What useful and/or fun things can I do with a spare gaming PC?
November 28, 2018 11:43 AM   Subscribe

My current gaming PC (over 5 years old with an i5 4670 and a GTX760 in a full-size tower) is getting a little long in the tooth, and I'm considering replacing it rather than updating components. What sort of fun and or useful things can I do with the older PC to continue to get use out of it? Bonus points for links to howto guides for any relevant projects.
posted by monju_bosatsu to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You could turn it into a pretty decent Retro gaming console.

Failing that, how about a HTPC or a Plex server for sending your music, movie and TV shows to various devices around the house?
posted by mr_silver at 12:02 PM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

A lot of the "Fun things to do with a spare PC" projects tend toward things that a much less capable (and much less electricity-hungry) computer can handle, yours still packs quite a punch, so whatever you do needs to be something computationally intense. I assume you're not interested in mining cryptocurrency with it, or Folding@Home, or any similar "Send us your CPU cycles", so:

- Build an arcade cabinet, shove this tower in the bottom and run MAME or RetroArch with the state of the art for legally-aquired emulated games.
- Run a private server for a multiplayer game you and some friends can play, like Minecraft or World of Warcraft.
- Donate it to someone who would enjoy an older gaming PC or an organization that provides computers to underserved communities.
- Run a pretty overpowered Plex/Kodi media server for your house and fill it full of legally-obtained movies and TV shows.

Honestly if I were in your position I'd just get a newer video card and call it good, processor and ram requirements have flattened out a lot over the last 5 years so unless you're really into playing the newest games at higher than HD resolutions or want to get into VR what you have is probably up to the task. If I did have an old gaming PC like yours in my possession I'd either store it as a backup/spare parts or gift it to someone who needs it.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:12 PM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

Your computer still seems usable, so you could maybe just sell parts on eBay or give it to someone who could use it.

But the thing I've always seen recommended is turning an old PC into a media center. If you add a TV card or a little USB stick that serves a similar function, you can watch television, record and save shows, etc. I don't know how useful that is in 2018 with Netflix and all sorts of streaming options, but if you don't have a TV or a DVR, it might be a good option.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:38 PM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Make it into a SETI @ Home station in its spare time.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 12:51 PM on November 28, 2018

I'm on the verge of replacing my 6+yo gaming desktop, and it's already a Plex server, but I think it'll be a fully dedicated Plex server (well, general media server, since I use other things than Plex) for as long as it lasts. I might add an HDTV card so I can make a DVR of it, for on-air stuff; ditto a radio card.

I am replacing mine because the hard drives are going bad (and it's that time), so I also bought a Synology 4-drive NAS, which will be hosting most of the stuff; the desktop will merely be the brains of the operation.

Two other ideas which I likely won't be using but could be good for you:
1) Hilariously overpowered router. Stick it between your modem and your main router, and you can use it to figure traffic from your house. If your neighbors are stealing your internet, you can give them the gift of Upside-Down-Ternet.
2) Video Camera System Server: you can erect IP cameras around whatever you feel the need to watch and can legally do so, and view/record the result using your PC. You can then use Teamviewer or similar to remote into that PC as desired and view the camera recordings, export videos and stills of your weird neighbors doing shady stuff, etc. I found this 10-year-old guide, and consumer-grade security cameras have come along way (while pro-grade cameras are still substantially stuck in the analog-cables era). The software linked in there is still around, but there may be newer. As for other security devices, such as door sensors, motion sensors, etc., I don't know, but I can't imagine I live in a world where some imaginative person with the desire for security and the hardcore nerd skills to solve that issue hasn't made it happen.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:15 PM on November 28, 2018

Last time I upgraded, I put the old parts in a new home theater PC chassis and hooked it up to my TV. It has some Xbox controllers hooked up to it so I can play lower demand games directly on it or stream from my main computer. It also is the only device with a DVD drive if I ever have discs I want to play.
posted by backseatpilot at 2:38 PM on November 28, 2018

Unless you're looking for an excuse to get a whole new computer - I'd spend whatever I budgeted for a full PC and spend all/ most of it on a graphics card (so long as your current motherboard supports the potentially new connector at full capacity).

Maybe throw some additional ram and a bigger SSD in.

I have a first gen i7 processor and its still perfectly fine.
posted by porpoise at 3:26 PM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

A media center PC is key to our life, if you don't already have one then getting one going is really nice. A friend has one that pulls TV guide info and (via a TV card) uses the digital over the air signal to basically become a TIVO for over the air content. Antiques Roadshow for DAYS y'all.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:15 PM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

My old computers get Linux Mint installed and then act as media servers. Not "fun" exactly, but fast, and you get to play around with Linux and maybe learn a thing or two about Linux like I haven't.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:23 PM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

I installed Amahi on an old small form PC and used it as a media server, home server, DNS, etc. It was handy and useful and scratched that tinkering itch.
posted by notyou at 8:49 PM on November 28, 2018

If you have the desk space, keep it around for multiplayer LAN games with friends. Or hook up some controllers and make it a Steam Machine (install the linux-based SteamOS or just let Steam startup with Windows and boot into big picture mode). As mentioned previously, emulators are great and they keep getting better. Mednafen emulates every console up until the first playstation, and it does so beautifully. There are really nice front-ends too, like EmulationStation, although I haven't tried setting it up with Mednafen specifically.
posted by mammal at 11:59 PM on November 28, 2018

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