There’s no shortage of ways to repurpose an old PC, whether you’re just trying to make it work again or turning it into something else entirely, like a home server. Laptops, are special though — due to their small size and all-in-one nature, a bit of DIY work can turn a laptop into just about anything. Here are some options.
Title image remixed from Sakhai (Shutterstock).
10. Make It Work Well Again
Let’s start with the obvious: whether you just want to turn it into an extra computer or repurpose it into something awesome, you’ll probably need it to run, which some old laptops don’t exactly do well. So the first order of business is to make it run well again. You may have to fix its broken parts or clean out the inside, and you’ll almost definitely have to do some software cleanup. If it still doesn’t run fast enough for your needs, you might try a lightweight operating system, like Lubuntuor Chromium OS. Don’t worry if you can’t accomplish all these steps, though — almost any laptop can be repurposed into something, no matter how old or broken down it may be.
9. Mount It On the Wall
If you don’t have use for another desktop or laptop in the house, you might consider mounting it to the wall and turning it into a stationary, single-purpose machine. That could be a digital photo frame, a kitchen PC for calendars and recipes, or even an exercise companion for entertainment. These particular projects are great for laptops that might have a few broken parts — like the keyboard, touchpad, or CD drive — since they aren’t really necessary for the final product.
8. Create an Emergency Wi-Fi Hotspot
If you have a spot in your house that doesn’t get Wi-Fi, you can turn any old computer into a wireless hotspot or extender with just a few clicks (whether it’s Windowsor a Mac). I’ve used this method with great success before on the rare occasion I’m working in the basement, or in some remote corner of the house. If you need it for more regular use, it might be worth investing in a cheap router or extender, but for those rare occasions, you can just break out the old laptop and save the money.
7. Turn It Into a Hideaway Media Centre
OK, duh, you’ve probably already thought of turning an old computer into a media centre before. But if you’re using a laptop, your options become much more interesting. Thanks to a laptop’s slim profile, you can actually take it apart and hide it behind your flat-screen TV on a sliding track — even if it’s up against the wall. It may not be as powerful as our ultimate $700 media centre build, but it’s free — and takes up virtually no space.
6. Build a Short-Throw Projector
If you’ve ever needed to project something onto a bigger screen and your TV just doesn’t cut it, you can put together a pretty neat projector with your laptop and project just about anything onto as big a screen as you want. It’s not going to have great video quality, so we wouldn’t exactly recommend it for movies — at least if quality is important to you — but if you need to project a little presentation or something else of that nature, it’ll work in a pinch. Plus it only costs $US5, so you don’t have much to lose.
5. Convert It Into a Desktop PC or Silent Server
If your laptop’s more broken down than most, you can often salvage the insides and keep it running as a desktop computer — whether that’s a hidden PC-in-a-keyboard, a silent home server, or even an all-in-one slim PC. As long as the inside components still work, you don’t need the trackpad, keyboard, or even the monitor — you can hook up all those separately.
4. Transform It Into a Tablet
If you’ve ever wanted to play with a touch screen PC, or wanted a tablet for light reading — but didn’t want to spend the money — you can actually turn a lot of old laptops into touch screen tablets. We’ve featured a number of ways to do it, and it doesn’t even have to be that expensive — though it does usually require some DIY skills.
3. Salvage the Monitor
If the computer itself has seen better days but the monitor works fine, you might be able to detach it and turn it into an external monitor. It’s perfect for adding a second monitor to your existing PC, hooking up something like a Raspberry Pi, or anything else you might need an extra screen for.
2. Gut It For Parts
Sometimes, there’s not much else you can do but take it apart and save what you can. At the very least, you should be able to get a hard drive out of it, which you can turn into an external drive with a good enclosure. Chances are the RAM won’t be useful to you, though occasionally you can find an external enclosure for the DVD drive. It isn’t ideal, but when you don’t have any other choice, you have to take what you can get. Photo by Tim Patterson.
1. Sell It, Even If It’s Broken
Lastly — and somewhat obviously — if you have no need for that old machine, don’t throw it away. If it’s in good working order you can sell it or trade it in, but if it’s broken you can usually still get some cash by selling “as is” or “for parts.” You never know what someone else might need for their DIY projects or laptop repairs. Just make sure you securely wipe the drive before you sell it, and the next time you buy a laptop, make sure you buy one with a good track record for reliability.