Mobile Computing: Old Notebooks, New Lives

Feature: New Life for an Old Notebook

In February I offered ideas and advice for getting rid of aging portables. That column, "How to Dispose of an Old Notebook," generated nearly 50 e-mail messages from readers offering creative repurposing and disposal ideas.

What follows is a sampling of those ideas--along with a few more of my own.

Trade It In

If you're about to replace an old notebook with a new model from the same manufacturer, check to see if the manufacturer accepts trade-ins.

For example, P.D. Fyke of New York says he recently traded in his Sony VAIO PCG GR-170K notebook for a new Sony VAIO VGN S360P. "It was a hassle filling out the [trade-in] paperwork," P.D. writes, "but it'll be worth it."(At the time, Sony was offering an allowance of up to $400 to those who traded in old VAIO notebooks for new models.)

Hewlett-Packard also offers trade-in allowances for used notebooks (and other equipment). Most recently, HP was offering up to $325 on used notebooks to those who bought a new HP notebook between December 22, 2004, and April 30, 2005.

My Two Cents: Before you opt for a trade-in, check the value of your notebook on EBay or other auction sites. You might get a better price elsewhere.

Give It to a Relative or a Student

Many readers suggested passing along a portable PC to school-age kids who could use it in class, or to an elderly relative.

In most cases, an older notebook is just fine for e-mailing, Web browsing, or word processing, which is what most students and seniors might want to use one for.

"My grandmother would love an older laptop that could go on the Internet," writes Scott Siegel of Pasadena, California. "The compact design would be easy for her to maneuver around the house." With a notebook, Scott writes, his grandmother could use e-mail to keep up with family members.

My Two Cents: If you don't have a student or a senior handy, donate your notebook to a local school or senior center. Even better, volunteer to teach students or seniors how to use computers, too.

Turn Your Old Notebook Into a Jukebox

A number of readers wrote that they had transformed older notebooks into dedicated music players.

To do so, delete any unneeded files and applications from the notebook's hard drive. Next, load up the drive with MP3s or other music files. "Hook that old laptop up to your ... sound system ... and you're in business," writes Jim Laurel of Redmond, Washington.

You can use Windows Media Player or any other audio software to play the files.

Radio Shack is among retailers selling the necessary cabling to connect your notebook to a stereo receiver. The retailer's 3' Gold Series Cable ($6) is available online.

My Two Cents: If you have a wireless home network, consider adding a Wi-Fi adapter card to your old notebook, if it doesn't already have wireless capability. Then you can subscribe to an online music streaming service, such as Real Rhapsody ($15 a month; 14-day free trial) and play thousands of tunes through your stereo system. For more about online music streaming services, read Eric Hellweg's "Music Unlimited."

Give It to Someone in the Hospital

Some hospitals are beginning to offer network connectivity for patients. As a result, giving a hospital patient an old notebook for e-mail and Web browsing could help them stay connected to others during what would otherwise be a lonely, frightening time. "We can give to others the simple opportunity to communicate ... that many of us take for granted," writes Brian Wallenstein.

My Two Cents: Before he died in 2003, my friend Mark spent a month in the hospital receiving chemotherapy. A movie and TV buff, Mark was desperate for entertainment beyond what the limited cable TV in his room offered. Luckily, I was able to give him an old notebook with a DVD drive. Later, seeing how much Mark was enjoying watching DVDs, an executive at the company Mark worked for bought him a portable DVD player. Being able to watch DVDs made a huge difference for Mark--and that, in turn, made a difference to his friends, family, and colleagues.

More Creative Ideas

  • Give it to someone who's traveling to a developing nation and have them donate it for you. "I have brought several computers to rural Mexico, where schoolteachers are using them," writes Jacqueline Messing of Tampa, Florida.<br /><br />
  • Hook it up to a GPS receiver and use the notebook as an in-car navigation system. (Most GPS receivers come with the software you'll need.)<br /><br />
  • Use your old notebook (with DVD drive, of course) as an in-car entertainment system for kids or other passengers.<br /><br />
  • Use it as a dedicated DVD player in the bedroom. (Don't have a remote? See this week's Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips section.)<br /><br />
  • Turn it into a vintage-game console. PC World has a collection of free games from the eighties; and in "Free Retro Games," PC World's Andy Brandt provides reviews and links to several newer arcade games, plus golden oldies.<br /><br />
  • Transform the notebook into a digital picture frame. Load up it with digital photos, create a slide show, put a frame around the notebook's screen--and voil&#224;. Note: You can create a slide show with Windows XP's "View as a slide show" folder command (under Picture Tasks in the task pane) or almost any image editor. Adobe Photoshop Elements can do this, for example; you can find it for under $100 at the PC World Product Finder.<br /><br />
  • Store recipes on the notebook and keep it in the kitchen.<br /><br />
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