Most of us have an older desktop PC that has rarely been used in the last couple of years. As laptops and cell phones have become more powerful, there has been less of a need to sit yourself down at a computer desk. Maybe you’ve even saved some space by getting rid of your computer desk altogether. There are still a lot of really cool things you can do with an older PC. You can probably even do several of these with one PC.
As long are your old desktop PC still turns on and the hard drive isn’t failing, there are a lot of amazing projects that it can be used for. It’s crazy how many people throw away a perfectly good computer just because it’s a bit older. I currently have an older PC from 2008, set up as an Unraid server.
If you’re not sure what to do with your older but still working computer (that doesn’t include recycling or donating it), check out our list of 25 Cool Uses for Your Old Desktop PC.
- Retro Gaming Machine
- MAME Arcade Cabinet
- Dedicated Game Server
- Unraid Server
- Plex Server
- Home Theater PC (HTPC)
- Linux Machine
- Sandbox for New Software
- Kids Computer
- Use it for ‘Distributed Computing’
- Create a WiFi hotspot with the PC
- Use as a Guitar Amp
- Dedicated Video Conferencing Machine
- Home Security Monitor
- Setup a Print Server or Email Server
- Digital Jukebox
- Weather Station
- Work Station for a Virtual Machine
- Distraction Free Work Machine
- Watch IPTV
1. Retro Gaming Machine
Most older computers are able to handle emulation right up to the Nintendo Wii without much trouble. If you have a relatively new computer, you’ll even be able to emulate the Wii U without too many issues.
The best part about using your old PC for emulation is that you can easily connect just about any controller and use it with Windows 10. I’ve found the easiest controller to get working both wired and wireless is the Xbox One controller. I’ve been able to connect 2 Xbox One controllers to a single Bluetooth USB dongle and this has worked great for return gaming.
Some of my favorite ways to get started with retro gaming has been with Dosbox, RetroArch and any of the Coinops downloads. There is an almost endless supply of retro games from the 70’s to the mid 2000’s available.
2. MAME Arcade Cabinet
Whether you have woodworking skills or want to purchase one of the pre-built OneUp cabinets, turning your old computer into a MAME Arcade Cabinet is a lot of fun. Who didn’t dream of playing arcade games without having to keep putting in more quarters?
There are some great sites around, including eBay and Amazon that you can buy all of the parts required for an arcade machine. Before going all-in on buying the required hardware, I would look at first making sure your computer is up to the task and find some games. CoinOps for the PC has some great all-in-one downloads available.
3. Dedicated Gaming Server
If you play any multiplayer games like Minecraft, there is a good chance you can host your own gaming server. The best part of hosting your own server is that it’s your server, your rules. If you like playing Steam games, check out their list of dedicated servers for both Windows and Linux.
By hosting the server on your own LAN you can save the cost of renting a server. You will also solve any latency issues you may have as the server will be connected directly to your own network.
4. Unraid Server
Setting up your own server may sound like a lot of work but Unraid makes things incredibly easy. You can even test out running the server before purchasing it. I’ve been running an Unraid server for several years and have only had a few hardware issues during that time.
To get started with Unraid it’s recommended that you have an SSD cache drive to speed up transfers and a parity drive in case one of your drives fails. Having a parity drive in place will mean that if a hard drive fails, you just have to connect a new drive and the system will rebuild itself.
Beyond the obvious benefits of having a local backup for your files, Unraid allows you to install a huge assortment of programs called Dockers. Unraid is built on Linux and there are free Dockers available to do just about anything you can imagine. You can have a torrent program set up on the server, install a Plex server or start your own cloud service with NextCloud.
Depending on how powerful your computer is, you can also install and run VM software such as Windows or Linux and play around in a sandbox environment.
Some of these projects may take some time to figure out but you will be able to breathe new life into your old computer for years to come. There is really no shortage of uses for an older computer. Once they’ve served their purpose, be sure to donate it or recycle it.
5. Plex / Emby / Jellyfin Server
Whether you choose to install your media server on Unraid or your computer’s default software, you can make use of the extra computing power. Using a separate computer means that your main computer isn’t having to pull double duty. You may have even moved away from an old desktop computer and are now using a laptop which won’t let you host a Plex or other media server.
Having access to your own media which won’t disappear overnight the way Netflix and other streaming services shows do is a great reason to host your own server.
6. Home Theater PC (HTPC)
To get started with a Home Theater PC, all you need to do is hook your old desktop computer to your TV. Chances are, both your TV and your desktop support HDMI or VGA output.
Once connected, you’ll want to be able to control your computer from the couch. My suggestion would be a remote control similar to the Rii 8+ which is a mini keyboard and trackpad combined into one or Logitech keyboard which is similar but with a full-size keyboard.
Once you are able to control your desktop remotely, you’ll want to set up your media program. There are several good options, such as Kodi and the updated Plex App for Windows. I’ve found that on a desktop computer, you can’t go wrong with Kodi. If you are looking for some other good options, VLC will playback anything you throw at it.
The nice thing about using a full version of Windows as your media device is that you can use the full versions of your favorite browser and can stream in full HD or 4k.
7. Linux Machine
Depending on how old your computer is, it might be time to try another operating system. Linux has come a long way in terms of usability. If you are looking for a basic machine that will let you browse the internet, listen to music and do homework, installing Linux on an old computer will make it feel new again. Linux Mint has a great option and once installed looks very similar to Windows. There is no shortage of free apps available to install. You will certainly notice a speed boost once it’s installed. If you’re not ready to commit to going without Windows, you can boot Linux off USB or set up your machine to dual boot both Windows and Linux.
8. Sandbox for New Software
Have you ever wanted to try out a new operating system or some new software but weren’t sure if you were going to keep it? Use your old desktop computer and you won’t have to worry about ruining your primary system. If you make a mistake, you can format the hard drive and start again.
9. Kids Computer
Why not use that old computer for your kids. You can install only the software you want them to access and you won’t have to worry about them clicking on anything you don’t want them to. There is also no risk of them deleting something they should. Particularly these days with so much remote schooling and homework that requires a computer, there is no need to buy the latest hardware when you can repurpose your old PC. This project goes great with trying out Linux as you will be able to find just about any piece of software that they will need, for free.
10. Distributed Computing Machine
Why not put that old computer to some good use. If you are truly not using your old computer anymore, you can use it’s power to contribute to some worthwhile causes. If you’ve ever looked into something similar before, you would have heard of SETI @ home which was the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence.
At one point the PS3 could be used for Folding @ Home but now you can use your old desktop computer to help the efforts in assessing potential drugs for COVID-19. Just about any old PC with Windows, Mac, Linux or even ARM Linux / Raspberry Pi installed can help contribute to worthwhile causes.
11. WiFi Hotspot
If you have a hard time getting WiFi to all parts of your house but you have an ethernet cable running to a second location, why not plug in your old desktop PC and use it as a WiFi hotspot?
Although having a mesh WiFi system or even a second router would be preferable, if you’re looking for a temporary fix or to save some money, it’s totally possible to set up an old computer as a WiFi hotspot. If you have an old Windows 10 machine, you don’t even need any extra software.
12. Guitar Amp
If you are musically inclined, check out Guitar Rig, which is software that will turn your old computer into a fancy new guitar amp. There is a demo version of the software available to try out.
13. Dedicated Video Conferencing Machine
By now we’ve all become used to speaking with friends over Zoom or conducting meetings over video chat. As long as your old computer can use the internet, you can take your old desktop PC, plug in a webcam, and set up some quality lighting for a dedicated video conferencing machine. Having a set up in a location that is always well lit, with little to clean in the background is a real time saver and will make you look more professional.
14. Home Security Monitor
Depending on the brand or type of security cameras you want to purchase, a lot of them will allow you to download software for your computer and even record video directly to your device. There is no need to pay for high-priced cloud space when you can setup your own computer as a home security hub. If you’re worried about it being stolen as well, you can always hide your desktop tower and use Chrome Remote Desktop or something similar to remotely access it.
15. Setup a Print Server or Email Server
If you have an old computer and an old printer, you can still print from modern devices to your printer. Most new printers connect to your WiFi which will solve your problems without too much hassle but if you’re not looking to purchase a new printer anytime soon, use an old computer to handle all of your printing needs. With Windows, you can share your printer with the network and allow any devices connected to the same network to use your printer.
16. Digital Jukebox
Do you still have thousands of sounds downloaded from the last 20 years? Setup your old computer in a handy location with your favorite audio player and let everyone in your house pick the music.
To listen to the music, you have a few cool options that you wouldn’t have had in the early 2000s. You can have the computer connected to your home theater for some truly great sound. Or if you are using a program like PlexAmp, you can stream your songs to all of your Chromecast devices at the same time for some cheap whole-home audio.
17. Weather Station
Don’t trust your local weather station? Set up your own home weather station on your old computer. Put your desktop tower somewhere hidden and place the monitor somewhere everyone can easily see it, such as the kitchen. This idea goes well with using your old computer for recipes.
Not every home weather station requires a desktop PC, but it is handy to have an always-on display showing what the current weather is. Check out Popular Mechanics for a great list of Home Weather Station options.
18. Work Station for a Virtual Machine
If you setup a VM on a server, which software similar to Unraid, you can breathe some new life into your old desktop computer by installing software to allow you to access it. If you are running a virtual machine on your server, there is a really good possibility that your server is more powerful than your old desktop.
With a Virtual Machine, you can access it from any computer with an internet connection, so you can have your workstation set up anywhere in the house.
19. Distraction Free Workstation
If you have the desktop versions of Office installed on your desktop, unplug the ethernet cable or disable the WiFi to create the ultimate distraction-free workstation. The amount of things that can distract you from your work on the internet is endless. With an older computer, you can full disconnect from all of those distractions with minimal effort.
If you plug a USB into your new distraction-free workstation, you can make sure your work is saved on a portable device. There is an amazing (and free) website called Portable Apps which will let you install all kinds of useful pieces of software on a spare USB key.
The beauty of Portable Apps is that you won’t need the internet and can take the software anywhere you like. This means that you can quickly turn your old PC into a powerhouse for getting work accomplished.
20. IPTV Streaming Device
If you don’t have an Android box available to use for IPTV you’re in luck! BlueStacks have developed a free Android Emulator that will allow you to easily install an Android APK. While you may not have a computer that will allow you to game with it, the requirements for IPTV apps aren’t quite as intense. It’s worth a shot if you want to easily add an IPTV APK you received from your provider and watch some TV. If you use an IPTV app like TiviMate that allows you to backup / restore your settings, it’s easy to transfer all your settings between devices.
This list is nowhere near exhaustive, but hopefully, it will give you some good inspiration for what you can do with an old PC (or even an Android box in some cases).