With all the buying that goes on this time of year, our aging gadgets seem older, more out-of-date, and just plain obsolete in the face of all the shiny new toys glimmering on the display rack—which, of course, is part of what motivates us to pry open our wallets for newer and better stuff. But this year, instead of forking over more cash to the likes of Jobs and Gates for their newest toys, we're taking a look at several ways to make your old gadgets new again. From the iPod and Xbox to a run-of-the-mill PC, chances are you've got something lying around the house that could use a free or cheap upgrade.
Transform Your Old Xbox into a Media Center
Still haven't made the jump to the next-gen gaming consoles but not sure what to do with your aging, classic Xbox? Hack that little black box by installing the open source Xbox Media Center (XBMC). You'll be able to play music, videos, and photo slideshows; watch Apple movie trailers, YouTube videos, and read RSS feeds; and transfer files between your XBMC and computer and rip DVDs. Oh, and that's in addition to all the normal, you know, Xbox gaming.
Then again, if you have upgraded to a 360, you can use it in conjunction with your PC to build a Media Center Powerhouse (more on this below).
Revive an Aging iPod
Your iPod was once a proud ruler of the digital music market, but now that it's been replaced by iPod classics, touches, and fancy new nanos, it looks strangely obsolete. Sure it still plays music, but what else has it done for you lately? Well, if you're looking for a few ways to revive that older iPod, check out the 20 Best iPod Utilities around. With these handy little apps, you can squeeze just enough functionality out of that older iPod that you'll completely forget about that fancy phone Apple keeps pushing in your face.
Turn Your $60 Router into a $600 Router
Provided you've got one of the supported routers, you can install a special Linux firmware called DD-WRT on your cheapo router to turn it into a powerhouse of networking bliss. Boost your Wi-Fi signal, set up Quality of Service preferences so the applications that need bandwidth get it when they need it, and take advantage of several other features you're only likely to find on much more expensive routers. Of course, DD-WRT has been accused of being not all that user-friendly, so as an alternative you might want to check out the Tomato firmware.
Build a Hackintosh On the Cheap
Okay, so this one's not exactly all that cheap overall and it doesn't necessarily use your old gear (though in theory it could), but if you just can't bring yourself to slap down a couple grand for a new Mac Pro, you might just be interested in building your own Hackintosh for under $800. It's cheap, it benchmarks remarkably well, and it even updates to Leopard 10.5.1.
Give a Second Wind to Your Aging Computer
Let's turn an eye to the box that brought you here in the first place: your computer. Depending on just how old your computer is, there are tons of different possibilities for how you can breath new life into an old (or even not so old) computer. First, a few free options:
- Turn Your Old PC into a Webapp Monster with gOS: Got an aging computer that's too slow for Vista and, really, not that great with XP either? Turn it into a webapp-integrated internet computer with the free, open source Linux operating system gOS—the same operating running on Wal-Mart's $200 PC.
- Take Puppy Linux for a Walk: Okay, so you're computer is really old and you don't expect to get any use out of it without ripping out the guts and upgrading every component? Install a low-resource operating system like Puppy Linux or Damn Small Linux built specifically with these considerations in mind. If you want to try them out before installing one of them on your PC, you can use either the Live CD or install and run either from a thumb drive.
On the other hand, if you're willing to spend just a few bucks and roll up your sleeves, you can upgrade your computer's components and see significant improvements.
- Upgrade Your RAM: Installing new RAM in your computer can provide huge speed improvements that most people don't really believe until they see, and—even better—it's one of the easiest installations on the list. And this isn't limited to desktop PCs, either. For example, here's how to upgrade your RAM in a MacBook Pro.
- Install a New Motherboard and/or CPU: If your CPU's been dragging arse for the last couple of years, you can pick up and install a newer, faster CPU on the cheap with a little know-how. And if you're upgrading to a newer generation of CPU, you may also want or need to upgrade your motherboard, too. Whatever you choose, both options are often much cheaper than that new PC you've been eying.
- Install a New Hard Drive: You may or may not be surprised to realise that a lot of people use hard drive space to determine when they need a new computer. Fact is, if you're computer is doing everything you want but you're running out of space, you can buy a new hard drive for well under $100, and installation is a breeze.
- Turn Your PC into a Media Center Powerhouse: If you're already running Windows Media Center (or even if you aren't), you can repurpose your old computer to record and playback television TiVo-style by simply installing a TV tuner card.
Got a few tricks of your own for giving a second wind to your aging gadgets? Let's hear how you save cash without skimping on the fun of new features in the comments.