• Hack Pack

last modified April 18, 2018 by strypey

This is the minimum set of tools I'd suggest gathering for anyone who wants to help people keep their old PCs going, or get broken down ones back into usable condition, using only free code software. 

Essential Hardware

  • Phillips-head Screwdriver: for getting into the case. Ideally one of those ubergeek ones with a few different sized phillips and flat heads
  • Boot Disk: An optical disk (CD-ROM or DVD-ROM) with a bootable version of a free code operating system like GNU/ Linux burned onto it.
  • Boot USB : For "netbook" PCs with no CD-ROM drive, or if the CD-ROM drive isn't working, you can set up a USB drive that automatically boots into an operating system, and install from there. This method doesn't yet work smoothly with all distros, and can create issues, so as of 2017, using an optical disk is still the easiest and most reliable method.
  • Boot Floppy: For really old machines, with older BIOS that can't boot from USB, you can create a floppy with a Boot Loader (eg PLOP). A box this old probably isn't powerful enough for general purpose computing, but could be set up with a minimal OS to do one set of things, for example sitting next to a stereo as a music player. An old laptop could be used as a command line only system for administrating other PCs over a network using SSH.

Essential Software

  •  GParted Live CD/ USB - A version of GParted configured to boot off a CD-ROM or USB drive. GParted is a graphical interface for the free code partitioning software GNU Parted.
  • PLOP Boot Manger - can be used for booting from the Master Boot Record of a hard disk, from a CD-ROM, or even a floppy disk. (If you're desperate, you can write PLOP to a floppy with Windows by using RawWrite
  • Other Useful Software

  • UNetBootin - cross-platform utility you can use to copy the .ISO of a GNU/Linux installer  to a USB stick. Works with a lot of distros/ versions, but not all, and sometimes creates weird issues (see Boot USB )
  • Geexbox (latest version 3.1) - stripped-down live-CD/USB distro of GNU/ Linux which aims to turn any PC into a dedicated media player. The last version produced adopted XBMC (now renamed Kodi) as its user interface.
  • Boot-Repair - bootable tool for repairing GRUB or solving other boot issues which can turn up after dual-booting
  • Data Shredding software - Knoppix LiveCD comes with Wipe built in
  • Disk imaging
  • VirtualBox - a user-friendly free code Virtualisation package which simulates a computer running inside your computer, for testing new OS and other software
  • Benchmarking - tools for testing hardware.