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Tip: Reuse That Old PC With Your New Mac

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Now that you (or a friend) switched from PC to Mac (s aapl), what do you do with the PC? Surprisingly, that old PC might be a great accessory for your Mac (and not just as a footrest). Reuse before you recycle, pull that old PC out of the trash and make it submit to the power of your Mac.

Parallel/LPT Port Printing

First, a former PC often has an old printer lying around that might at least have some ink or toner left in it. Sometimes that printer might even be a heavy duty laser printer that unfortunately has a old PC parallel/LPT port which isn’t compatible with your Mac. After you set up your PC to print to the printer, simply right click on Properties and then set print for sharing.

On your Mac, go to System Preferences, and then Add Printer. If you click on Windows, the printer should show up as shared. You’ll probably need to choose the type of printer, since the Mac won’t automatically recognize it. When the ink or toner dries up, you may still want to keep this print server around to offload larger jobs without tying up your Mac or your main printer.

Networked Storage Space

While you’ve got that PC networked for printing, you might also like to use Windows File Sharing and create a network-accessible hard drive commonly called NAS (for Network Attached Storage). Your hard drive will be accessible to anyone in your household. Best of all, most PCs can often take more than one hard drive, so adding additional storage is relatively inexpensive and easy to do.

Besides extending your network storage space and sharing files, you can setup a utility like CrashPlan. CrashPlan allows you to easily backup one computer to another over a network. As always, standard caveats apply regarding setting a proper password, firewall, and antivirus for your PC.

iTunes Home Sharing

Even if you don’t enable file sharing, iTunes Home Sharing via Bonjour will still be accessible to you. Install iTunes on this older PC and store music you want to share with others in your household. With the proliferation of laptops in a household, iTunes music sharing is a bit harder without a central location. Why clog up the hard drive of your other Macs? If you backup your music to this central PC and make it accessible via iTunes, you’ve got a truly win-win solution!

CD/DVD Burner

Another great use of an old PC is as a burning station. Unlike Mac optical drives, PC drives are relatively inexpensive and easy to replace. If you’re making that mix CD for all your wedding guests [Ed. note: The RIAA views this as copyright infringement.] or want to burn 50 copies of your presentation for prospective clients, doing it on your Mac is a slow process and can wear out your drive. After you make a master CD on your Mac, use your favorite PC burning program and burn away! Your Mac isn’t tied up and if your PC burner dies, it’s easy to replace.

Virtual PC Without The Virtual

Finally, the best use of an old PC in my opinion is a faux Virtual Machine. While programs like Fusion and Parallels are great, they’ll never quite reach the speed and flexibility of a true PC. Bootcamp is great, but you always have to reboot to use the PC and its peripherals. I’ve got an older PC that serves one primary function: running Quickbooks for the PC.

Simply add the PC to your network and install a cross-platform remote control program such as LogMeIn, VNC or Timbuktu Pro. Using these, you can generally run the computer “headless”, that is without a monitor.

So the next time someone says “what do I do with this old PC?” you’ll have some great recommendations. Or you could gallantly offer to take it off their hands, free of charge. You’ll nab yourself a handy accessory, and help make the world a slightly greener place in the process.

Related GigaOM Pro Research: How to Get Your Green iPhone App Noticed

13 Responses to “Tip: Reuse That Old PC With Your New Mac”

  1. I use the freeware CoRD on my mac, and use it to access my “older” PC, a virtual machine – without the virtual. It allows me to use remote desktop on the old PC that now runs windows 7, and I am able to run some of the apps I need to use that are available only on Windows, right on my MAC, without the slowdown of virtualization. Extremely fast, especially when using at home through the local network.

  2. UmmWhatever

    So. This can work in reverse cant it? When my friend gets sick of his Mac and decides to build a Gulftown based PC, he can use his old Mac for a lot of this stuff. Right?

  3. I agree that throwing away perfectly fine hardware is a waste. Repurposing older computers can be really useful. A few other uses I can imagine are these (most options in this list work fine with Linux):
    > That Old Computer In the Kitchen – perfect for reading TheAppleBlog while drinking a cup of coffee in the morning, keeping a virtual cookbook and similar uses.
    > SheepShaver! With Mac OS Classic! Nostalgia FTW!
    > A file server, or even a server for a self-hosted web site.
    > A dedicated media center, with XBMC or Boxee or something like that. Hook it up to your TV, maybe install a better graphics card and enjoy!
    > A dedicated gaming computer. The only downside is that you (kind of) need Windows. You can also install gaming console emulators, if that’s your thing.

    There are more things one can do with an old PC, but these are the ones I can imagine myself doing in case I get my hands on an older but working personal computer.

  4. Ack, an old machine like that can easily pull 300w, and with very little power saving capbilities. At common tier 4/5 rates in california that means almost $3/day to keep this old hunk o junk running.
    (0.3KW/hr * $0.4 *24hrs = $2.88)

    You’d be better off dropping $400 on a craigslist mac mini that pulls 10-40w – it’ll pay for itself in power savings in 6-9 months, and it’s still a mac.

    • “Ack, an old machine like that can easily pull 300w”

      Very doubtful if could pull that unless its ripping movies 24/7. The PC in the picture probably has a 250 watt PS or less. I am sure you could find some old MONSTER PC, but the typical consumer PC would not pull that power. As a itunes server, or quickbooks only PC it would be idle 23.5 hours a day.

  5. Nice post: throwing away old stuff that still works is literally a waste.
    I (also) fix computers for a living and I often end up keeping machines or parts thereof that my customers would throw away when their needs have grown. Right now I have a machine with a Duron cpu (750 MHz) that came with 256 MB of PC133 memory, a faulty PSU and no hard drive. After trying unsuccessfully to repair the PSU, I replaced it with one that belonged to yet another customer’s old machine. I added some more ancient ram to it, and got hold of a 120 GB IDE disk that a friend of mine gave to me for free since it was just collecting dust. I installed FreeBSD and turned it into a headless sandbox. I even replaced the ethernet card with one that supports wake-on-lan so I can start it without even going to the same room (and I can shut it down with ‘shutdown -p now’ over ssh of course.) I mounted a PCI SATA card that I had originally gotten two years ago to clone an Xbox 360 hard drive and it recognized it automatically. Next month I’m going to buy a couple of 1 TB SATA drives and set up a RAID1 array to share over the network. I could just buy a ReadyNAS unit _plus the disks_, but why waste money when I can buy _just the disks_?
    (Indeed, I may buy a CF-IDE adapter, and finally put that lame 32 MB card — yes, megabytes — that Canon shipped with my 350D in 2005 to good use, with FreeNAS. Or I may just stick with the full FreeBSD I have now, it’s a lovely system.)

    What we call “obsolete” hardware is orders of magnitude more powerful than what we used to get to the moon and back.

  6. no name

    this begs the question – WHY?
    why do you people hold on to all that ancient crap? why?
    i’ve been a sysadmin for over 15 years, and nothing pisses me off more than a pile of old useless junk. technology is evolving to make YOUR life easier. Get with it.