have decided against, selling, giving away or otherwise disposing of your old computer – see part 1 -- then here are a few more ideas for putting it to good use.


Salvaging the more valuable or useful parts is one possibility, especially if it is past its prime, faulty or unreliable, and what’s left, can be taken to your local recycling centre. Most of the components in a 4 or 5 year-old PC will be virtually obsolete but you might get a few pounds for the motherboard, CPU and cooling fan assembly if you put it on ebay, particularly if it was once a top-of the line combination. There is always a steady demand from people repairing faulty machines, though be honest about the condition, particularly if you cannot guarantee the parts are in full working order.


There’s not much you can do with old memory modules if they won’t fit your current machine, which is highly unlikely since the technology changes so frequently, but once again they should have some second hand value, just don’t expect to get anything like their original cost.


If you have a lot of data on floppy discs then it’s worth hanging on the floppy drive if your current PC isn’t fitted with one. Most computers will have space for one inside the case and if the cables are not already fitted they are readily available from PC parts suppliers for a few pounds.


One component you definitely should remove and keep is the hard drive. If it is a standard ATA/IDE type – and most are -- with a capacity 20Gb or more then it can be easily put back into service as a second ‘slave’ drive in your present PC. Better still, you could use it as an external USB hard drive, which can be used for backup and transferring large files.


All you need is an external hard drive case or enclosure kit. They cost from around £10 - £15 from online suppliers, like and Once you have removed the drive from your old PC (see this week’s Top Tip), simply fit the two plugs for the data lead and power supply, pop the drive inside the case and it is ready to use.


These kits normally come with a mains power adaptor and a USB cable. Just plug it into your PC and it will be recognised as an external drive by Windows XP and Vista (you may need to install a driver on Windows 98 machines, these are included with the kit). You can then copy any files that you need on to the hard drive in your new PC, after which you can format the old drive and use it for data storage. 


If you can’t bear to dismantle your old PC, and it is still in good working order but no longer able to keep up with recent Windows applications you can continue to use it, have some fun and learn a few new tricks, by reformatting the drive and installing Linux.


Linux is a free ‘Open Source’ operating system that has been popular with enthusiasts for years, but until fairly recently it required a degree of knowledge in order to use it. Within the last five years, though, newer versions or ‘distributions’ of Linux have come along that look, work and are as easy to use as Windows. With a Linux PC you can surf the web send and receive emails, play games, print documents and do pretty well all of the things you do with Windows. Most distributions come bundled with a good assortment of programs and a fully featured office suite that includes a powerful Word-compatible word processor, Excel compatible spreadsheet, presentation and database software.


As an added bonus Linux flies along, even on ancient Windows 98 PCs. It is virtually immune to viruses and its stability and reliability are legendary. There are hundreds of distributions to chose from, the best known and most Windows-like being Linspire, Mandriva, Ubuntu and Fedora, there are almost too many in fact, but you will find an easy to follow guide to installing Linux in Boot Camp 446, and look out for a new Boot Camp series on the simplest route to Linux yet, starting in a couple of weeks.


The last suggestion this week is to keep your old PC ready and waiting as an emergency backup. If your main PC suffers a catastrophic failure you can be back working again in just a few minutes. This requires a little preparation and planning, the most important consideration being that you routinely backup up your work preferably to CD, DVD or an external drive. Your emergency PC should also be configured for Internet access, and have the programs you rely upon installed. If the PC is in storage then it’s important to take it out and check that it is still working every few weeks.


An extra refinement would be to fit a removable drive carrier; these cost around £10 from online sellers. If your work PC keels over just remove the hard drive, slip it into the caddy and load it into the emergency PC and you’ll be able to retrieve important data and continue working. 



Next Week – Ten uses for an old PC, part 3





Advanced Technology Attachment/Integrated Drive Electronics; the circuitry -- built into the disc drive – that acts as an interface between the drive and the PC motherboard



The main printed circuit board inside a PC, with sockets for the processor chip, memory modules, expansion cards and connections for printer, mouse, keyboard and other peripherals



Software with minimal licensing and broad, often free distribution, which users are encouraged to help develop




Removing a hard drive from a desktop PC only takes a few minutes and the only tool you will need is a small to medium sized Philips screwdriver with a longish shaft. Disconnect the mains cable then take off the lid or side panels. Remove the power connector then the data cable. Try not to twist or strain the data cable plug as this may bend the fine connecting pins. Next, remove the retaining screws; there are usually two each side, then slide the drive out from its ‘bay’ taking care not to touch the connectors or exposed components.   


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© R. Maybury 2007, 2609

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