I’m a pretty big fan of recycling, not just cardboard and plastics and what-not, but also of technology. You see, with society constantly driving forwards we collect and abandon a lot of things that are still perfectly good. In this instance I’m thinking of PCs. New games, new operating systems and new applications place ever growing demands on our machines, forcing us to upgrade every few years so that the system remains usable. Actually, you need very little to do the most common tasks: surfing the internet and producing office documents. Even using it to do more complex things like balancing your finances, editing pictures and ripping CDs doesn’t require cutting edge machines if you have some patience. This means that there are plenty of older machines roaming around. So what are people doing with them? Well, some people sell them as low cost machines, some donate them to schools and charities. There are other things you could do with them though, and that’s what I’m interested in.
I know, for example, it’s possible to get a version of Linux that will let you convert something as lowly as a 486 into a router or a hardware firewall for your home network. I know too that some people convert them into alternative devices like Digital Video Recorders (DVR), though these need additional hardware and software and higher end machines. Theoretically you could grab a few machines and link them together to make your own cluster, which would probably be as fast as a more modern machine.
Personally, I’m thinking of converting my old AMD K6-2 400 into a Freeview DVR, assuming it’s possible. I don’t have a digital decoder for the free digital channels in the UK, so that would solve the problem, and I like the idea of being able to pause and rewind live TV and record my favourite programmes a little easier. If I can get it working for this machine, I may invest in a small form factor box and try and make a whole media centre, a machine that’ll play almost any media format, and make it accessible to the rest of my machines.
Incidentally, if anyone else knows of interesting projects or ideas to make use of older machines, I’d certainly like to know.