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How to Refurbish a Computer for Someone

Illustration: Gordon McAlpin

So you’ve finally bit the bullet and got a new machine, but your old one still works — it just doesn’t fit your lifestyle anymore. There ought to be someone you know that doesn’t have a computer, be it a family member, close friend or even one of your kids. Here are some steps to refurbish a computer and recondition your old machine and get it ready for someone new to take over.

1. Clean it Out
Before you mess with the software, open up the machine and get all the dust out. One of the Spring Cleaning tips in our recent article explains the best approach for cleaning out the inside of your machine. Who wants to give a dust-filled box as a gift?

2. Back Up Important Data
The hard drive of your old machine might have irreplacable files on it that you haven’t yet transfered over to your new machine. Back that stuff up! Use a free cloud service like DropBox and copy everything important over.

3. Install Windows XP
For old machines, the best possible choice is Windows XP. You may have to rummage through your old files for the Windows XP CD-ROM that came with your computer. The registration code is probably still on the side of your machine: look for the sticker with the Windows logo on it.

When you do go to install Windows, start up the machine with the disc in the drive, then boot from that disc. Usually, F12 will bring up the Boot Menu when your computer starts up; then, you’ll be able to pick CD/DVD and go from there.

Make sure to do a format and full installation of Windows. When it’s done, connect to the Internet and install and run Microsoft Update right away. You’ll want to spend some time upgrading to the latest Windows XP Service Pack before giving your machine away, as earlier versions of Windows XP have serious security holes in them.

Also, be sure Microsoft Update automatically downloads and installs updates.

4. Install a Free Virus Scanner
For Windows XP, a good choice for a free virus and spyware scanner is Microsoft Security Essentials. It doesn’t come with Windows, but you can download it from Microsoft’s website after you’re up and running. Microsoft Security Essentials will actively monitor the machine for any threats. Set up a weekly scan on your friend or family member’s behalf, and make it for the middle of the night so you don’t disturb their work.

5. Install Driver Reviver
Manufacturers release new drivers for even old hardware, as security holes can develop. Not to mention there are a lot of people worldwide that still use older machines. Our product, Driver Reviver, will ensure your computer recipient will always have their drivers up to date without much action on their part. Since your computer newbie friend or family member probably doesn’t know much about drivers, it’s good to make the process a little more automatic.

6. Install a Good Web Browser
Windows XP comes with Internet Explorer 6, which, frankly, is incompatible with the modern Internet as we know it. Instead of updating to IE 9, consider an alternative browser like Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome. Those browsers use less memory and fewer resources than Internet Explorer. With Chrome, you get the added benefit of not having to install Flash, as it’s included.

7. Check Their Home Network
If possible, deliver and set up the hardware yourself, and check their home network. Be sure they’re not broadcasting unprotected Wi-Fi. With your friend or family member’s permission, set up Wi-Fi security and a password. The last thing you want is someone invading the new computer through the network or stealing Internet.

8. Got Peripherals?
If you’ve got an old printer in a closet, a webcam you’re not using, a scanner, or an old non-LCD monitor, consider tossing it over to them instead of taking up space in your closet. If you don’t have the driver disc anymore, Driver Reviver ought to find it for you, or look on the manufacturer’s website.

After you’ve got the machine set up, drop by occasionally to check up on it (with their permission, of course) See if any viruses or spyware snuck through, or if they’ve got any apps installed that shouldn’t be there. You might even consider visiting a big electronics store or NewEgg and getting a few upgrades, like a nicer screen. Keep in mind that a better video card would likely require a more powerful power supply, so that particular upgrade probably isn’t worth it.

Following all these tips will ensure that your old PC has a second life in the hands of someone who should really appreciate it!

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