Ranging from simple retro gaming to complex NAS and security system builds, these projects suit hardware from old and slow, to newer and faster.
We even take a look at what parts are worth stripping from an old PC for DIY use.
For data security, either destroy HDDs physically, or use secure erase software, such as DBAN.
1. Network-attached storage
Networked attached storage is a great way to centrally access important files, but there is also a myriad of other uses. Even better, free software available online can turn an old computer into a surprisingly powerful system.
While an actual NAS is great, even a slow PC can have significantly more processing power.
Basics such as file serving, backups and media streaming are all covered, but you can also handle other tasks, such as personal cloud creation, mobile backups, video transcoding, print and web serving, torrenting and VPNs.
Most of the NAS options run best with a 64-bit CPU (Intel or AMD) and at least 2GB of RAM. Basic home use can get away with less, but media serving or transcode can be CPU intensive.
A gigabit ethernet port is ideal for fast transfers, but a PCIe card can add extra ports. A laptop makes a good basic NAS, but a desktop PC has room for extras, like HDDs.
There are a range of options to turn a PC into a NAS that vary from software aimed at beginners, to more in-depth and complex solutions.
At the basic level, the software is essentially a custom operating system, often based on Linux.
Getting started is usually as simple as downloading the program, putting it on a flash drive, and then running the install. Further setup depends on the software, but all have excellent guides, documentation and community support.
We have explored three excellent options with different advantages and disadvantages. While they all support basic NAS functionality from the get go, more advanced features are available as plugins.
Designed for home or small office use, Amahi is a simplified option that makes installation and setup super easy.
It’s aimed at those wanting to backup computers, share files, serve media, run a VPN and have cloud connectivity.
Amahi also has a huge range of one-click install apps (both free and paid) that can quickly add extra functionality. It also has an iOS app available.
Widely used, frequently updated and open-source, FreeNAS is one of the most comprehensive options available.
It needs relatively powerful hardware, though, and 8GB+ of RAM, and can be overkill for basic home use.
FreeNAS uses the more advanced ZFS file system, supports encryption and has a range of enterprise level features. The FreeNAS web interface is great and there are apps available for extra functionality.
Based on CentOS (Linux), Rockstor is free and open source. It uses the data-integrity-focused BTRFS file system and is focused on creating a simplified but reliable NAS for home or business use.
Rockstor uses a very clean browser-based interface and can operate as a Cloud storage platform. It has easy-to-add plugins (called Rock-ons) that can add functionality, such as torrent downloading, Plex and openVPN.