Often I am asked whether a client’s computer needs to be upgraded.
These computers are usually well past their use-by date and have been upgraded as much as they can already be.
Even if a computer hasn’t been touched, the low price of hardware compared to the cost of labour means that buying a new computer is often the more cost effective option.
Even if you do it yourself, the sum of the parts is often greater than the whole and the risks of stuffing something up could easily escalate the cost.
If you are like me, this grates. Perfectly functional computers are relegated to the scrap heap simply because they can’t run today’s applications.
But never fear, there are some options for rescuing your computer and getting some performance back.
IMPORTANT: Make sure all important information is backed up and verified as recoverable before you do anything.
Reinstall the computers original operating system from scratch. This is the least exciting of the options. Sure it will make your computer run like new (with a few caveats) but there is a good chance that what you want to do with it will eventually get it back to where it is today – slow and frustrating. On the other hand, if it is a sacrificial computer for the kids or an emergency backup computer then this option is more than valid.
If option one sounds unappealing or you can’t find your computer’s original installation disks, then you’ll need to find a new operating system. I don’t advice you “upgrade” to a newer version of Windows if in fact your original operating system was windows. While windows 7 is great it is still heavier on resources than windows XP and likely to be more than incompatible with most of the old hardware.
What you’ll need is a light free operating system. My favourite free operating system is Ubuntu. It is sufficiently windows and/or Mac-like to be usable by almost anyone. It installs easily and does pretty much everything anyone could want…all free! It is also more resistant to malware because it is fairly low on the bad guys’ priority list at the moment.
The downside of Ubuntu is that it is so feature rich these days that it’s getting a little chubby. The hardware requirements for the computers it will run are growing. So much so that in some cases I’ve had to install older Ubuntu editions to get some especially older computers running.
If Ubuntu won’t install you can go super light with Puppy Linux. I’ve not needed to use this one yet but by all accounts it’s the way to go if your computer specs are low.
The downside with all Linux based free operating systems is that if they don’t work out-of-the-box when you install them then you’ll need to be a persistent geek to sort things out or just try another incarnation (there are quite a few to choose from).
Turn your computer into something else, a shadow of its former self but still useful. FreeNAS turns your old computer into Network Attached Storage. Basically hard disk space accessible over your local network. This means you can do those backups you’ve been promising to do now.
FreeNAS is another Linux based product but its focus is on file sharing on a light and cross-platform compatible operating system.
It will just sit there storing your files and not much else, but at least it isn’t in landfill and now you have a backup that is separate to your computer itself.
Of course there are many other things you can do with an old computer.
I hope these ideas have given you some inspiration to keep your dinosaur and have a play with it.
David L Moore started I Hate My PC in 2006 with the aim of making everyday computer and technology experiences more pleasant. He’s been in the business for over 25 years and has experience across all areas of computing. He’s also written many articles for the industry over that time.