How to turn an old laptop into a new family PC

Dean Evans Technology Writer Twitter

A good laptop can last you several years, but sooner or later its performance is likely to dip. Hard disk drives and SSDs become less effective over time, old software can clog up your system, files become fragmented, hidden malware can eat into resources.

Put it this way, if you have time to make a cup of tea (and drink it) before Windows boots up, it might be time for a change.

Upgrading your computer is the obvious course of action, especially if you want to take advantage of improved processing power to display 4K video and VR, run Windows 10 smoothly, and just get more done.

Today’s laptops are faster

Compared to a five year-old PC, today’s laptops are faster, lighter and longer-lasting. You get significantly more for your money too, whether you need a cheap notebook like the Lenovo Miix 310 or a high performance 2 in 1 like the Dell XPS 13.

Whatever replacement you choose, you’re still left with an old and sluggish computer you’re no longer going to use. So what can you do with it? You could give it away, sell it, dump it (remember to take the hard drive out first), recycle it, maybe convert it into a networked storage device using software like FreeNAS.

Dell XPS 13 2 in 1
Use your old laptop as a family PC, so you can enjoy a new one like the Dell XPS 13 2 in 1.

Or you could repurpose it as a family PC. After all, you don’t want the kids using your new 2 in 1 to play Minecraft, do you?

Setting up new user accounts

The good news is that it’s easy to convert an old laptop into a new family computer. In fact, there are several ways to do it. The simplest is to set up new user accounts for each family member, while retaining overall administrator access.

In Windows 10, you can do this via the ‘Family & other people’ menu. Each family member gets their own login and desktop (so no arguments about deleted data), while parents can police computer usage by restricting websites, specifying time limits and allowing approved apps and games.

In Windows 8, this functionality went under the name ‘Family Safety’, while in Windows 7 similar options can be found in ‘Parental Controls’.

Linux can run thousands of applications, from Skype and Chrome to Minecraft.

But who’s to say that you need to stick with Windows? On an older system, it’s often wise to switch to a faster-booting, more secure operating system.

Linux is a great option for a family PC and popular distros such as Linux Mint, elementary OS and Ubuntu are ideal for Windows veterans as they provide a safe and familiar point-and-click environment.

You can also run Minecraft on Linux, which might be all your children really care about.

Build yourself a Chromebook

If all you want is a computer for web browsing and running cloud-based apps (like Google Docs), then you could opt to transform your old laptop into a family Chromebook. While Google doesn’t provide a build of the OS used in machines like the Acer Chromebook 11, open-source versions such as the Chromium OS and CloudReady provide a similar, albeit rough-around-the-edges experience.

Just because a laptop is three, four or five years old, it can still prove useful. My old Dell Inspiron 15R from 2011 packs a 2nd generation Intel Core i5-2410M chip, 500GB of storage and used to run Windows 7 at the speed of treacle. Now, it’s a zippy family PC running Ubuntu (16.04 LTS), LibreOffice, Chrome, Skype, GIMP and yes, it’s ready for Minecraft.

Because you can’t have a family PC without Minecraft.

Main image copyright: Shutterstock/Jack Frog

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