(+) Use an Old Computer as a Backup Server

The following is a Plus Edition article, written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

Back in the old days of home computers, say twenty years ago, most of us had one free-standing computer in the house, and the whole family shared it. Those days are now long gone. Many families, perhaps most, now have multiple computers. As computers have become more affordable, portable, and necessary, it’s now common to find multiple computers scattered throughout a home. There is often one desktop or laptop or tablet computer per family member. In fact, most of our cell phones are also computers these days. With today’s technology, the in-home computers are easily connected together by a network, sharing one Internet connection.

If you already have a broadband connection with a router, you probably already have a network installed whether you know it or not. If you have wi-fi installed at home, you definitely have a network.

While many people may not realize it, once the network is installed, it is easy to also share printers, disk drives, and more. It’s even easy to share the resources among different operating systems. For instance, in my home we have Windows, Macintosh, Chromebook, Linux, iPad, Android and “smartphone” computers all connected together via a mix of wired and wi-fi wireless connections. (Yes, we do own too many computers!) All the computers share the same Internet connection, the same two printers, and the same file server for storage of backup files.


The printers and the Internet connection are items we already had. Sharing them was done at no extra expense. However, adding shared disk storage was a bit trickier. In our case, we added storage at very little cost. All the computers, even the handheld devices, can access the eight-terabyte disk drive that I bought on sale recently. That’s a lot of storage for a six-ounce handheld computer!

OK, that last statement might be considered to be technically incorrect. The eight-terabyte hard drive is not directly connected to any of the handheld devices. Yet the tablet computers and smartphones all can access the eight terabytes of storage space on that hard drive, as can the Chromebook, the Macintosh desktop, the Macintosh laptop, the Windows systems, the iPad, and even cell phones. If I purchase another hard drive, that storage space also can be added to the mix. The maximum amount of storage space I can add is limited only by the money in my checkbook and, luckily, the cost of hard drives continues to drop every year.

I can even access all that storage when I am traveling in another part of the country or overseas. However, that’s a story for a different day.

Technology changes quickly. Sooner or later, you will replace one of the computers in your home with a faster or lighter model, one with more disk drive capacity, one with greater capabilities. What will you do with the old computer? Will you give it away? Or perhaps simply put it in a closet where you will forget about it and let it gather dust?

I have a better idea: convert it into a server.

Let that one machine serve all the other computing devices in the household, providing on-site backup for each device’s files, supplementing functionality that other devices may lack, and allowing everyone in the family to share the same printer(s), scanner(s), hard drives, CD or DVD drive(s), and more. You can even place your re-purposed “server” in a closet, the garage, or some other out-of-the-way place although be careful about temperature control and air circulation.

The following works with old Windows, Macintosh, or Linux computers. It will also work with desktop or laptop computers.

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