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Other fun things to do with computers

Back in 'the day', my family had an old XT computer. This is what they called an 'IBM clone' back then and 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, eventually some young guy bought the old thing for $10, they 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 there are certainly some colourful and interesting things you can do with them which sit outside the norm.

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

On the recycling/re-use front, there are many instances of people using circuitry, motherboards, RAM and cards to create artwork, sculptures and the like. You need to 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 can end up with something looking vaguely 'steampunk'. It's not a good idea 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 above), 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 when they're old enough to do so. Most adults my age are not confident with pulling apart a computer (and most of the time, probably shouldn't be). So perhaps that recommendation isn't just for kids? Always use a static strap, and never have it plugged in while you're working on it. Explosions, after all, are only good for music videos.

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

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