What should I do with this pile of hardware?
June 15, 2013 4:05 PM   Subscribe

I just inherited five Dell Dimension 9200 PCs. Help me think of something cool and hackish to do with them!

Specs: Intel Core 2 @ 1.86 GHz; 2 GB RAM; 130 GB hard drives; no Wi-Fi. They all have fresh reinstalls of Windows Vista Professional (32-bit). I have keyboards and mice for all of them, but only a couple of spare monitors. I'm not opposed to installing some flavor of Linux on them.

My first thought was to set them up to run BOINC, and that's still the front-running idea. But then I got to wondering what else I could do with them:

—Mine Bitcoins (although I understand you need purpose-built machines for that nowadays)?

—LAN parties (although I don't have too many gamer friends, and I'm not into twitchy deathmatch stuff, and they just have the crappy onboard video cards)?

—Decipher cryptograms?

—Some kind of render farm?

FWIW, my home file server and media PC needs are already met.
posted by escape from the potato planet to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Something like the mini-itx cluster
posted by Confess, Fletch at 4:29 PM on June 15, 2013

If you felt like installing wi-fi cards (or USB dongles) you might try a mesh network. I tinkered with this as a class project last year, using Project Byzantium, which was great fun and eventually even worked! (I think they've improved it some since then.)

Alternately, run MAX/MSP (or it's FOSS equivalent, Pure Data) on them and set up a networked art exhibit. One of my classmates set up a whole computer lab to provide ambient noise and shifting colors, which was pretty neat to watch.

Build big wooden boxes to protect them and place them in odd locations, running some little networked script to provide limited-yet-interesting communications? Not all need monitors - I'm guessing they all have built in speakers.
posted by sibilatorix at 4:56 PM on June 15, 2013

Mine Bitcoins (although I understand you need purpose-built machines for that nowadays)

Given the unpleasant environmental effects of Bitcoin mining (like any mining really, except without producing anything shiny and/or useful), and the distinct possibility that you won't be able to make it pay anyway, I'd suggest scratching this from your list.
posted by howfar at 5:00 PM on June 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

These are still pretty useful computers. Give them away to a charity that gives computers to people who need computers.
posted by cincinnatus c at 5:20 PM on June 15, 2013 [7 favorites]

Dedicated MAME machine for retro gaming
posted by bottlebrushtree at 5:22 PM on June 15, 2013

I agree with cincinnatus, they may be useful to a charity. Or, think of the poorest elementary school in your area, and donate [to them, or a child].

Bitcoin farming even with $200 GPU's will not even break even against power costs, so that will get old real quick for you.

If I were not happy with my job, I might use them to learn Hadoop / big data processing. Setting up multiple VM's on the same computer to do the distributed batch processing and configuration is non-trivial or impossible, and the alternative of renting them from Amazon is costly (if more useful as professional learning).
posted by tintexas at 5:39 PM on June 15, 2013

Put Xubuntu 13.x on them and donate them to a worthy charity.
posted by thewalrus at 10:31 PM on June 15, 2013

I'd downgrade to WinXP Pro if possible, and give all but one to someone who could use them. You could keep one, add a big hard drive, and use it as a media server and backup server. Or use it to learn Linux or any other thing that would benefit from a machine that could be wiped and reinstalled at will. Just be careful about only wiping the small drive, not the backup drive, which holds copies of data, not the only copy of data.
posted by theora55 at 8:13 AM on June 16, 2013

Bitcoin would require adding new, preferably dual, graphics cards to these boxes; CPU requirements are low, and I presume you don't need ultrafast (e.g. 16x) PCI-E bus connections for Bitcoin mining. I could be wrong.

With bitcoin miner pooling, you can make money, even at the current rates ($100 USD almost exactly); my own 2-yo midrange (nVidia-based, so less than ideal) gaming PC could make around USD $15/month assuming max power usage and current setup-- its biggest deficit was the purchase price, which is a cost long sunk for other purposes.

You could always start mining with what you have and upgrade their GPUs piecemeal in a break-even fashion. Or start with a single new graphics card, budget willing.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:34 AM on June 16, 2013

Web server! Not sure if you develop websites or not, but it's as good as any.

Second-best case, Bitcoins. Again, worth playing with :)
posted by chrisinseoul at 1:38 PM on June 16, 2013

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