Reusing Old Computers & Routers

Do you have an old computer or router—or a whole heap of them—lying around collecting dust? If you have some spare time you can put them to good use and learn a few things along the way.

In this article, we’ll discover 17 different tech projects making use of old computers and wireless routers. Some projects you may be interested in just for experimental reasons, but most can serve a real and productive purpose.

The majority of the computer projects require a working machine, but most will work with relativity low resources and some without a working Windows (or any OS) installation. Some projects will work with virtually any old PC or laptop from the past decade, while some may require a machine that’s only a couple years old. Since many consumers tend to work on a three, four or five year cycle (meaning they buy a new machine every 3-5 years) most of the machines you have sitting in the garage should work just fine.

Before wiping your computer’s hard drive, you might want to make sure there’s nothing on it that you want to save. Who knows, you might find some old documents or photos that you can reminisce over! The third project on the next page actually discusses how to recover your files.

Most of the wireless router projects require the use of a firmware replacement. These only work for select brands, models, and model versions. Your other limitation is the wireless standard; if your old router supports only 802.11b, wireless connections are limited to speeds of 11 Mbps. If using 802.11b/g you’re limited to speeds of 54 Mbps. To put those older standards into prospective, the newer 802.11n standard supports speeds to 450 Mbps and above.

Many of these projects take advantage of free open source software, along with freeware and commercial products. If you find a solution that runs on its own OS, keep in mind you can also experiment with it on your current system right inside Windows by using Windows Virtual PC or another virtualization application.

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  • mayankleoboy1
    nice.
    much better than the old way of recycling old tech as "art".
  • randomstar
    Since we are on Toms, and toms has a FAH (folding at home team) should that not be listed as a good use for old PC, or just any spare CPU cycles? 40051 FTW!
  • Leftfield42
    I have a number of old PCs from the last 13 years still alive, being used as midi sound 'servers'. Some have Gigastudio 3 or 4 on them, others just have an SB Live or Audigy card, one even has an old AWE64 Gold in it (still running Win 98 SE, but not internet connected!). It's an old school approach, but it has allowed the extension of the available midi channels without the problems of overtaxing a single DAW all-in-one solution. I've yet to make real use of the whole set up, but it will get used one day...
  • livebriand
    I've read that projects that utilize your spare CPU power like folding@home haven't brought any real benefit and the scientific community thinks they have enough CPU power already. Is this true or is it just adding to your electricity bill, wasting your internet connection bandwidth, and worsening global warming?
  • warmon6
    livebriandI've read that projects that utilize your spare CPU power like folding@home haven't brought any real benefit and the scientific community thinks they have enough CPU power already. Is this true or is it just adding to your electricity bill, wasting your internet connection bandwidth, and worsening global warming?


    i like to see where you read that at as last i checked as the performance is still well under what they would like to see.

    As for benefits, this project has already done a lot to better understand certain diseases.

    http://folding.stanford.edu/English/Papers
  • Anonymous
    The best use of an old PC is to make it into a Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME)
  • plasmastorm
    #1 use: give it to the wife so she can infect her own machine with malware and crap. then let her see how annoying it is !
  • Anonymous
    I concur with BigPeanut: Converting an old pc into an Arcade station is a quite fun project.
    Similar project is turning it into a music jukebox, with a touchscreen and easy to use playlist builder / genre selector. Saves you quite some DJ time and comments about music during parties.
  • jaksun5
    I have plenty of old machines, but I don't like the idea of having an age old P4 beast on all day just so I can share files/run torrents/etc. low power devices can for a small cost do the same thing, otherwise if you have a beefy machine you could always virtualise and save on the load. It's become a dilemma for me repuposing these machines as servers for that reason.

    A mame box is perfect though...
  • egeier
    Hi all,

    mayankleoboy1: Thanks. Yes, thought I'd go with more productive ideas though the art can be cool.
    jaksun5: yes I hear you. Plug Computers are a good option too.
    plasmastorm: Best idea here :-) and give them to the kids!
    BigPeanut: Yes, MAME was on my radar but didn't make it in the piece. Great idea too!

    Thanks for reading!
    Eric Geier (the author)
  • malici0usc0de
    It would be better to replace the CPU and mainboard in the old PC if you plan to give it a new duty where it will run 24/7/365. An Atom CPU and mainboard can be had for cheap and the power savings will pay for it in a years time or less. The rest of the computer can be recycled but I would ditch the old mainboard and CPU for something more power efficient.
  • djfourmoney
    I liked this article and gives me many ideas, especially about File/Storage/Media Servers. But as a user of Windows 7 Media Center, I really like the way WHS connect to your main recording machine. Yes you can build a MythTV Front End, Media Server Back End in one machine, but I find Linux or AMD support of Linux problematic, I can't give up my Windows solution just to get a tiny bit more functionality.

    All the other ideas are great and I'm really taking a serious look at Amahi... Thanks
  • Anonymous
    i need more information on new and old internet connections and voip with fax connections.
    zensupport.uk has become insufficient.thank u for the router ideas and info as i am a field technician who works with satelite dishes instead.
  • Anonymous
    I don't know if this has been suggested already, but converting an old PC into an Arcade Machine is a project a few of my friends have done.
  • Anonymous
    IRC server? TOR server?