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Portables Hardware Hacking Hardware

What To Do With Old Laptops? 620

Posted by kdawson
from the aside-from-warming-old-laps dept.
An anonymous reader writes "I've recently acquired a few old P2/P3 laptops. Most either work properly but are slow, or have various problems with power supplies and/or batteries. Attempting to sell them would probably earn less than the cost of shipping, so that's out of the question. I was hoping the Slashdot crowd could give me some ideas on what to do with these old computers. As somebody who already has ~10 computers lying around the house there is certainly no need for an additional computer to 'experiment' with, so I was hoping for some more creative suggestions."
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What To Do With Old Laptops?

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  • Bonfire (Score:4, Funny)

    by wiredog (43288) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:30AM (#23433156) Journal
    A gallon of gasoline and a match.
  • by littleghoti (637230) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:31AM (#23433164) Journal
    Seems fairly common, but should be easy enough.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ehrichweiss (706417)
        That's not so easy. Video inputs are required(and not standard on machines that slow) and some LCD's don't work that easily due to the length of ribbon cables, etc., and you won't discover it until after you've disassembled them.
    • Nah, thin clients. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by morgan_greywolf (835522) * on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:52AM (#23433592) Homepage Journal
      Thin clients. Install a wifi card and mount one to the wall or cabinets in your kitchen. No battery necessary. Install LTSP or similar on a server and bammo! Instant kitchen terminal.

      • by cvd6262 (180823) on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:25AM (#23434226)
        KDE (and other window managers) makes inverting the screen trivial. mount the laptop upside down under the cabinet like one of those Bose CD players. The screen flips down like in a minivan DVD player.

        Add a wireless keyboard and (as you said) bammo!
      • by je ne sais quoi (987177) on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:31AM (#23434334)
        Nice idea! I was thinking the opposite: I've got an old mac laptop that I'm thinking of using as a DHCP server for some windows machines that drive some instruments that I don't want on the internet because of the security hassle. (Yeah yeah, I know windows can be made to be safe, but I have neither the time nor the inclination to learn how to do that, macs and linux are easier and I know how to do it already.) Apple makes this easy, I use the wifi connection to the local DHCP server, and then share the connection over the ethernet port to a hub.

        Also, I know the submitter already has plenty of tinkering computers lying around, but I have to plug my favorite old laptop shop, ifixit [ifixit.com]. The reason I like them is because they'll sell you refurbished parts for just about any apple laptop and they have great step by step instructions full of pictures to on how to replace it. I've replaced the logic board on my titanium DVI G4 and am currently working on a powerbook lombard 400 MHz that won't recognize the battery. The nice thing about the lombard is that it's built like a tank and it's got those ports on the side that you can switch modular components out of, which means you can put two batteries in instead of a battery and a CD drive and you get something like 10 hours of battery life. Not too shabby. Also, enlighenment (e17) and debian runs great on it once you turn off the dropshadow and some of the other graphics intensive stuff, and get the wireless working.
    • by shbazjinkens (776313) on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:59AM (#23434850)
      I've been thinking I'll use old laptops as slideshow displays (explanations) for science projects at Maker Faire. Better than lugging around desktops. Only problem is the prices seem to be either inflated or so low no one will sell them because the shipping exceeds the cost..

      Not sure that this applies to you or not, but if you're a member of any organizations that do public exhibitions it's worth looking into.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bluelip (123578)
      the picture frame would be a nice toy. I wouldn't want to do more than one though.

      Have you thought about donating them to your local ARES/RACES group? Old laptop can sometimes mean they use less power. this is ideal when the laptop is being used as a terminal to a Packet TNC.

      The groups are volunteers so they welcome equipment donations. Contact your county EOC to find out who's in charge.
  • Picture Frame (Score:5, Informative)

    by NexusTw1n (580394) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:31AM (#23433174) Journal
    Turn them into picture frames. http://repair4laptop.org/notebook_picture_frame.html [repair4laptop.org]
    • Re:Picture Frame (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:03AM (#23433812) Journal
      You could meet the needs of a small library by throwing a wireless card into each of them, then pick up one new desktop machine and set the laptops up as thin clients.

      Find some small computer shop and get them to donate the desktop machine in exchange for a plaque on the wall at the library (cheap advertising and tax deductible donation for them), set it up over a weekend, and claim the cost of the laptops and your time as a charitable donation when you do your own taxes.

      Or, of course, you could make a bunch of ugly digital picture frames that consume way too much electricity.
      • Re:Picture Frame (Score:5, Informative)

        by cob666 (656740) on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:33AM (#23434388) Homepage
        Generally, in the US you cannot claim time as a charitable contribution.

        http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p526.pdf [irs.gov]
      • Re:Picture Frame (Score:5, Insightful)

        by thanatos_x (1086171) on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:35AM (#23434430)
        I'm glad someone thought that the picture frame idea was somewhat lacking.

        Unfortunately (or fortunately) we've gotten to the point where technology, even free, is completely obsolete in 10-15 years. In a few years the cost of maintaining those systems as well as the extra electricity will probably make them more costly than a replacement. Still, if it's a few more good years, that's not bad.

        What should be focused on more is safe disposal of computer equipment. We are very fast approaching the point of PC saturation. Almost everyone has a PC that wants one (in industrialized nations) and new models are very cheap. Very few people want the hassle of a PC after it's been handed down twice. (assume 5-7 years old.) Past that it's almost useless; the price, performance, size and features almost always win out for "buy new". You're going to likely be looking at 40+ million old PC/laptops disposed each year in the US alone, excluding businesses. (5 year lifespan, 2 in 3 people with a computer.)
  • CURB ALERT (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Stewie241 (1035724) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:33AM (#23433194)
    at craigslist.org? Offer the whole lot for a small charge (or not so small charge - I would think you could get at least $50 for a P3 laptop, if not more).
  • by HaloZero (610207) <protodeka&gmail,com> on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:33AM (#23433212) Homepage
    ...I'd taken an old P2 200, flipped the screen around, threw a wireless card in it, and made a digital picture frame for my grandmother for Mother's Day two years ago. Been meaning to revisit that project. Another option is just as a heads-up display. I've got an old Compaq Presario hanging off my wall which does nothing but shell outputs of the status of my network, as well as a buffer for the latest SNMP traps. It blinks in big red text if anything goes particularly sideways (fatal trap). Took a fair bit of scripting, but it was fun.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      What about the 'trons?
      Some of that older stuff draws a not-insignificant amount of current, no? Nice gadget, but if it adds $5/month to the electric bill to just turn it on and fuggedaboudit, that adds up.
  • Kids (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mrbcs (737902) * on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:33AM (#23433216)
    I bought 5 thinkpads for about $50 and paid about $50 for shipping. Turned all into poor mans xo? laptops. They use less power and space than a desktop, play all my kids Jump Start programs and are easily portable.

    Fix em up if you can and give em to a kids. I'm sure you could get at least a couple goin out of the pile, no?

    I've put win2k on them and they seem to be fine for this purpose.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LehiNephi (695428)
      If you have a less-fortunate family member or friend, it's also a good use. My sister, for example, is using a Tecra 8100 with a (I think) 500MHz P3. It does everything she might need it to do: internet browsing, email, and word processing. I recently fixed it up for her (broken hinge, OS reinstall, recelled the battery) so now it's better than new! And no cost to her, either.
    • Re:Kids (Score:5, Insightful)

      by AceJohnny (253840) <jlargentaye@gmai ... minus herbivore> on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:25AM (#23434230) Journal

      Turned all into poor mans xo laptops.
      That is so ironic, considering the goal of the XO laptop...
    • Re:Kids (Score:5, Informative)

      by twistedsymphony (956982) on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:43AM (#23434584) Homepage
      Cheap laptops are great to use as... cheap laptops!

      I've got a few old Thinkpads (P2/P3 processors) ubuntu+firefox+wifi card and leave them sitting on the coffee table in my living room, the coffee table in my home theater room, the work bench in my garage, etc.

      Watching TV and need to think of where else you know that actor? Hop online and check IMDB.

      Playing a game and need a strategy guide for that boss you're having trouble with? Hop online and check gamefaqs.

      Working on your car and need to look up a part number? Hop online and google it.

      Cooking something and want to lookup a recipe? Hop online and google it.

      They slide easily under a couch and a single power lead is easy enough to manage, not to mention you can quickly check email/banking or other online crap when you think of it instead of putting it off until you happen to be sitting back at your desk.

      some of the old think pads also have IR ports and you can get software to make it into an Uber Remote for your home theater setup too.

      If you're looking for something more creative then just another computer but less generic than a picture frame... P2s are powerful enough to run some older MAME games. Buy a cabinet template online, make a trip to home depot and build yourself a cocktail cabinet that plays all the old favorites from the 70s and 80s. You could probably get it done for less than $100 in materials.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Bazman (4849)
      So your biggest expense on these was... Win2k!??

  • Virus Farm (Score:5, Funny)

    by Davemania (580154) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:33AM (#23433218) Journal
    Create a virtual virus zoo.
  • by UnknowingFool (672806) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:34AM (#23433224)
    the real question you're asking is Will it blend?
  • Donate (Score:5, Insightful)

    by libertynow (1290554) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:34AM (#23433226)
    Donate to a charity - there are many developing 3rd world countries that I am sure would love to get their hands on something like that.
  • by linuxpyro (680927) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:34AM (#23433236)
    ...To try to get Vista running on one of them.

    Then again setting yourself on fire would probably be a much more pleasant experience.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Won't the two ideas end up in the same way?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      ...To try to get Vista running on one of them.

      Then again setting yourself on fire would probably be a much more pleasant experience.
      Not with these gas prices.
  • Puppy Linux! (Score:5, Informative)

    by TripMaster Monkey (862126) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:35AM (#23433242)
    http://www.puppylinux.org/ [puppylinux.org]

    Runs great on older systems. Just the thing to breathe new life into those old lappies.
  • basic services (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ArcherB (796902) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:35AM (#23433262) Journal
    I use old laptops for things like serving up web pages, running an FTP site, portable web-cam host, print server, file server, repeater, router or whatever other services where a power efficient, portable computer can be used. If you have it set up to run a single service or two, then performance is not going to be that big of an issue.

    For a web server, for example. I install a low-overhead Linux distro with Apache, ssh and maybe vnc and copy my www directory to it. BAM! Web server! It uses less power than any of my PC's, and it allows me to reboot my "real" machine without taking the web page down.
    • Re:basic services (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ip_vjl (410654) on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:59AM (#23434860) Homepage
      I have an old laptop that I use as a remote SSH gateway for my home network when I'm away.

      Even with the low specs (Pentium 133, 144Mb ram, 1.5Gb HDD) it handles the task nicely. It just boots up into CLI and starts the SSH service. I have it set to check my external IP address at startup and email me (in case my address has changed - I know, I could do the DynDNS thing.)

      I can proxy Firefox through it in the event I need to test something from another network, I also connect it to my NAS and mount the shares to a local mount point so that I can SCP to/from my NAS (which doesn't support SCP) from anywhere by going through the gateway.

      I hooked it up through the Kill-A-Watt, and it doesn't use much electricity at all when I turn off the display. I've thought about replacing the drive with CF, but the cost of the card and CF-IDE bridge outweigh the cost of running it with the HDD - especially when I may not use it for weeks at a time when I don't need it.

      It can also run a bittorrent client so that it's easier to leave a system going full time, but the internal disk space is limited, so it either needs to save over the network or plug in an external drive.

    • by halcyon1234 (834388) <halcyon1234@hotmail.com> on Friday May 16, 2008 @11:46AM (#23435718) Journal
      An additional feature about using a laptop as a webserver: built-in UPS. Even if the battery will only hold a few minutes of charge. Monitor the computer for a "on-battery" state, and respond accordingly. (Wait x seconds to see if the power comes back up, if not perform a clean shutdown...).

      And, laptops are low-profile. Shove them in a closet or under your desk. If they'll run too hot, spend $5 and get one of those cooling-pads with fans built in. remote control the laptop server whenever you need to. If you need console access-- it has a built-in keyboard, mouse and screen.

      If you can fit 2 nics in them, they'll make excellent firewall appliances. Most laptops will come with a NIC built-in. Add a second PC-MCIA nic. If they're P2/P3, they might even have a modem built in. You can add fax-capabilities onto the server. Heck, if you're ambitious enough, set it up as a PBX. Have fun automatically routing telemarketers to an eternal on-hold "Chocolate Rain" message. Automatically reply to fax-spam with Hello.JPG.

      If you are going to go the donation route, then look into making a portable lab for a school. Install wireless nics on each computer, and configure them to talk nicely to a wireless router. Then donate the whole shebang to a school. Schools need a computers for a lot of students, but not necessarily all at once. A lab of 10-20 computers that can be moved room-to-room is perfect for a lesson that needs computer access in a place other than a computer lab. (Taking it into a science lab so they can run spreadsheet calculations on experiment results, eg).

      If it's a P3, it should be powerful enough to make a usable HTPC out of. Most P3 laptops I've seen have TV-Out built into them. Hook them up to a TV. Transfer media files to it as needed (I assume they have a 8-12GB HDD). Alternately, slap a large-capacity USB hard drive onto it and make it double as a fileserver.

      Lots of uses.

  • Send them to me. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by morgan_greywolf (835522) * on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:36AM (#23433280) Homepage Journal
    Send them to me. I'll find a use for them. Hell, I'll pay your shipping.
  • DONATE then (Score:5, Informative)

    by Artie_Effim (700781) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:36AM (#23433284)
    here, do this: http://www.computerswithcauses.org/ [computerswithcauses.org]
  • by OzPeter (195038) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:37AM (#23433296)
    Then Dell offers a free recyling program.

    If not Dell, but they are a major manufacturer then try contacing them to see if they also recycle.

    I know this is not a creative use, but whats the point of having old hardware lying around if it they have "various problems with power supplies and/or batteries"

  • Give 'em away? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bsDaemon (87307) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:37AM (#23433298)
    Since OLPC seems to be voiding its own warranty, after a manner of speaking, why not stick an older Linux distro on them, like RH 7 or so, and give 'em away to some local kids who are into sci/tech but maybe don't have a lot of money?

    I'm sure that relevant teachers at the local high school or something might be able to hook you up with the right kind of kids, and you maybe could get a tax deduction out of it, even if they required a tad bit of work on the power supplies or batteries I'm sure you'd still come out ahead, even if only morally.
  • by dajozz (306724) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:37AM (#23433304)
    There are many folks that would really benefit from a computer with an productivity suite and Internet capabilities. Install linux and open office then give away on freecycle.org. Caveat that there is no support available.
  • Use them (Score:5, Insightful)

    by masdog (794316) <masdogNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:39AM (#23433326)
    I realize that you have already have a number of computers to play around with, but why not use these? Even if they are old and slow, they will still run Linux (or Windows 2000/XP/2003 if you prefer, just not as well). It will also save you a little on your monthly power bill.

    Or you could ship a good one to me. I'll give it a very good home.
  • Low-power server? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stokes (148512) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:39AM (#23433340)
    I use a Kurobox (266MHz PowerPC w/ 128MB RAM) running TorrentFlux as a Bittorrent server; it functions remarkably well. I'm sure those laptops are at least as powerful as that.
  • Check your facts (Score:5, Informative)

    by timeOday (582209) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:43AM (#23433400)
    I would check ebay prices (final selling prices, not mid-auction bids) because I'm surprised you don't think they'd be worth the price of shipping. My experience is that used working laptops have surprisingly high prices because many people know they just need something simple for doing schoolwork etc. I mean, look at this [yahoo.net] (then again maybe those guys are just crazy - $930!!??). Linux should run great on those laptops. P3's in particular really are not bad computers and might even have a DVD reader.
    • Re:Check your facts (Score:5, Informative)

      by CastrTroy (595695) on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:28AM (#23434296) Homepage
      I find that used laptops sell for extremely high prices, and that anybody who buys one is an idiot. You can go to walmart and get the $500 weekly special, and it will blow most used laptops out of the water, and will usually cost less. And the battery will be new. Most used laptops have a battery that's halfway to death. People assume that it must be cheaper, because it's used, but if you compare prices, you can get a pretty good laptop for really cheap. I bought an Acer 3680 for $500. Installed Mandriva. And it works great.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by King_TJ (85913)
        I totally agree with you, but the marketplace is what it is. That's why I always resell any used laptops I come across, but I try to price them all between $50 and $99, so nobody feels too "ripped off" after the sale, when they try to hunt down that replacement battery and see what it really costs to "refurbish" one.

        One of the best deals going, currently, for a cheap notebook is the Lenovo Thinkpad R61e. Buy.com was recently blowing these out the door for $399.99 with free shipping. I've found, since the
  • Land Fill (Score:3, Funny)

    by bushboy (112290) <lttc@lefthandedmonkeys.org> on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:43AM (#23433408) Homepage
    Dig a big hole in your yard, throw them in and cover it over again.

    It works for big business, so it should work for you too.
  • by pyrr (1170465) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:43AM (#23433414)

    Most laptops fit easily in racks, and can be used either as consoles or VNC terminals. They can basically function as the poor man's rack KVM and display & I/O tray. Another thing more relevant to the first use is that OLD laptops still mostly have real serial ports and all, whereas those are getting harder and harder to find on new laptops.

  • by netsavior (627338) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:44AM (#23433432)
    Autoconfig, extended range wireless adaptors, bittorrent 24x7 from every network you can get connected to; you know, for the children.

    on a more serious note, I used to work at a place where we were required to take "retired" laptops to the dumpster, somehow they ended up in the trunk of my car more often than not...
    NaNoWriMo [nanowrimo.org] (national novel writing month) runs a laptop loaner program, where people without regular access to a computer can borrow one for a month for free in order to write a novel. It isn't exactly charity, but self-motivated intellectual persuits need all the support they can muster in our society. Most of the laptop loaners work fine but the batteries are shot (aka most used laptops).

    I have "fixed up" (clean install with no bricking garbage on it) several and given them to family members at various times.

    I have installed one with win2k+remote desktop client and NOTHING else so I could VPN + Remote in to our wintel machines at work without having to worry about work's big brother software locking me out because I have skype installed...

    Finally, you could work on some decorative case mods, such as a Steampunk Laptop [wired.com]
  • Myth Frontend (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tomz16 (992375) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:45AM (#23433442)
    Front end for a myth box... most laptops have one or more video outputs, are quiet, small, and energy efficient!
  • by hbean (144582) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:45AM (#23433450)
    PULL!
    • Bad choice -- Clay pigeons don't spray plastic shards and toxic chemicals everywhere.

      When I have shot up laptops or other electronics, I've pulled the batteries and screens, and then set up a tarp underneath where they were hanging so I could clean up easily.

      Laptops only make good targets because of the keys -- try stripping them off one at a time from 200 yards. But I can just as easily use a $10 keyboard for that. The one time I did set up a laptop to shoot at, we put it with the targets for people with
  • Part them out... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by damn_registrars (1103043) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:48AM (#23433500) Homepage Journal
    If you don't think that selling them outright would be worth your money, than tear them down to their most significant brand/model specific parts, and sell those through your favorite auction site. I've seen parts for my 5 year-old P4 laptop going for non-trivial prices.
  • coasters (Score:3, Funny)

    by easyEmu (977903) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:49AM (#23433532) Journal
    Use them as coasters.
  • Air Force (Score:5, Funny)

    by pvt_medic (715692) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:50AM (#23433552)
    I hear the air force is looking for some computers for a Bot Net
  • by FudRucker (866063) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:53AM (#23433610)
    i would take old laptops, install Linux on it with a bittorrent client, load it with lots of mp3 & mpeg files that make the MPAA & RIAA really angry and find a good wifi hotspot and plug the AC adapter to a spare outlet and abandon it, (be sure to wipe any fingerprints off beforehand)...
  • by bamwham (1211702) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:54AM (#23433626)
    Use them as control terminals (one for each room, maybe in the wall somewhere) and servers for your houses living controls: thermostat, phone, tv, music, lighting, and maybe some web-cams and other security features, to name the big ones I'd want.
  • Freenet nodes! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mmcuh (1088773) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:56AM (#23433662)

    Install Freenet 0.7 [freenetproject.org], give it a small bandwidth allotment and a huge datastore, hook it up to your router, and keep it running. You'll be helping people all over the world to communicate securely and anonymously.

  • by Pig Hogger (10379) <pig.hogger@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:02AM (#23433774) Journal
    I found an old Powebook 3400C in the trash that still works (battery is shot), and I proped it up on it's side and use it as a bedside e-book reader [emdx.org]. It's neat because when I fall asleep, it will turn off it's screen automatically; I don't need to worry about closing the book and putting it on the side... :)
  • DIY Projector (Score:4, Informative)

    by prelelat (201821) on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:03AM (#23433806)
    I was looking into this and it seemed that the two biggest costs were the lcd screen and the bulb. If your a hobbiest it might be something to consider doing with one of the lcd screens in the laptops. But your still left with the rest of them.

    Not sure what else you could do with them. You could donate them to some local school and say have the kids fix them up to use as some kind of club. though the children probably have better computers already the little brats.

    You could try taking all the LCD screens and making one big display, sounds like too much work though. Not alot you can do with some left over laptops. I know you said you didn't want to sell them but if you sell them on ebay for parts they can sometimes grab a couple hundred bucks after shipping.
  • Terminals (Score:4, Insightful)

    by IGnatius T Foobar (4328) on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:05AM (#23433836) Homepage Journal
    They'll make great terminals. All you need is a simple boot image to get each one to attach to the network and connect to an Linux Terminal Server [ltsp.org].

    At that point you've got a nice farm of small terminals with a big powerful server behind them. If you don't need this for yourself, consider donating the whole setup to a local school, church, or other organization that could use a low-maintenance multiuser computing environment.
  • eBay (Score:3, Informative)

    by r_jensen11 (598210) on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:07AM (#23433868)
    Just sell them on eBay and have the buyer pay for S&H. S&H should be no more than $20, and with laptops that old, people don't expect the batteries to be too good. Hell, just sell them w/out the batteries and S&H will be even less.

    For a while I was looking for 1Ghz T23's, just to have something to bring to class to take notes with. Prices for those hovered around $200+, I believe.
  • by Oktober Sunset (838224) <sdpage103 AT yahoo DOT co DOT uk> on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:08AM (#23433876)
    Bathtime surfing!!

    and when one goes splash, just get out another.
  • Send one to me! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jason Levine (196982) on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:09AM (#23433904)
    Ok, just kidding... Well sort of. I don't know if it helps you out or not, but I know what I would do if I had an extra laptop or two lying around. I would repurpose one of them into a laptop for my 4 year old. He loves using the computer for TuxPaint and other games. I have an old computer that I set up for him, but my house's layout keeps it from being in a convenient spot for him to use. A laptop could be used by him on the couch, on the floor, in the car (while the battery lasted at least), or anywhere else. If you have any young nieces/nephews or if you have friends with young children, you could see if they want a laptop with Edubuntu installed. And speaking of Linux....

    After having a laptop for my son, I would install Linux on a second spare laptop to play around with/learn Linux. Again, I'm not sure if this applies to you or not. I run Windows on all of my machines. I've wanted to try Linux out and have run a few LiveCDs (both boot-to-CD and inside VMWare), but it would be nice to have a whole system boot into Linux to try out. My two laptops are right now my work laptop (they probably wouldn't like it if I messed something up during my Linux install) and my wife's laptop (she definitely wouldn't like it if I messed something up during the Linux install). With an extra laptop, I could mess up and not really care about anything going wrong. From what I've heard, Linux shouldn't have a problem with the older systems (though I could be horribly wrong... I'm sure other users could clarify this point). So you could use one laptop as a test bed for various purposes. Get a nice system setup going, make an image of it, play around until the system is messed up, restore the image, play around some more, repeat.

    Of course, if you seriously consider sending out old laptops to folks here, can I be the first in line? ;-)
  • Charity for Africa (Score:3, Interesting)

    by azav (469988) on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:26AM (#23434254) Homepage Journal
    I am putting together a charity to ship old computers to African schools.

    Please contact me if interested. AlexZavatone(spamblock)@gmail.com

    http://web.mac.com/zav/iWeb/Zav-O-Matic/Off%20to%20Africa.html [mac.com]
    http://web.mac.com/zav/iWeb/Zav-O-Matic/Namibia%202008/D3A0AB87-8276-4741-8F1B-9225C7F23CF7.html [mac.com]
  • by witherstaff (713820) on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:39AM (#23434508) Homepage

    I'm surprised no one has mentioned helping out the /. community. Find a half dozen good ideas from the Securing Your Notebook Against US Customs [slashdot.org] thread and try them on each laptop. When you cross customs with a backpack full of laptops I'm sure you'll get a chance to see which encryption scheme works!

    I look forward to hearing the results in a few months, IF you are ever let out of holding...

  • Make furniture!!!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by molex333 (1230136) on Friday May 16, 2008 @11:05AM (#23434954) Homepage
    Attach some wooden legs to them and use them as end tables. I have made many a nice furniture piece using old computers. Including a coffee table, night stands, and even a fish tank. The last one isn't finished yet because of leak issues.
  • DOS Beowulf (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jim Hall (2985) on Friday May 16, 2008 @11:31AM (#23435428) Homepage

    No one has suggested it yet, but I recommend you try building a Beowulf cluster. Just for fun. And for added fun, make it a DOS Beowulf [tripod.com]. Follow the step-by-step at building your own low-cost supercomputing cluster. If you have two or more old machines, the cost can probably be kept under $10. The machines don't need a lot of memory, but they must have a working parallel port.

  • real serial ports? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nadaou (535365) on Friday May 16, 2008 @11:32AM (#23435458) Homepage
    Any laptop with a real serial port will be treated like gold and gladly put to good use at any research lab as a data logging tool connecting to some oddball piece of scientific equipment. Computers age much faster than instruments, and so often the interface software needs some old out of date OS and hardware to run. Try giving a call to the research focused department of your choice at your local university- and try and talk to the lab folk doing research, not the IT support who deal with student & email issues.
  • Internet Radio! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bilbo (7015) on Friday May 16, 2008 @11:53AM (#23435862) Homepage

    I have an old PII/266 which runs DSL (Damn Small Linux) very nicely. I put XMMS on it, and hooked the speaker out to one of the alternate audio inputs on my stereo. It's not phenomenally high quality stereo, but at least better than most FM reception, and you've got hundreds (thousands?) of online radio stations to pick from.

    DSL has some problems, such as shutting down the system if I close the lid on the laptop, and then not recovering the ethernet connection when I open it up again, but for the most part, it's better than tossing out the laptop. It's a lot smaller and cleaner looking than trying to get a full blown system with a monitor and keyboard to do the same thing.

  • by MindPrison (864299) on Friday May 16, 2008 @12:14PM (#23436192) Journal
    The one reason that older Laptops retain value after their life expectancy have run out is that they are complete compact computers that comes with screen, keyboard, storage ready to use right there and now.

    What do I use them for?

    I've refurbished one of the smallest laptops in the world (3010ct) from Toshiba (Weighs around 1.2 kg) as a lightweight practical surfing machine that I can take with me anywhere (take THAT pricey Macbook AIR!) cost me 15 dollars plus 10 bucks for the wireless CF card + adapter - downloaded some russian win 98 usb hack to give it usb powers + some wifi cf hack to give it wifi...voila...it's a fantastic Wireless surfer.

    I've got a couple of nice IBM 600's that I've turned into portable Commodore 64's! Thanks to FRODO it instantly boots into a Commodore 64 within 10 seconds (take THAT you SLOW SLOOOW booting modern pcs that take 1-2 minutes to boot win xp!) This one can play all the cool games of our past years...and provide a nice prototyping platform to quickly try out some programming theories...

    I've turned my Olivetti Echos 100E into a super-Eprom-Programming station! Yes - Todays modern PCs'doesnt come with Parallel or Serial ports (sure...usb is some sort of ultra fast serial port..but it doesnt work...and converterboards suck in general so...) I use this one to burn EPROMS with those nice 80-90's eprom programmers!

    I've turned my other laptop into a Plotting Machine to make PCB's (Printed Circuit boards) ...yes..it's more compatible with my old style centronic port rather than those windowsy modern equivalents that absolutely wants to control all the hardware by itself... this old unit has full "dos" control and can run old "protel" software to create those Nice Direct-to-plotter pcb layouts that make the life of a nerd a bit easier and cheaper.

    So yes - There's life in them old lappies still! I love'em!

  • by PC and Sony Fanboy (1248258) on Friday May 16, 2008 @03:57PM (#23439892) Journal
    Make a cheap car-puter/dvd player for your kids. You could mount it almost anywhere, or even recess it into the dash...

    You could set it up for war-driving, wire it into your sound system, add an external drive that you could plug in (and use for transfers) ... and if you were really keen, you could use a 3G connection card to triangulate your position as a poor man's GPS.

    ... or you could set it up and pretend to be a cop...
  • by ankhank (756164) * on Friday May 16, 2008 @06:19PM (#23441322) Journal
    I recently heard from someone who manages a mailroom in a large firm that _none_ of her staff knew how to type, so they were really unable to apply to move up to any other job in the organization.

    They were locked into the low end job slot.

    I got an old laptop, erased Windows from its tiny old hard drive, set it up to boot DOS (FreeDOS, I think) and installed an autoexec file to run an old copy of Typing Tutor III -- which is still probably the best thing going to learn the home row then slowly add keys and build speed and sequences.

    You can still find it for sale, look around.

    No eye candy, no other programs, no mouse, nothing to fiddle with.

    It remembers different people so they all are using it -- and now they're competing with each other to get faster and better.

    Typing Tutor was an incredible simple DOS program.
    Enter your name. It remembers where you left off and what you need next.

    And it has a lovely little Letter Invaders game -- falling letters, lower case and upper case, that's tied to your current level of keyboard experience.

    Put headphones on the laptop so nobody bothers the student because of the music it plays.

    There's _no_garbage_ on this setup. I pulled out the floppy/CD drive modules.

    All it does is -- teach people to type.

    Show them just the home row ASDF JKL; and tell them where to put their fingers at the start.

    That's all you need.

    ** I know it seems incredible but there are a _lot_ of adults still who never learned to use a keyboard. Poor family. Poor schools with no tech at all. No tools, no teachers.

    Help someone out with your old laptops. Set one up so you know it works as needed and then shop it around.

    Figure it's a throwaway -- tie it down maybe, but make clear it's a doorstop, tell people they can borrow it, take it home, it's not worth stealing.

    All it can do is teach.

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