If the worse comes to the worse, I'm perfectly happy to just amuse myself dismantling them - kind of in the Raspberry Pi spirit of learning how stuff works from the bottom up.
This can become a path of no return.
When electronic stuff are old, if you dismantle, and try to put them back, something might break, some contact might no longer work. and so try not to unless you are willing to amuse by the components level
It would be interesting however to actually use the hardware. One idea I've got is to set up a server - it would mean I could host my own email, as well as having files backed up and available on the move. Has anyone done this? What are the specs, how difficult was it to set up/use, what OS are you running?
This is usually a good choice, instead of let it collect dirt, just let it be useful.
I do not use old computer for hosting email server or web server.. because I have not yer learn how
But it is quite a nice experience to let old computer works as a file server, essentially you make use of the hardware, run a simple OS, and let the box sit in a corner, make it headless, so no need to use monitor, keyboard, mouse. just a box with ethernet cable and power cord, when you want to running, press the power button, and it will autologin and serve files on your home network. All you are going to get , are
1. learn how to set up home file server
2. use the old hard disk inside the computer as a place for file sharing or back up some important files (yet another copy)
3. if you have USB port working, you can plug in the USB drive, and mount it, then make the USB drive accessible to the home network also.
Of course it is very convenience to move USB drive and plug into any laptop/dekstop and had very fast file transfer rate between computer and USB drive. When you use USB on old box, the transfer rate can be slow because of network overhead.. however it is able to share file.. so that multiple computers, or TV with USB player, or Android /tablet can access the old box all at the same time..
whatever you have,
what i had:
an old celeron with integrated graphic and 100M Network card, very slow on winXP, run faster on Linux, now this is the box for file sharing
another old compaq presario, nearly 10--year old, still use for daily as second computer.. at the same time, file serve too.
How difficult to set up in Linux?
if no linux background, take months and ran into roadblock all the time
if with some reasonable linux background, able to use terminal without worry that computer will smoke and not worried about try, retry, reinstall, format, etc, finallt able to follow the good tutorial and do it step by step, then it might take 30-60 minutes to set up a working Linux OS and add another 10-30 minutes to set up samba , for simple file sharing, so that Windows/Mac/Linux/Android /tablet, can all share the files..and directories.
The main advantage really is "learn how to do it" and have the skill which can be useful at time.
Especially so when you can buy a box, plug and play..without knowing ANYTHING on OS, just need to follow instructions on the box.
Also, if you buy a wireless router with USB port that has file sharing capability, it is almost plug-2 minute setup-and play...and it cost extremely little to manage the router!! and it cost very little power for 24/7 use, comparing with an old box running Linux !. use lots of power, must know Linux OS and samba.