How to Best Use Old Computers? Using an Old PC as a Test Harness for Troubleshooting Hardware

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Your Old PC

Getting a new computer is always exciting, but it can leave you wondering what to do with your old computer. In this series, found exclusively here on Bright Hub, I look at the pros and cons of keeping versus getting rid of your old PC, from both a hardware and software perspective. Like many of my PC support articles, much of my advice is based on personal experience.

A few months ago, my wife brought home a computer belonging to her boss. He had heard that I was a tech guy and for some reason I got volunteered to fix his computer. The problem with the machine was that he could no longer get an Internet connection with it. I spent a couple of hours with the PC and installed and uninstalled various drivers until I finally came to the conclusion that Windows needed to be reinstalled. Something was so corrupt in the operating system that it was giving me weird character symbols instead of numbers when I tried to ping anything, and I knew that further testing would be a waste of time.

The computer in question here was an older Dell Dimension PC, which is a very popular line of Dell brand home desktop computers. I happened to have a restore CD from another model Dell computer, and it allowed me to reformat the hard drive and do a fresh install of Windows. However, it did not load some of the drivers. Manufacturers like Dell and HP are notorious for using proprietary hardware components that require special software drivers. In other words, Windows won’t recognize them. This meant I had to go hunt down the drivers online.

Among the drivers that didn’t load was the one for the Ethernet network adapter. This prevented me from using the computer to go online and download the drivers I needed. I had to use my own computer to download the files to a flash drive, then copy them onto the Dell PC in order to get them loaded. Now imagine if my wife’s boss was at home reinstalling Windows and this happened to him. He’d be dead in the water until he could get to another PC and find those drivers, then he’d still have to physically transport them back to the other computer.

What happened with this machine is a perfect example of why you should keep a spare working computer in your house. Even if you leave it tucked away in a closet and may not touch the thing for more than a year, it is always good to have in case of an emergency. In this case, I even had a rare Dell restore CD and it still didn’t have everything I needed to get the machine going. Having a spare PC makes troubleshooting so much easier when you can use the extra PC to download drivers and other software, or even Google whatever kind of error messages you might receive. On top of that, you may need that spare PC to get online just to find contact information for customer support.

This post is part of the series: What To Do With Your Old Computer

Looking at it from a hardware perspective, I think it is important to keep an extra computer at your home or office in case there is a problem with the new one. You never know when that old machine might come in handy.

  1. Don’t Bin that Old PC - Keep it as a Backup
  2. Don’t Bin that Old PC - Keep it for Troubleshooting