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Other fun things to do with computers

Back in 'the day', my family had an old XT computer, what they called an 'IBM clone' back then or what we would call a PC now. With a black and white screen and limited power, it was eventually replaced by something more colourful, and we wondered what to do with it. As far as my recollection goes we hung onto it for many years, then when it came time to get rid of it I convinced Dad to allow me to put it in the Trade & Exchange - effectively the print version of what trademe is now.

At any rate, some young guy eventually bought the old thing for $10, came and picked it up, and we weren't any the wiser. A week or so later I got a phone call from him thanking us, they'd used it in a music video where it was blown up and the explosion filmed. Dad wasn't pleased but I was amused. Now, I don't recommend using explosives on your computer (shards of motherboard are really hard to pick out of your teeth) but certainly there are some colourful and interesting things you can do with computers which sit outside the norm.

One thing many do is called 'overclocking', where you increase the speed of your CPU (central processing unit) to substantially above factory-issued levels. This's a tricky practice, and often involves a bit of elbow-grease and/or thermal grease, as most of the challenge is in terms of dissipating the additional heat generated. A lot of your success comes down to the individual chip. I still have an old Core2 computer which I overclocked from 3ghz to 3.9ghz without issue - a speed increase of about 30%. However most modern computers are so fast that this practice dying down somewhat, with the exception of competitions where they use dry ice or liquid nitrogen to cool the CPUs. Do not do this on a laptop.

On the recycling/re-use front, there're many instances of people using circuitry, motherboards, RAM and cards to create artwork, sculptures and the like. You need to spray-seal them with something afterwards, as otherwise they will rust and also chemicals will eventually leach out into the surrounding area. But done right you end up with a vaguely steampunk/techno-fetishistic look. You don't want to do this anywhere where people might rub up against the sculpture, as motherboards and the like are notoriously spiky in places. Which makes me wonder why one guy decided to line his garden shed with them...

Lastly, you can, with some guidance (see 'spiky bits' comment from earlier), give defunct computers to kids for them to pull apart and rebuild. In doing so they'll develop the skills and confidence necessary to build and repair their own computers once they're old enough to do so. Most of the adult males my age are still unconfident in pulling apart a computer (and most of the time, probably should be). So maybe that recommendation isn't only for kids. Always use a static strap, and never have it plugged in while you're working on it. Explosions are only for music videos.

- Matt Bentley, computer expert at Bentley Home PC Support.
Email info@homepcsupport.co.nz or phone 0211348576.

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