3 Ways to Make Use of Your Old PC with Linux

Old Pc Feature

Many of us have an old computer lying around our house. Maybe it’s an old family desktop, an old school laptop, or something you just forgot you had or put in storage because it’s so slow. Before you throw it away, check out the following ways to make use of your old PC with Linux.

Keep in mind that this is a small list. 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.

1. A Home Server

Given that Linux is so popular on the server, it only makes sense to take your old PC and turn it into a home server. The process of turning your old PC into a Linux server for your home may sound daunting, but given the prevalence of the Raspberry Pi as a home server platform, you’d be surprised by just how much you can do with an old PC as a server. 

Old Pc Server

There are various uses for a home server. You can either use it as a file server, NAS (Network Attached Storage) server, media server, or just as a personal web server.

In terms of hardware upgrades, you probably just have to add some RAM to the system and you’re all set to go. One thing of note: if you’re looking to make this a home media server or set-top box as an alternative to a Google Chromecast, Apple TV, or Roku, you’ll want to add a decent graphics card and potentially some way to connect it to Wi-Fi

However, one of the easiest kinds of servers to set up at home is a Pi Hole. It’s designed for a Raspberry Pi, but you can install it on just about any piece of hardware that has a compatible OS or in a Docker container. You can check out our guide on how to set it up here

2. A Linux Workstation

This may seem slightly obvious for those users who have used Linux for a while, but it bears highlighting. If you’re looking to take moderately old hardware that doesn’t run Windows 10 or macOS well or at all anymore and reinvigorate it for everyday use, Linux is your tool. With a couple of hardware upgrades, you can take that 10-year-old PC and make it feel like new. 

Old Pc Workstation

The first hardware upgrade I’d recommend is a Solid State Drive, or Solid SD. Purchasing a quality SSD and replacing the older drive in your system will give you a much better experience without doing anything else. Brands like Samsung and Western Digital are great choices, and you can get a 500 GB SSD for around $60 USD from either of those brands. Plus, if you have an old CD/DVD drive, there are adapters out there to turn that old slot into an SSD caddy. 

The next one I’ll recommend is RAM. You’ll want to upgrade the RAM in your system to at least 8 GB. That’ll give you plenty of headroom for running a web browser and some other applications. However, if you’re going to use it as a true workstation for development, virtualization, or content creation, I’d go as high as possible. I have a 2011 Dell Optiplex that I use as a daily driver, and I have maxed out the RAM to 32 GB, which is common for machines of that era. This is especially useful if you’re going to use it as a virtualization workstation, which commonly requires a lot of RAM. 

Old Pc Ram

If your system can’t take 8 GB RAM, you’ll want to choose a particularly lightweight Desktop Environment to give you the most headroom possible. A distro I highly recommend is Elive, a Debian-based Linux distro designed to give you the best possible experience on your old hardware.

3. A Test Linux Machine

Probably the easiest way to make use of your old PC is to just install Linux on it and use it to learn. You don’t need crazy performance to learn how to interact with Linux via the CLI, and installing Debian or CentOS on it would be a great starting point to explore Linux from a career or server side. Work with files, configure basic network services, and learn the nuts and bolts of Linux without worrying about spending a huge amount of money. Just dust it off and take it for a spin! No hardware upgrades required. 

Old Pc Thinkpad

Now that you’re inspired to revitalize that old PC with Linux, make sure to check out some of our other Linux articles, such as how to install CentOS on your computer, commonly asked questions for Windows users switching to Linux, and learn which is for you in Fedora vs. Ubuntu.

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John Perkins John Perkins

John is a young technical professional with a passion for educating users on the best ways to use their technology. He holds technical certifications covering topics ranging from computer hardware to cybersecurity to Linux system administration.

2 comments

  1. re “a home media server or set-top box”

    Instead of buying a new graphics card or wireless card, for the old PC, just use a PCI card or USB with digital tuner (ATSC, DVB-c, DVB-s2, DVB-t2, or ISDB according to your digital TV source) as a headless server which via the ethernet network can serve out DVB streams to any client or be used as the MythTV backend to the MythTV client on anotherPC with an adequate graphics card connected by HDMI to a monitor or TV.

    And as it is headless, without hopefully too much strain from the digital signal processing, you can put some services (primary or secondary) such as DNS, NTP server etc on the box as well.

  2. I use and old laptop as a jukebox. Lots of music, plays over Bluetooth or speakers, I can have literally tens of thousands of songs on it, and never need to upgrade it as long as I don’t want to go on the Internet with it.

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