What to do with your old PC

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Article by Kevin Lee

Congratulations, seasoned PC building veterans, you’ve been in the game for a few years now and it’s time upgrade your system. Whether it’s adding a newer video card to installing a faster CPU, it should be easy peasy to install these new bits with one PC build already under your belt. But one of the big questions you might have is: what should you do with your old rig?

One route is to upgrade your existing computer. Throwing in a new video card is as simple as popping the old one out of its PCI express slot and slotting in a new card—assuming your power supply can handle an upgrade. However, adding a new processor with a different socket will require a whole motherboard swap. Add in more components like new RAM or a more generous power supply and you’re crossing into the territory of a full system refresh. If you’re thinking about replacing multiple components, it sometimes makes more sense to just start a whole new build.

With that in mind, these are our suggestions for what to do with your old rig when you build a new PC from scratch.

Keep your PC and do a simple upgrade

Adding a new GPU, more storage, or more RAM? Then you should only be looking at the upgrade path, as these are all simple to install. RAM plugs into DIMM slots and video cards slot easily into PCI Express connectors even if you’re switching between brands of video card. Going from Nvidia to AMD graphics or vice-versa won’t require a new motherboard, unlike processors.

With storage and RAM, any motherboard made since around 2008 should allow you to upgrade to newer, compatible parts—namely SATA hard drives or SSDs and DDR3 RAM. DDR4 RAM will require a 2014 motherboard (but it’s still too expensive to be worth it!), and if you’re thinking of upgrading to an SSD, see if your motherboard has SATA III 6.0 Gb/s ports. Otherwise, you’ll be running into a bummer of a speed bottleneck.

Upgrading your processor is a keystone change that will likely require a motherboard swap. Every year or two, new processors require a new and completely different socket. Processor sockets have a specific number of pins making contact with the motherboard and this arrangement is different for every type of CPU.

Although upgrading your processor might require you to buy a new motherboard, it’s still way more affordable at $200 to $400 for a single part rather than purchasing a whole bunch of components for a new system.

Even if you’re ready to take that plunge, you can still use some of the components from your old PC. Don’t let them go to waste!


Power Supply

Before you start putting any new components on your shopping list, check to see if your current power supply outputs enough juice to keep everything running without stability problems. A good 500-watt power supply unit should be more than enough to drive a single video card system. Install a more power hungry component like the Nvidia GTX Titan, and you’ll need bolster your power needs with a 650-watt PSU. The same goes for adding another GPU in SLI or CrossFire, in which case you’ll need a unit that supplies upwards of 850-watts to be on the safe side—yes that’s a bit high, but you’ll want some comfortable overhead for overclocking.

Video Cards

Another upgrading concern: if the video card will physically fit inside the computer case. As you can see in the image above, the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 970 G1 Gaming is considerably longer than my older EVGA GeForce GTX 670 FTW card.

Measure it out to make sure there are no conflicts with your drives or front-mounted fans. If there are, add a new case to the shopping list. If you’re already going to replace the motherboard, it might make more sense to leave the old components where they lie and install all the new parts into the bigger case.

Salvage what you can. Hard disk drives and SSDs can be easily transferred to another computer unless they’re slow or only provide tiny amounts of storage space. The same goes for cooler and case fans if you’re planning on fully cannibalizing the old system for spare parts. These are typically interchangeable parts and should work with a new processor or in a new case, since sizes and shapes are standardized.

If you’re ready to be rid of your old parts, don’t just toss them. Sell them on eBay or Amazon to help offset the cost of a new computer.

Better yet, put them to use.

Be charitable

Give away your old computer. It’s nice to do something good for a family member, friend, school, or a charitable organization—and if you choose one of the later options, there might be a little tax write off in it for you. But before you give the computer away be sure to completely wipe any personal information still on it.

Firstly, you should backup any files you want to keep around and also deauthorize any software attached to the machine. As for wiping the machine, Windows 8.1 already has a built-in option to reset your computer in the system preferences. This OS-level tool can refresh the PC and remove all the files on it in one go. Doing the same thing on Windows 7 can also be easily accessed by inserting the OS install disk and formatting the drive.

For wiping hard drives (important: not SSDs), the third-party option we'd suggest is Darik's Boot and Nuke. For SSDs you’ll want to download and use Parted Magic, which leaves the drive in an unrecoverable state and back to its default factory state.

Turn your old PC into a media center PC


An old gaming computer is the perfect machine to turn into a home theater PC. You won’t have to buy a new wireless keyboard and mouse to operate it either; XBMC (soon to be renamed Kodi) has been refined into a simple, polished media center application that organizes all your movies, video, and music into a remote-friendly library.

Over the last 12 years Team XBMC has polished the media center application into a seamless app that simply runs on top of Windows or Linux or OS X. Users won’t have to look for video codecs—software that lets you watch types of video—as the latest 13.2 "Gotham” version downloads everything on its own.

A younger, but perhaps even more popular home theater solution, is Plex Media Center. Plex is another free, multi-OS option with a living room friendly interface and a great library system that will download all of the metadata for your TV shows and movies and organize them for you.

For anything you can’t watch with XBMC or Plex (though they’ll handle just about anything), Zoom Player and Media Player Classic - Home Cinema are two very robust video players.

You can turn your old PC into a makeshift Steam Machine by having it run Big Picture Mode, and even if it’s several years old, it should be able to play some of our favorite living room games. If you’re building a new gaming PC, you can also set up your old rig for Steam In-Home Streaming using our guide.

On page two: more projects for your old parts.