So you’ve finally upgraded to a brand new laptop – or maybe you’re finally cleaning up the mess – and now you have an old laptop to deal with. What should I do about it?
It depends on your circumstances, the age of your laptop and how much time and space you have. But chances are that your old hardware may challenge a new lease, even if it is not with you. You can give it a new, simple purpose; donate it to a worthy cause; sell it (even if it is only for parts); or put it to rest. To help you decide on the next action on your laptop, we’ve put together our best suggestions, with specific project ideas you can try if you keep it.
Before you go out and buy a new device – such as a Chromebook or a media streamer – consider whether you can use an old laptop to handle the work instead.
These projects do not requires hardware upgrades, but if your laptop is on the older side (7+ years), it can pack more of a beat if you add more RAM or replace a hard drive to an SSD. For older laptops, you may need to find RAM through a reputable seller on eBay to get a reasonable price.
Not sure if your laptop supports an upgrade to a solid state drive? Watch our video that explains how to tell if your system can take an SSD.
It is nice to be able to offer guests a computer to use without having to sacrifice the primary device. Refresh your old laptop with our tips to get it running faster for free, and leave it in an extra bedroom or public place for visitors.
This route does not preclude use for other purposes, since you can obviously use a Chromebook as a guest PC, for example. But you can expand the number of devices for use in your home by switching to a lighter operating system – a laptop that is struggling in Windows 10 can feel much more responsive in ChromeOS. It also does not take much time to turn a laptop into a Chromebook, as you can see in our full step-by-step guide.
If your laptop is not compatible, you can choose to install a lightweight Linux distro instead. Same idea, different Olympic taste.
Media streaming device
Not only can your laptop stream content from Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Now and other services to your TV, it can also handle special websites that are not supported by popular streaming devices (eg foreign language content).
For a reliable and stable connection, use a cable to connect your laptop to your TV – you may need a DVI-to-HDMI or Mini-DisplayPort-to-HDMI cable for older laptops. Also, pick up a cheap wireless keyboard with a built-in trackpad like the Logitechs K400 Plus, if you want to keep your laptop close to your TV, but still the couch on the lists.
Home brew NAS
Network-connected storage can host backups or media files for all devices on the home network. Instead of spending $ 200+ on a dedicated NAS enclosure and filling it with hard drives, you can instead turn an old laptop into a NAS using free software like TrueNAS Core (formerly known as FreeNAS). You can even connect external drives to extend the storage features.
For other NAS software options, the r / homeserver community on Reddit can be a great place to find suggestions tailored to use a laptop like NAS. Then you can dig into the software website, find the user guide and read it to determine the difficulty of installation, configuration and maintenance. Most software developers provide a user guide – for example, TrueNAS Core provides detailed installation and configuration instructions.
Do you want to create a safe gaming environment for young family members and their friends? Turn your old laptop into one Minecraft server where you can control who has access. Because this old favorite is not a hardware-intensive game, many older laptops should be able to handle it with ease.
Kodi or Plex server
For those who want a better way to watch live TV and / or access lots of local video and audio files, you can convert your old laptop to a Kodi or Plex server. Which one you should install depends on the taste and type of content you want to manage – in our opinion, Kodi and its add-ons allow for a better personal experience, while Plex offers an ever-growing range of features. (However, Plex reserves many of its best benefits for paid members.)
Retro slot machine
Fan of retro games? Old laptops can run emulators to play all your favorites – or leftovers in your backlog. (For a more seamless pick-up-and-play experience, however, you’ll need to create your own DIY Raspberry Pi retro game console.) Just download and install the platform emulation software you’re interested in (NES, Sega Saturn, etc.) and pair the one with a controller like 8BitDo Pro 2 or PowerAs version of the Xbox controller. You can also buy a controller that is specially tailored to match it to the original console you are imitating, such as the 8BitDo SN30, N30 or M30.
For vintage PC games, check out sites like GOG.com, which do the valuable work of making sure these titles work properly on more modern hardware. You often just need to download and install to get started, without further ado.
You can donate an old laptop to a local school, library or other non-profit organization – ask local organizations to see what their needs are. In the area local to PCWorld’s office, there are a number of community-oriented programs to connect such donations to people who have limited access to technology. There are also nationwide donation programs, such as Dell’s partnership with Goodwill.
Remember to wipe all your data from your laptop before donating. In Windows 8.1 and 10, go to Settings> Update and security> Recovery> Reset this PC> Remove all, then select Remove files and clean the drive option. If your system is running an older version of Windows, or if you want more control over deletion, try these third-party methods to safely delete your hard drive.
Swap or sell
You may be able to get a trade credit or sell your laptop for cash. The process is straightforward, especially if you are swapping or selling to a repurchase service, but you need to consider the age and condition of the unit to maximize returns.
Our guide on how to sell your old technical equipment guides you through the details, but in a nutshell, replacements usually offer the most value for newer models, while repurchase services can vary in how much they take into account detailed specifications when considering a laptop. You get more success downloading old or broken laptops by selling them yourself – platforms like eBay allow collectors and refurbishers to get outdated hardware they would not otherwise find, even if it’s just parts. Just be sure to mark and describe your listings carefully to avoid buyer disputes.
Do not put an unwanted laptop in the trash – laptops must be recycled so that the environmentally harmful materials can be handled properly. Larger municipalities should have local facilities for you to dispose of laptops, but if the local recycling center does not take technical equipment, try an alternative: Best Buy has a recycling program that takes unwanted technical equipment, including laptops, so does Staples. And if your site does not have such options, you can also try programs like Dell, which allow you to submit laptops for recycling.