My friend gave me his spare computer and has been collecting dust in my room ever since. Though it's not better than the computer I am currently using, it is a decent computer as it is Pentium 4 computer. I want to tinker and/or see what I can do with this computer before I give it away for recycling, which is in 7 days.

Any suggestion of what I could do with this computer?

  • Community wiki will get more answers
    – Ciaran
    Aug 31, 2009 at 0:37
  • 1
    Send it to me! (just kidding :P )
    – MiffTheFox
    Aug 31, 2009 at 6:21
  • 4
    No, Me, not kidding!
    – Moab
    Dec 8, 2010 at 22:58

12 Answers 12


Some options, under Windows or Linux:

  • File Server for your LAN
  • Media Server for devices like Xbox 360, PS3, etc (somewhat file server ish)
  • Web / Database server if you do web development
  • Local IMAP server - great if you use multiple devices to read your email on, and it can consolidate and backup your email accounts if you have multiples.
  • Remote Access server via proxy or SSH - you can get to web pages from your work if you have restrictive internet.
  • Run Game Servers, since they're usually command line and only CPU intensive, it doesn't need a screen or a graphics card.

I got into computer by tinkering and messing around and I would always suggest that others do the same thing.

If you are a Windows guy, use it to learn Linux and have a general mess around. Then I would take it apart and just learn how to build a computer.

  • 2
    +1 – if you've never looked inside a computer before, then pulling it apart would be a great idea. And then see if you can reassemble it so that it still works :-)
    – John Fouhy
    Aug 31, 2009 at 1:14
  • Lol, if anyone who is not in to computers read that, I don't think they would understand... But lots of my friends ask me how do I build them and I always say that it is not really "technical", it just involves patience and knowing what you are doing - software and general use after it is built is the hard part! Aug 31, 2009 at 2:24

Maybe there's a school or a charity near you that might have a use for it.


A couple of options:

  • Play with a Linux distribution like Ubuntu, Debian, or Fedora
  • Turn it into a file server
  • Sell it on craigslist
  • I agree with seting up various Linux distributes to have a play with them Aug 31, 2009 at 0:36
  • 2
    These days, unless you have a very low-end main PC, it's much easier to just run VMs, especially for a low-requirement OS such as Linux.
    – Svend
    Aug 31, 2009 at 1:23



A lot of the old uses for a spare computer (like experimenting with alternate OSs, running test web server, ...) can be done in VMs these days if your main machine is powerful enough (though you obviously don't get to practise dealing with the same hardware issues in the VM environment that you would installing a test OS on bare hardware).

There are some tasks that you don't want on aVM on your main machine though, as they want to be running 24/7, don't want to be disrupted by games and other high power stuff running on the host, and you don't want them affect said high-power stuff either. Things this might count for are running it as a shared file server, a small public web server (assuming your Internet link is such that this is practical) or home mail server.

If the machine is of the same era as your main machine (or others that you have around) then maybe its most practical use for you is as a spare parts service!

Or if you don't already have a good backup arrangement in place for your work files you could perhaps setup an online backup system in it so help safeguard you important files from destruction if, for instance, the hardrives normally holding that data die.

If you don't find a use for it yourself you could try the local school or charity option, though many will not take electrical items (at least officially) because the safety tests that might be required to perform before using it (in a school) or passing it on (via a charity shop or other scheme) might make using it more hassle/expense than it is worth to them.

Another option is freecycle - if your area has a group then someone on there will happily collect it from you. Don't be surprised to see it on eBay or similar afterwards though! Some people get quite annoyed when this happens but I personally don't care - I put things on freecycle to avoid them going into landfill rather than having any human interest in what it gets used for other than landfill (and if it was worth (to me) the hassle selling it, I'd have done that myself). Not wishing to accuse some people on my local freecycle group of not telling the truth, but the massive amount of elderly grandmothers in my area whose TV's apparently blew up the very weekend I listed my old one on freecycle would otherwise suggest there is a major problem with the local electricity supply.

The final option you suggested yourself: recycling. If you take this route make sure the place you send it to recycles the machines in an environmentally friendly way rather than risking its burned remains choking up some river once the rearer metals have been extracted by wage slaves who have to drink from that river.

One very important point before passing the machine on in any way: make sure that any sensitive data (stored passwords, banking details, work related documents they may have composed on the machine, your friends contact details, porn collection, and so on) is properly erased beforehand. A simple "write over with zeros" pass should be sufficient in most cases (who is going to care to use expensive and/or time consuming forensic tests to read the previous data from the zeroed disk?) but you can go much further if you think greater paranoia is warranted.


Do what Paul Graham did. Use the other machine to avoid distractions by dedicating one computer to work applications (with no internet connection), and the other machine to fun, distracting uses.

The other option is to use something like Synergy to let you control both computers with a single keyboard and mouse. Thereby giving you a poor man's multi-core machine.

I use an old machine to run MythTV after chucking a couple of TV tuner cards in it.


Install this, since it's old and have some fun:-)



i see a server (web or file server) in your future if you want a file server, use freenas, web server LAMP (linux, apache, mysql, php)



Even if you don't do anything with it, why don't you keep it as a spare? They day will come when your PC is out of commission for a few days. Instead of going through withdrawal you'll be able to use this one.

Tip: Acronis is your friend


If you can't find a decent use for it, you just might give away as a present. Or cannibalize the parts, such as adding its hard disk to your own computer.


Sell it. Some people are actually interested in this stuff.

And some might pay a lot for it as they might consider it a collectible :D

  • I don't plan on selling it since I plan to tinker with the computer myself, (Also the reason why I asked my friend to give me the spare computer; sorry for not mentioning that) but I when I thought what I wanted to do with it, I could not come up with any ideas and want other's ideas as they might have good ideas or experience something memorable.
    – CuriousUser
    Aug 31, 2009 at 0:25