8 Ways to Make Use of Your Old PC with Linux

8 Ways to Make Use of Your Old PC with Linux

Most people throw away their old computers when they get new ones. Don’t be one of those people. Instead, turn your old PC into a Linux file server, a smart TV hub, a web caching proxy, Network Attached Storage, or even your own private cloud solution. With Linux, the possibilities are endless.

Here are 8 things you can do with an old PC and Linux. Keep in mind that these are just eight picks. It’s not the be-all-end-all list. There is no doubt that there are other things that can be done on Linux that simply didn’t make the list.

old-pc-file-server

Linux is perfect for serving up files. If you’ve been looking to just set up a basic Samba (or NFS) file share for all of the computers on your network, an old computer with a fairly decent LAN connection and a couple hard drives can do the job just fine.

Here’s some information on setting up a basic file server for Linux.

old-pc-syncthing

These days people don’t have just one computer. Most die hard computer enthusiasts have a desktop workstation, a tablet, a smartphone and a laptop (or two). When you get to a place where you have multiple machines, keeping all the same files on all devices can get tedious.

Some will point out that “this is what Dropbox and Google Drive are for,” and they’d be right. The problem is you only get a certain amount of storage for free with these services, not to mention they can’t operate offline.

That’s where a decentralized file syncing solution comes in. With this tool you can set up a sync server on an old machine and have it pass out all of the same files to all those that connect to it. You are not tied down to a cloud service or the Internet. Best of all, you’re only limited by hard drive storage space.

Here are some great syncing solutions to consider: SyncThing, Bittorrent Sync.

old-pc-owncloud

Are you looking for a formidable replacement for Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive? Good news! You can roll your own solution instead. This solution is known as OwnCloud.

Unlike #2, OwnCloud isn’t just a fancy file syncing protocol. Sure, there’s an app you can load on your computer (not just Linux) and mobile device to keep files in sync, but there’s so much more to it than that.

It’s a complete replacement for mainstream cloud storage solutions (most notably Google Drive). When you set up an OwnCloud server, you’ll be getting a whole suite of applications to use on your private cloud.

There are many, many apps that you can install to your OwnCloud. Here are the most notable ones:

Learn how to install it by following our OwnCloud installation guide.

old-pc-open-media-vault

Looking to set up a central box for all of your storage needs? You might want to consider turning that old PC into a NAS. Having a Network Attached Storage appliance can be great. These kinds of things are specifically designed to house a lot of data.

This can be done easily with Linux by using Open Media Vault. It’s a Linux distribution specifically designed to manage many hard drives and data. It’s based on Debian (a very popular Linux distro) and has a whole lot of features packed inside.

old-pc-kodi

Media appliances you plug into the television are all the rage. There’s Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, etc. Want to join the fold? It’s easy, just take that old computer of yours and turn it into a local media appliance.

There are many ways to accomplish this task, but the most reliable (and practical) approach is to install Kodibuntu. It’s a Ubuntu-based Linux distribution specifically designed to be an “out of the box” media solution. Just set it up, put your media on the old PC, plug it into the TV and go.

old-pc-emby

Something you can plug directly into your TV is great in a pinch, but if you want to get a little bit more out of that old PC, there are other media options. Consider turning that old machine into a Plex or Emby media server.

With a media server, you’re not limited to one screen. Instead, all your media is in one central location and can be served to all (on your network) who choose to access it. Both prominent media server solutions available on Linux have several different apps and a web interface to access your content with. They’re very prolific and one of the main strengths a media server has.

It should be noted that most media servers don’t perform well unless they have fairly decent hardware. Most DDR2 era PCs (and up) can handle this sort of load, so don’t worry. Just don’t try to install Plex on your ancient windows 95 PC!

old-pc-squid

Have a slow Internet connection and a spare old rig? Turn that rig into a Squid server! Not sure what Squid is? It’s a caching proxy tool for Internet traffic. It can drastically reduce bandwidth by caching frequently accessed web pages.

This sort of thing is perfect for those stuck with low bandwidth connections.

old-pc-ubuntu-laptop

Just getting into Linux? Want to learn by doing? Make this old PC your practice machine. It doesn’t matter if you mess this PC up, because it’s set aside to be tinkered with. If you’re serious about learning the ins and outs of Linux, this is a good way to go.

Though these machines might not be the powerhouses they once were, there’s still a lot that can be done with them. Media server, OwnCloud, NAS, Cache proxy, you name it. There are so many things you can do with Linux that if we included them all, the list would be neverending!

What would you do if you had an old PC laying around? Tell us below!

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons, Flickr

18 comments

  1. Please define “old computer.” Is it old technology or one that is no longer being used?

    9 years ago I replaced Windows with Linux on my PC for daily use. Since then I have not replaced my PC. I use the latest version of PCLinuxOS on an at least 10 year-old computer. It takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’.

      • Could you be any less specific? HP printers are your best bet. They get Linux drivers out the door pretty quick. Openprinting.org had a database of all the drivers available for almost any brand.

        How old of an OS are you talking about? Upgrade, it’s free.

  2. wow…i really like the idea of having my very own “cloud” storage system! i will be looking into this and very soon. ty for the tip!

  3. I have been using Linux for maybe 15 years, with varying amounts of success. My main computer is now Fedora 22, having moved up from Fedora 16. I forgot my root password and couldn’t upgrade my Firefox, so I couldn’t get on eBay anymore, so I just got another hard drive and loaded Fedora 22 and all the Rawhide and other software needed to make it function properly.
    I don’t like everything about the changes in fedora 22, but I forgot my root password, so Unless I just start over with 16, I’m stuck with 22. Then my ThinkPad died, so now I’m struggling with windoz 7, until I can get my fedora going again. I prefer Linux over windoz except for when I need a printer that isn’t supported yet.

    • “Unless I just start over with 16, I’m stuck with 22”
      What exactly do you want to do? Do you want to go back to using Fedora 16 or do you want to use 22?

      There should be no reason why you cannot use the old version of Firefox unless it got corrupted during your update attempt.

      To get things straightened out:
      1. Copy your /home partition to another drive just to create a backup..
      2. Install the version of Fedora you would like to use with a new root password but DO NOT let the installer reformat your /home partition.
      3. Write the new root password down so you wont forget it again. (I know we are not supposed to write down our passwords anywhere but unless your computer is in a public space, nobody but you will know the password)
      4. After the install is done, reboot and update your software using the new root password.
      5. If any of the files in your /home partition are missing or corrupt, you can restore them from the backup in step #1.

  4. Linux media players cannot be used for watching movies with subtitles, because they doesn’t support placing automatically subtitles in overlay as most Windows players do. It could be done in manual way, but too hard and unusable for watching more than 1 files in a row without taking 3-5 min. to calculate and move the subtitles in the overlay manually. I tried to find such a player under Linux or BSD that is capable of doing this, but wasn’t successful. As this is too important for me and everyone, who is watching foreigner movies, I decided to use KMPlayer on Windows. It is not possible to watch movies with subtitles without losing some details.

    • Plex and Emby both support subtitles and sometimes they even download the files. It really depends on if you provide the subs.

    • Perhaps I don’t understand your reasoning, but can’t you just enable subtitles in VLC? I have to turn them off half the time I watch a movie, so I know it works for me.

  5. I use Linux and FreeBSD all over. Windows only for specific tasks and then always in virtual machines.
    A pretty decent Owncloud server can be made from a low-power (and ebay cheap) Acer Veriton + a 2,5″ harddrive. I have 2Tb of space and the power it consumes/year cost me less than 2 month 1Tb premium at Dropbox. The Veriton I got for free…
    Think out of the box!

  6. Every so often I try Linux again and find it to be a massive waste of time. It NEVER lives up to the hype. I have dual booted it on 5 different computers and it is slower to boot on all of them. It is good for web server companies as they can copy it easily to each new web server they get. For home users it is worse than useless.

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