Uses for an old laptop?
July 29, 2005 8:11 AM   Subscribe

What can I do with my old laptop?

I've got a five-year-old laptop, a Toshiba 2535CDS with 90 Mb of RAM. I shoehorned Windows XP onto it a couple of years ago, but since then nothing. It's got a 4 Gb hard drive.
Right now I have Office XP on it, and I use it when I travel to check e-mail and write. It's slow, but it works.
What OS or other things could I use that would take up less room, move faster, and still let me do those things or more? I've looked at Linux, but apparently it's iffy for this machine.
posted by atchafalaya to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My 5 year old Toshiba laptop works with a severly stripped version of Windows 98SE Lite on it, with the fast Windows 95 Explorer. This OS takes up a bit over 200 MB on harddisk. It's not a speed monster and never will be, though surfing with Opera for a browser helps, but it useful enough as a travelling machine.

Even in this set up it wasn't much of a problem to set it up with a WiFi-card [pcmcia].

The only drawback I can find is that it does indeed need drivers for every external device, like the USB port of a camera or phone.
posted by ijsbrand at 8:29 AM on July 29, 2005

Experiment with different operating systems. Frankly, I'm amazed you find XP with Office XP on that machine useable, and I love making old machines work longer than they should. But that's just pushing it, IMO.

Roll back to Win98 (not SE or ME) and older software apps and tools in general, and it'll be much faster. Win2K can also be pared down to work with as little as 32 megs of ram, apparently.

I still run Win98 OEM on a Toshiba 330CDS (Pentium 1 MMX 266, 4 gigs, 48 megs RAM) and it's quite useable still. It's a handly little tank of a laptop for things like GPS mapping, WiFi web access, MP3 playback for road trips, etc, and it runs millions of old applications and toys and whatnot.

Try Cygwin (Linux-inside-windows) on a Win9x system.

OS/2? BeOS? Other? There's lots and lots of weird little operating systems out there, above and beyond Windows/Linux/Mac.

Linux can be made to run on almost anything - even a PalmOS 1 device - but getting linux to work with a full GUI desktop interface like KDE or GNOME takes a whole lot more. You can do a lot of work on a command-line only linux/unix/POSIX box. You can use PINE, VI, PICO and more. There's also the X11 environment, but I don't have any experience with that.

An old laptop with a wired or wireless connection makes a great living room computer and TV companion. For example: IMDB queries about what late night movie you're watching, or pulling up schedules. Or simply checking your email or chatting via IRC or IM. You can even use it as a simple music or media station, and stream MP3s to it from a server or other computer on your LAN. You can even get an infrared remote dongle for it and control it like a stereo appliance.

There's all kinds of useful or nifty things that machine will do easily and do well.
posted by loquacious at 8:30 AM on July 29, 2005

I've heard good things about the Win98SE Lite, but also there's apparently a stripped version of Win98 that's a whopping 50 megs or a little less.

If anyone has a link to instructions on how to configure that, I'd like to see it. Please, no links to torrents or pirated cab files or anything. Just info.

I frankly have a severe dislike of and bias against all things 98SE, ME and XP, but then I tend to run crufty old hardware. 98, NT, 2K and KDE are more than enough for everything I do, and I do just about everything except play new or newish GPU-intensive realtime 3D games.
posted by loquacious at 8:37 AM on July 29, 2005

When it came time to decide what to do with my old Toshiba Satellite, I chose wanton destruction.
posted by dmd at 8:39 AM on July 29, 2005

I've run FreeBSD (which is sooooo much better for older laptops than Linux bloat) with X11/icewm on a P133 with 16 megs of RAM and it was perfectly usable.

Yeah, FreeBSD will treat you right.
posted by cmonkey at 8:52 AM on July 29, 2005

You may want to check out Vector Linux. You can purchase it for ~$30 or download a slightly different version of it for free. It's based on Slackware, and works really well on older hardware with not much memory or hard drive space. I installed Vector on a 300 mhz Thinkpad and it runs really really well.

Or, like cmonkey said, FreeBSD will work well on older hardware, too.
posted by cog_nate at 9:19 AM on July 29, 2005

Wasn't there a thread on Metafilter about turning a laptop into a digital picture frame? I tried my damnedest to find it...
posted by Rothko at 9:20 AM on July 29, 2005

Try Cygwin (Linux-inside-windows) on a Win9x system.

Cygwin is not really Linux-inside-Windows. You might be thinking of VMWare, which is very demanding of resources.

If you buy an sizeable external hard drive (or an internal hard drive with an external USB enclosure) you can, in a pinch, turn it into a music server that streams mp3s to other computers / stereos around the house. That doesn't require too much resources, and it's easier to set up than you may think.
posted by ori at 9:21 AM on July 29, 2005

If you aren't a big unix/linux geek, and don't want to have to deal with the command line or configuring KDE or Gnome, I strongly and heartily recommend trying out ubuntu linux. It's the easiest to use linux distro I've ever seen. Usually you can install it on a machine with one or two hits of the enter key. It will not be blazing fast, but compared to XP, it will be like brand new.

If you're completely put off my linux, I would probably look into Windows 98 Lite, which has worked for friends of mine in the past.
posted by zerolives at 9:24 AM on July 29, 2005

Found it, here we go: The eyes keep following me!
posted by Rothko at 9:33 AM on July 29, 2005

Add an overhead projector and you can turn it into a ghetto digital projector! I just saw a link for that...yesterday...maybe on
posted by catkins at 9:44 AM on July 29, 2005

I would convert it into a streaming music server, though I doubt it could handle iTunes.
posted by creeront at 10:45 AM on July 29, 2005

creeront: yeah but it would handle Shoutcast no problem.
posted by furtive at 11:12 AM on July 29, 2005

If you can fit another ethernet adapter (PCMCIA?) it could make a half decent firewall using FreeBSD or OpenBSD. When I get a new laptop this old Viao will become a print server attached to my (non network enabled) Brother laser printer.

Maybe detatch the screen and turn it into a MAME console, some woodwork and you could have a cool arcade machine.
posted by hardcode at 11:42 AM on July 29, 2005

dmd: That was really, really hard to watch. Next time you want to destroy an old semi-working laptop, please ship it to me. I'll pay shipping. I collect old hardware, reconfigure it, and give it away and/or put it to work.

That being said, we almost had a laptop pinata day for the employees and clients at this place I worked at. Almost.
posted by loquacious at 2:09 PM on July 29, 2005

So long as the screen and networking works, I recommend Maxivista for old laptops.

But if you want to continue using it as a laptop rather than a glorified screen, I strongly recommend Windows 98 SE over any flavour of Linux. Mind you, since you've already got XP on there, you could have a look at trying to make it run faster by disabling unnecessary services or possibly even replacing the shell. I use Litestep under 98SE on an old 266MMX/64MB ultralight. I'd link to a site, but the Litestep scene is almost dead, unfortunately. Maybe this is a jumping-off point.
posted by krisjohn at 5:28 PM on July 29, 2005

I'll buy it from you.
posted by angry modem at 6:55 PM on July 29, 2005

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