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What to do with an old computer

An old computer can be used to play games, browse the Internet and access email accounts. Computers reach their end of life in several ways.

Windows End of Life
  1. A computer may be replaced by a machine with better performance, more storage or new features like Bluetooth connectivity. The original machine will still work just like before with the proper software maintenance.
  2. A computer may also become obsolete because the operating system is no longer supported. Computers with Windows Vista or Windows XP, for example, will no longer get updates from Microsoft, and although the computer will continue to function, the risk of getting a computer virus increases substantially if the computer is used to access the Internet.
  3. If the hard drive of a computer crashes, the computer will not boot and all the data becomes inaccessible. In this case, the computer can be made to work again by replacing the hard drive and installing a new operating system. However, the user data cannot be restored unless it was backed up to an external device before the hard drive crashed.
  4. Computers subjected to liquid spills or breakage may have damaged electronic components that pose fire hazards and cannot be salvaged. Assuming that the hard drive is still functional, the data in the computer may be recovered by removing the hard drive and placing it in a docking station that can be connected with a USB cable to another computer. If the hard drive cannot be salvaged, it is advisable to destroy it to eliminate the possibility that hackers could access the data.

Fortunately, a computer can get new life for free or for very little cost unless the electronic components were damaged. It does not make sense to spend a lot of money to fix an old computer when the cost of a repair can sometimes be more than the cost of a new computer. Computer equipment prices are dropping consistently, and it is now possible to buy a large capacity hard drive for about $50 or a new laptop for less than $300 if you shop around.

A computer with Windows Vista or XP may be used to safely surf the Internet by installing a free antivirus program like Avira or AVG to replace Microsoft Security Essentials. It may also be necessary to install a browser that will be updated regularly, such as Firefox. Some browsers, like Google Chrome, are not supported for systems that are not updated by Microsoft.

Another approach for extending the life of an old computer is to install a modern operating system such Ubuntu as a dual boot. This will preserve the original Windows data files, but it may be necessary to migrate some documents to new folders in order to access them when running Ubuntu. The dual boot allows running games originally installed under Windows, and the Internet can be accessed safely by booting from Ubuntu. You have to toggle between the two operating systems depending on what you want to do, but you can do most of your work from Ubuntu. One of the advantages of Ubuntu is that it is a free Linux-based system. Creating a dual boot requires some computer expertise, but there are detailed online guides that show you how to shrink the Windows partition, install Ubuntu in a new partition and set up the dual boot option.

If you need to install a new hard drive, you will also need to install an operating system. A new Windows operating system will cost about $100, and the Windows Office software also costs at least an additional $100. This is too expensive for an old computer. In addition, new software usually has high performance requirements that may not work optimally in an old computer. A more reasonable choice is to install the free Ubuntu operating system that comes with a web browser, a built-in antivirus and the LibreOffice suite that can read and create MS Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and Powerpoint slide presentations. Free is nice. The installation of Ubuntu as the main operating system is relatively easy and can be done in about 15 minutes by following step-by-step instructions.

If you just want to donate the computer to get a tax deduction, installing Ubuntu on the hard drive is a convenient way of deleting the contents of the hard drive. The new operating system reformats the hard drive, erases all personal information, and sets up a new working environment that is ideal for a computer programming hobby, entertainment, web browsing or for doing homework.

Besides Ubuntu, there are other free Linux-based operating systems, such as Linux Mint, Debian, Fedora and openSUSE. Ubuntu is the most popular Linux distribution and has the most installations. The Ubuntu project provides a solid desktop environment, and it offers releases every six months, with a more stable LTS (long term support) release every two years.

© Copyright  - Antonio Zamora