[HOWTO] Revive Your Old Computer

Category: Hardware

Many of us have old PCs, laptops, or even netbooks gather dust in closets and garages. Some of these venerable devices work just fine, but are underpowered for modern Windows operating systems. Others are hopelessly infected with malware, and a few have missing or damaged hard drives. They’re not worth repairing but they cost too much to just throw away. But here’s a way to bring that old hardware back to life easily and cheaply, perhaps even better than new. Read on...

Could You Use an Xtra PC?

Xtra-PC is a streamlined version of the Ubuntu Linux operating system that’s been customized to be easily set up by non-technical users. People who have installed Xtra-PC say it takes only 4-5 clicks of the mouse, plus using the tab or arrow keys to select an “OK” button at one point. Otherwise, the software typically configures itself, just like Windows.

Xtra-PC is not installed on your hard drive. It comes on a USB flash drive and runs from there. So existing files on your hard drive won’t be disturbed. You can create, edit and manage files on your hard drive with Xtra-PC.

Alternatively, you can install Linux apps and store files on the USB drive, making them as portable as Xtra-PC itself. The product comes with 8, 16, 64, or 128 GB of storage priced at $25, $35, $50, and $80, respectively. Shipping is $5 in the U. S. and $10 elsewhere. Just as more RAM translates into more speed on a PC (up to a point), the speed of Xtra-PC increases as flash memory capacity increases. All but the 128 GB version comes in a tiny USB dongle like the transceiver of a wireless mouse; the 128 GB version comes on a standard USB thumb drive about two inches long.

Revive an old computer

Xtra-PC comes with a good assortment of free, open-source Linux apps, including:

  • Firefox Web Browser
  • OpenOffice for opening and editing Microsoft Office files
  • Thunderbird Mail for email (if you don’t use web-based email)
  • Photo Viewer
  • Media Player for watching movies
  • Audacious for playing music

You can also add Linux versions of Skype and other programs, but no Windows-based software can be run. Let me underscore that last point… Your Xtra-PC system will not run programs that are designed for a Windows computer. That includes anything you have downloaded or installed from a CD, such as Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, Photoshop, iTunes, Quicken, and Windows-based games you may have.

But as you can see, Xtra-PC provides replacements for most of those commonly-used programs. And of course, any Web-based software will work just fine.

Is It a Good Deal?

Linux is a free operating system. What you pay for with Xtra-PC is ease of use and tech support. You don’t have to locate and download a Linux distribution file, make a bootable USB drive or optical disk, or go hunting for drivers appropriate to your obsolete hardware (Xtra-PC does the last). But tech support is going to be kind of slim.

Xtra-PC is the product of Prairie IT, LLC, a three-person operation based in the Colorado town of Haxtun (pop. 929 ca. 2013). Tech support consists of a FAQ list, a searchable knowledgebase, and email. But Xtra-PC is so simple there’s not much that can go wrong.

Xtra-PC is intended to be an “extra PC,” not a replacement for your workhorse Windows machine. But if someone in your household just needs light processing power and Web access, even a 10-year-old computer and Xtra-PC will do the trick. You may have to add a $10 external WiFi adapter, but that’s about it. Interestingly, Xtra-PC will even run on Intel-based Mac computers.

A 30-day no-questions refund guarantee makes the $25 Xtra-PC worth a shot. If you try it, please let me know how it works for you. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[HOWTO] Revive Your Old Computer"

Posted by:

Ken Reynolds
24 Oct 2016

I have an old Osborne. Doesn't run now because the floppies don't work.
Would be good for someone to fix it or give to a museum.

Posted by:

Renaud Olgiati
24 Oct 2016

Another way to usefully recycle an old PC is to use it as a firewall to protect your home LAN/WLAN, for instance installing IPCop or IPFire.

Posted by:

24 Oct 2016

What a great idea! I have used Linux Mint for the past few years to keep my aging PC going and it is my preferred OS. It can be a bit intimidating at first to set up, however a quick google search will give all the answers without having to learn code, just copy and paste. Mint is very similar to Win 7, is free and no worries about viruses. The Xtra-PC is a great value for $25 or so and is a good way for the curious to check out Linux.

Posted by:

24 Oct 2016

I'm curious as to what magic formula Xtra-PC is using to promise carefree installation? I've revived older laptops with various degrees of success, but would have to try various Linux distros until I hit one that recognized my hardware out of the box (I'm not good enough with Linux to tinker with settings). Usually the problem is with the wireless card. Distros that have worked best for me include:
*Damn Small Linux
*Puppy Linux
All have the option to boot from USB or CDs.

I'm also curious what the difference is between their basic and Turbo (other than marketing mumbo-jumbo to get you to upgrade).

Posted by:

24 Oct 2016

Linux LXLE is another good choice, specifically designed for older PCs, 3 or 4 years into development, and free.

Posted by:

Allan Brunner
24 Oct 2016

Interesting article and comments. What about antivirus on such an operating system? No mention and a must if it is going to be connected to the internet.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Here's the Ubuntu page on antivirus options: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Antivirus

Posted by:

Joe M
24 Oct 2016

Sophos has some good products for free:

Sophos home for unlimited windows and macs. Also free Linux antivirus (doesn't integrate with Sophos home). Also endpoint security for android and iOS.

Posted by:

Kirill Chestopalov
24 Oct 2016

Don't hold you breath too tight. Really old computers don't have option to boot up from USB. For example, Sony Vaio VGN-S380P. So to install Windows 7 and FreeBSD 10 multyboot I used CDs. But first I upgraded RAM to 2Gb ($20 from ebay) and bigger hard drive (750Gb for $44). It's more expensive, than $25 for 8Gb flash drive with Xtra-PC, but it would be bigger disappointment to find out that it doesn't boot up (of course, moneyback, but I bet there is a shipping cost for that). You can try to boot up from USB using PLoP Boot Manager CD (google it), but it not necessary will launch your choice of operating system from USB drive (I had that experience). Don't be scary of drivers problem - now almost any distibution of Linux works "out of box" (in case of FreeBSD you can use PC-BSD, now TrueOS that has all graphical tools to be as user-friendly, as Linuxes or Windows). Also Linux, Unix use standards, so they are pretty compatible with hardware, way better, than Windows. The problems can be with rare or brand-specific hardware (for example, I had problems with sound, when I installed FreeBDS onto Sony I mentioned). And I bet you will have similar problems with that distribute of Linux. There is no miracles.

Every Linux or FreeBSD has a LiveCD or USB version, so I don's see any point to pay for that Xtra-PC Linux. Especially with their virtual help. You'll get better help in forums all over the Internet, just don't be shy to ask and be reasonable.

The only problem can be lack of support of 32-bit architecture in some last versions of Linuxes or UNIXes. For example, I wanted to install CentOS onto mentioned Sony, but had to install FreeBSD because of that. So before you choose your new Operating System, check if it is compatible with your hardware (CPU and chipset).

With RAM upgrade (better to 4Gb) and switching from HDD to SSD you can install relatively new Windows (Window 7 or 8 definitely, about 10 - not so sure) even at really old stuff. (Toshiba Satellite A215 S7427 with 4Gb RAM and 240 SSD under Windows 8 and CentOS 6 multiboot). So do your math - if it worth to play around with that Xtra-PC when you have a lot of other options, free or with a few bucks, definitely more, than competitive with Xtra-PC options.

Posted by:

Rich Hanspire
24 Oct 2016

Recently, on another newsletter that I received, I saw mentioned the system React OS. This is an open-source OS that currently emulates Windows Server 2003. I put it on a boot disk and played with it for a short while. It might be another option for person who are familiar with Windows and uncomfortable with the thought of moving to Linus. If they are long-time Windows users, they would already be familiar with operating the system.

Posted by:

25 Oct 2016

As long as the old computer is recent enough to use SATA and has a reasonable amount of RAM then installing a modern SSD and clean installing Ubuntu or another version of Linux works very well. I have several Core 2 Duo based ThinkPad laptops working great with SSDs and Linux/Win 10.

Posted by:

Robert A.
25 Oct 2016

If one is only using a computer only for reading and sending email, watching videos on YouTube, and making calls on Skype, it's probably better to just save the money one would normally use to update an old computer, and apply those funds toward a new inexpensive Google powered Chromebook, for about $200. It will be smaller and easier to store, and will have the latest and greatest ports and jacks, which an older computer may not have, plus a built-in webcam, to boot. Any computer over 10 years old is really now worth the money needed to upgrade and restore it.

Posted by:

25 Oct 2016

I saw a bootable Kubunto (as opposed to Ubuntu) on a flashdrive being sold by a highly rated seller on a famous auction site for less than $10.

I'd like to try to run this when I'm just surfing the web or streaming video. My Windows PC's performance is so slow that running it off of Linux and getting some potential performance increase sounds very appealing.

Another great article...Thanks!

Posted by:

Gary in wisconsin
25 Oct 2016

I've used the Zorin distros (free) for a number of years on an old (2001) spare pc. Works good for all daily tasks which saves wear and tear on the rest of my pcs and laptops. My only complaint with Linux is the lack of support for Canon wireless printers. ymmv

Posted by:

26 Oct 2016

Great article, as usual, Bob. You might be interested in a slightly different take, I just crashed my two year old HP Pavilion desktop and got the dreaded Start PXE over IPV4 message. In order to connect to the internet to try to get advice on how to fix this problem, I dug out an old (18 years old) Dell laptop. So old was it I had completely forgotten the password to allow access so I installed Suse Linux 10.1 that I found on an old CD. This message has been sent on it. There is life in the old dog yet and it cost me nothing. I still have my PXE problem, however. I anyone has a solution please send to b1427gallivan@tiscali.co.uk.

Posted by:

01 Nov 2016

I am totally discussed with Xtra-PC.
I so not dispute that it would work, but the advertisement used is way too deceptive and misleading.

it WILL NOT make your PC as NEW PC!
it will only work as good as the hardware allows it. if you have a clunker it will run as a clunker, not as Bugatti.

if you are coming from Windows it will not replace your Windows PC, unless you are prepared to do some learning and googling, a lot of learning and googling.

and as many before me point it out,
you can do much, much better by researching a good distro yourself and trying out on YOUR hardware.

for about the same money (roughly 40 to 50 dollars) you can get a 128GB SSD and install Linux Mint on it. nothing beats a hard drive for speed and reliability.

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