What to Do with That Old Desktop ComputerWe all have one around the house, standing proud with its 3.5 inch floppy drive and cables galore. I’m talking about that tower PC that has become an eyesore, yet you just can’t part with it. Perhaps it’s memories of logging on to AOL and surfing the Web with your Netscape browser. Or it may just be too heavy to pick up and move! As long as it’s going to remain a part of your life, let’s put it to good use.

What should I do first?

If you are comfortable with some minor computer maintenance, it’s a good place to start. Most desktop, or “tower” PCs (personal computers), come with an easily removable side panel. A can of compressed air will do a great job of getting all of the dust bunnies out that have accumulated over the years. Blow out all the dust you can, especially around any fans and vents. Reattach the panel, and all the cords that normally accompany a desktop PC.

Power on the computer. If you are used to using a tablet or a newer laptop, an exercise in patience will be required here as the boot time may be twice as long as you are accustomed to. Once you are at the desktop, it’s time to check for updates. Head over to the Windows Update site to see what is available. You may find you are behind on several updates and service packs. An even better solution is to reinstall the operating system and start fresh. This will only be possible if you have a recovery partition on your hard drive, or the original installation discs. Checking for updates will still be required, however.

If you choose to only apply updates and not perform a clean installation, a check for viruses is a must. There are plenty of free utilities to help you do that, including some found online.

Now is also a good time to clean up old documents and files that you no longer need. Older computers will generally have less storage than newer models, so you’ll need all the room you can get. If you do need more storage, an external hard drive, or even a USB drive can provide what you need.

I’m up and running; now what?

You didn’t spend all that time cleaning and updating your computer for nothing, so here are a few ideas.

Turn it into a file and media server. You can easily set up a home network and store your files, music, movies, and pictures on your refreshed desktop. Stream music and movies to your laptop, tablet, or any other device connected to your network. This will also keep large files off your other computers and tablets.

Keep the family organized. Spare PCs are a great tool to run your household. With the hectic schedule of today’s world, a calendar is a must. Keeping track of dentist appointments, game schedules, and school meetings can be an overwhelming task, especially when they all happen at once. Use a Web-based calendar, and share it with everyone in your family. Updating the calendar lets everyone know where they are supposed to be, and at what time. You can also use that old PC to keep an up-to-date shopping list, or even your household budget.

Code repository. As a developer, I need a secure place to store my code, and also have a backup of it. Just as important is being able to track changes, and allow multiple developers to work on the same file and merge changes. Source control is a must in my line of work, and a spare PC is put to good use in this role.

Donate it. If you simply have no use for it anymore, donate it to a charity that accepts computers. Not only will you be keeping it out of a landfill, but you will be helping someone less fortunate than you. It’s also a tax deduction in many cases.

I’m sure there are many more ways to use that large box of metal sitting in your corner, begging to be brought back to life. What are some of the things you are using that extra PC for?

My name is Nick Alonge, and I’ve been a software developer for the last 20 years, creating everything from websites, traditional desktop applications, and most recently mobile applications. I started my own business five years ago after working in a corporate environment for 12 years.

Image: Josh Johnson and old computers for PCs for People by Nic’s events (via Flickr)