We spend our entire working life looking at them. Heck, we spend more time with them than our loved ones! Yes I, am referring to the laptop that’s sitting on our table, including the one that I am looking at right now as I write this.
Sadly, when our beloved work partner runs out of time, we simply get a new one or exchange it. But is that it? Is that all to what we can do with our old laptop? Can we find a way to keep that laptop useful in some ways, for the sake of nostalgia at least; so that we don’t have to throw it away? That’s exactly what we are going to do today. Find answers to that question – what can I use my old laptop for?
1. Wipe and Start Over – Zero Cost
If you still have the old installer (CD or USB drive) or the restore option is still available on your laptop, you can wipe the laptop and start again. The latter is a hidden partition on your laptop that contains an image of your operating system. Restoring to this means returning your laptop to factory state, before you start installing a whole bunch of applications that may slow it down. Without spending any more money on it, this is the best way to improve the performance of the laptop.
You can then give it to your kids or anyone in the family in need of a computer. With working from home, online lessons and remote learning becoming the norm, everyone in the family will need their own computer. This will be just as good as any system to fulfil that requirement.
2. Refurbish and Return to Work
Many older laptops can be refurbished. An increase in memory (RAM) and a replacement of the old HDD unit with a faster SSD unit significantly improves the speed of the laptop. Applications load faster, your files open quicker, and you will be able to multi-task that bit better. It can be turned into a general purpose computer.
However, before you do decide to refurbish your laptop, consider this – not all laptops can be refurbished. Some are simply too old and parts that are compatible for it may no longer be available. Plus, if you are going to spend an ‘X’ amount of dollars to refurbish your laptop, it pays to check whether the increase in life span is sufficient to justify that extra amount of money.
3. Turn It Into A Desktop
Failing batteries are the most common among old laptops but it doesn’t have to stop you from using it. You can turn it into a desktop instead. This will work great if you have a monitor, keyboard and mouse lying around. Simply remove the battery pack from your laptop, wire it up, connect the monitor and peripherals, switch it on and voila, there is your desktop. Even if you don’t have a spare monitor, you can still remove the battery, plant it on the desk, connect it to the mains and have a permanently stationed desk computer from a laptop. If you are good with electronics, you can even dismantle the screen and place it on the stand so you don’t need to buy a monitor.
4. Built-in Workstation Desk
Speaking of a desk computer. If you are good with DIY, you can build your own workstation desk using your old laptop. If building your own desk from scratch is not for you, consider a flat pack unit and retro-fit your laptop that way. There are many cheap options available on IKEA or online retailers.
This is taking the idea of turning the laptop into a desktop and switching it up by mounting the laptop under the desk or in the drawer. All you need is to fashion a mounting bracket or holder, wire the monitor and peripherals and power it up. Just be sure to allow for plenty of ventilation for your laptop. It’s your very own desktop minus the unsightly tower, plus nobody has to see how old your laptop is.
5. Hang It Under the Cabinet
Another clever way to use your old laptop is to mount it under the wall cabinet. This can be in the office, bedroom or kitchen and it works best with an old 2-in-1 laptop with 360-degree hinge and touchscreen. Flip the screen to 270-degrees or more, what manufacturers like to call the Presentation or Tent mode. Turn the laptop upside down so the keyboard faces the bottom of the cabinet. This is the position you want to mount the laptop.
Again, you will need to fashion a mounting bracket or a slot to hold your laptop in place. Remember also to turn the position of the display so it is the right way up. You can do this in the display settings. You now have a dedicated computer for the room. Pair it with a Bluetooth keyboard and you can even us it to reply to emails or perform a quick search so you don’t only depend on the touchscreen.
6. Make Your Own ‘Surface’ Computer
If you have a coffee table or side table with glass top, you can turn your old laptop into a surface computer. This only works if your laptop can open flat, with hinges that goes up to 180 degrees. You will again need to fashion a carriage or mount for the laptop in order to keep the screen as close to the underside of the glass top as possible. This will also require a wireless mouse that works on glass like the Logitech MX Master or Logitech MX Anywhere and a compact wireless keyboard. You can choose to hide the rest of your laptop leaving only the screen if you want to make it look sleek. This also works on a big desk, again with glass top for users to be able to see the screen flat on the surface and to share your view.
7. Use It for Less Demanding Apps & Cloud Based Apps
Many day-to-day office tasks like browsing the web, communicating via emails, writing reports, or making a PowerPoint presentation do not require a high-end laptop. A 5 or a 6-year-old laptop can easily handle the demands of the latest word processor like Microsoft Word or a spreadsheet application like Excel. Fact is, you don’t even need to install any application at all. Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Calendar, Gmail, Chat and Drive are all available for free and in the cloud. Any old laptop will be more than capable to handle your entire office workload. All you need is a compatible browser and a fast Internet connection.
8. As a Media Centre For the Big Screen TV
If you have an old, not so smart or dumb TV, hook it up to your old laptop. The laptop can either be mounted behind the TV or kept in the TV bench. You can then run media centre software to turn it into a Home Theatre PC (HTPC). Software like Kodi Media Center and Plex Media Player are the go to choices for such an application. These are perfect if you have your own collection of media files on the local NAS or on a shared folder in your PC or server. To use Plex to serve up the media files, you will need a Plex Media Server. Another media server solution is Emby. Like Plex it comes with a server and player component.
9. Streaming Set Top Laptop
Use the same laptop to access streaming services like Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, Hulu or just want to get on YouTube.
10. Living Room Conferencing System
Add an external web cam and mount it to the top of your big screen TV and you have video conferencing setup for group or one-to-one video call right from the living room. No set top box lets you do that, not even on Apple TV.
11. Connect it to an LED Projector for a Budget Home Cinema
LED projectors are super affordable and you can set up your very own cinema at home using nothing but the projector and your old laptop. An affordable yet decent LED video projector is capable of projecting an image up 130-inch in diagonal. Use your laptop to stream your favourite show to the big screen.
12. Convert it Into a Chromebook
Speaking of less demanding applications, one thing that you can do is convert your laptop into a Chromebook. Google’s Chromium OS is known for being a lightweight OS in terms of resource demands when compared to other popular operating systems. It can run most of the Google applications like Google Docs, Google Slides, and Google Sheet via a browser. Therefore your day-to-day work is all taken care of without ever needing to install a dedicated office suite of applications.
13. Use It for Running Linux
If you can repurpose your laptop to run as a Chromebook it will likely run fine as a Linux machine as well. After all, Linux is the most stable, and infection-free OS out there. Plus, you could do almost everything that you could on a Windows machine, with added security and stability. That said, Linux isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Not many people would want to fiddle around having to type commands rather than using a few mouse clicks to achieve whatever they want on their laptop. But if you have a little bit of interest in Linux, this could be one way to give your laptop another lease on life. The best way to try out if a flavour if Linux is right for you is to boot it up from a flash drive. You can download a bootable copy of the operating system for USB and make your own.
14. Cannibalize the Laptop
This is recommended in the worst-case scenario when spending any extra amount of money is not recommended. Plus, you are convinced that the laptop cannot be used for any other purposes. Say, the monitor is cracked or the keyword is non-functional etc. or the hard drive is unsalvageable. If the whole of the laptop is broken then you have to simply throw it away. There is no other way.
But, let’s say that the hard drive is working. You can still salvage it and use it as an external storage unit. You can plug it into another computer and use it as a secondary partition. It can be used as a network-attached storage device too. We have been doing this with our old external hard drives; connecting them with a Wi-Fi router and using them to access data on multiple devices (smartphones, tablets, and laptops). If you are not afraid to get your hands dirty, you can dismantle the display too and turn it into a standalone monitor for use by a desktop or another laptop as a second display.
15. Convert It Into a Digital Photo Frame
Who does not love a neat little digital frame sitting at a corner or mounted on a wall showing our best memories at a leisurely pace? But digital photo frames can be expensive. At least the good ones are. That said, if you have an old laptop you can save some money by making a digital photo frame out of it.
There are many DIY tutorials you can access online that demonstrate the full process of turning your laptop into a digital photo frame. There are many ways to approach this. But fundamental idea is more or less the same.
You have to separate the laptop screen from the rest of the device. Then strap both backs to back. Restore the connections. Install a photo frame software, load your photos onto the hard drive. Frame the whole thing in a way that it becomes impossible to know it is a laptop. Finally, connect to a power source and fire up the laptop.
The framing bit is tricky and so is restoring connection after the laptop has been unhinged and strapped backs to back. Some laptops can be folded 360-degree. Like the Lenovo Yoga. These laptops are easier to use as photo frames. You don’t have to unhinge them, disconnect and then restore the connections.
16. Convert It Into A Range Extender or Wi-Fi Hot Spot
I am quite sure you have never imagined this when you bought your laptop. But yes, this is one way to give your laptop an extended life span. By converting it into a Wi-Fi hot spot for your home.
Most of us use a router and an extender to cover areas of our home/office that are outside the range of the main router. If you haven’t got one, you may not need to as you can use your old laptop to accomplish the same. It can be stationed in the attic, the basement, and even the sitting area on the lawn where you spend a lot of time. It can be configured to share a wired or wireless connection by creating a wireless hotspot for other devices to connect to. Take your old laptop and positioning it in such an area to extend the Wi-Fi coverage of your home then use the following steps from Microsoft to turn your laptop PC into a mobile hotspot.
17. Create A Network Storage
There are a host of ways in which you can use the hard drive on your old laptop. One of them is using it as a network drive unit / Network-attached Storage (NAS). Share a folder on the network and everything in that folder can be accessed by all other terminals on the local network. You could use it to dump your files rather than uploading them to the cloud.
18. Use it as a Dashboard or Family Calendar
From something as simple as an extension that rotates through your open tabs in a browser (Revolver – Tabs), timed to change and refresh at fixed interval to a full blown web based dashboard, you can use your old laptop to present it either on its own display, big screen TV or projector for everyone to see. Be it a league table, news on a ticker, sports results, weather, world clocks, tweets, Facebook feed or data feed from a database, anything is possible.
You can also go fully digital and use the laptop to show your family calendar. Create a gmail account for the family so that everyone can share their calendar with the family account. You can then use the laptop to login to the family gmail and show the family
the this on the application Did you ever want an extra display in the kitchen, maybe something to check out new recipes on, or check the weather update before heading out to work? Your laptop monitor can perform that task. You are probably wondering how is it possible? Well, your laptop screen is a display unit. It does not need the rest of the parts to work.
A lot of NGOs are collecting old laptops for repurposing them for online education in third-world countries. A laptop in a class can open up a window to the world for a bunch of kids. For a child, a laptop is more than just a tool to interact or read, it is a treasure-trove of information that can completely change their perspectives about the world and the environment that they are living in. it also opens up their view to a world of possibilities.
20. Donate it to Charity Without Physically Donating It
Okay. I admit that I wanted to be cheeky with the title. If you think your laptop is of no use and you can’t even donate it to someone without seriously turning him/her off, you could donate it to some other type of charity without physically relinquishing it. I meant for projects like Seti@home and for donating it for some medical research or weather model analysis project where crowd-computing is necessary (i.e., harnessing the power of a large number of computer systems).
21. Use it to Play Classic Games
You can use your old laptop PC to run classic PC games. We don’t mean console, handheld or arcade retro games, although those would be possible too with the right emulator. We are refer to old classic PC games . It will certainly bring back some nostalgia. Its time to dust off your old games collection and bring back that nostalgia of gaming on your laptop. You can find Classic PC games and MS-DOS games to download from Internet Archive.
And, if your laptop is around 7 years old with a dedicated graphics adapter, it will be more than capable of running some of the more recent games and not just really old DOS games. Keep gaming separate from your work laptop and use your old laptop login and access free to play games on STEAM. Be sure to check the system minimum requirements before you download any games.
22. Turn it into an Arcade Machine
There are plenty of tutorials online including videos on YouTube on the subject. These include step-by-step instructions on how to turn your old laptop into a full fledge arcade machine. If you love to tinker and build your things, this is right up your street.
LAST RESORT: Dispose of it in a Responsible Way
This should have been the first step. But considering that there are so many ways of extending the life of your laptop that we kept it for the last. The thing is technology leaps forward at a mind-boggling pace. What is state of the art right now could be obsolete in less than 3 years. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. Because many among us, especially the baby boomers, don’t quite think in terms of using and then throwing something away in 3 years.
But unfortunately, at times that is exactly what the situation might warrant us to do. The laptop might have become so old that refurbishing makes no sense, and it probably does not serve any other purposes either. Sending it to be recycled is the only best thing to do.
There are many services you can drop your old electronic waste. When you recycle you do two things – you champion the cause of safeguarding the planet and along with it, you give a small boost to the manufacturing industry.
Okay, I bet you never thought that there could be so many ways to give your old laptop a new lease of life. Try these to hold on to your work partner for a few more days. Nostalgia apart, it can save you a few bucks too, not having to invest in additional hardware. But if nothing else works you have to throw it away.
Edited by Samuel J. Tan