Old computers can sometimes be brought back to life again to work as they did when new. That depends a lot on whether those system CDs are still available that came with the computer. To reinstall the operating system, you also need the unique Windows proof of ownership code which came with the system. Then you need the so-called device drivers, such as for the network or wireless "card". Personal files need to be backed up before reinstallation. (Microsoft's SyncToy automatically keeps such files on an external drive or flash drive).
Go here and search for "synctoy".
In the last months two old systems could not be returned to use because device drivers could no longer be found, nor even downloaded from internet, (even though all Dell drivers were still available for download). When you get a new computer or peripheral, it is good to keep all the documentation and CDs in a box and place restore disks in your safe deposit box.
Of course, by the time systems get ten years old, they no longer can do many of the things we want to do. Especially, it takes a newer system to support an internet browser, mainly because webpages put more of a burden on the system due to format and a language called Java, employed to make them more interactive, for example. What happens is that old systems may run too slow to be useful. The Dell towers from five or six years ago are still capable, but may need memory (cheap).
Each successive new version of Windows bas demanded more of a computer, though it is rumored that the new Windows 7 will reverse that trend. Recently, also, XP has been trimmed down to run better in the new small "netbooks".
Older computers also are more difficult to set up to return to network use. The older software was not as good. It was difficult to set up for Internet, whereas now that same setup is entirely automatic. Also, new software and peripherals may not be compatible with the older hardware.
If there is anything at all physically wrong with the old equipment, the problems are compounded. It is often not worth the expense and time to put the old computer back in working condition, even if you are a do-it-yourselfer, though that makes it an interesting challenge and sometimes produces results. There is an efficient internet browser software in development designed to work better on older computers. It is called "Cloud". Here's hoping.
Additionally, though, the prices are really coming down for new equipment. New netbooks can be bought for $350 or less. Of course they have small screens, but your old big display can usually be plugged right into them. The screen compatibility has not changed, and now you have a three pound computer you can move all around. The keyboards run from small to 92% normal.
The little computer also comes with wireless. There is not so much a need to upgrade software as in the past, since more and more is free on internet Add a wireless router and you can also get additionally an internet clock radio which will receive thousands of radio stations, even podcasts, your music library, and maybe even FM, too. .
The old tower, with all its unsightly wires, can then be discarded, or, if still working, hidden away as a "server" for music and podcasts.
The media center and server are newer concepts. With iTunes, it takes one click now convert a CD to mp3 which can be accessed easily from an internet radio, where you can quickly locate and play it. I use Apple's iTunes to move a CD to a server, and then a few clicks on Windows Media Center to make it available wirelessly. It is really not practical to convert your old LPs to computer, though there is hardware to do so.
For those who prefer books to electronic media, Amazon now has a lightweight device the size of pocket book, which reads like a book, holds many books, downloads a new book in seconds, and enlarges the type as desired. Lightweight, it carries along what you are reading as you travel and adds magazines as they are published. The screen looks like a paper page in a book, and you do need to read it as a book. Anybody got one to report on?
This device downloads a book anywhere for about half the cost of a paper book without paying for wireless, and keeps your larger library of books elsewhere and easy accessible. You get to read first a chapter of a new book free. Bestsellers are $10. EMail is available. Newspaper subscriptions. Audible books, too. The unique white screen looks like a paper book page. Just introduced, the Kindle2 will also read text documents out loud to you.
Not for everybody, the Kindle above is especially nice for those with weak vision and/or limited mobility and/or who travel a lot, also for those not comfortable with a full computer.
For the rest of us, there is another wonderful new and free book reading program from Google:
Just released, this one works on your old computer. It has a fairly exhaustive selection of books, too: 1.5 million. Just enter the URL above into your browser, type the title of the book or author in the top space, and push Enter/Return. There is the book, or books, if available in the public domain, or some of it, even if not. You can easily magnify text, or by clicking somewhere in the text, bring up the original photocopied page.
Some other EBook mostly free access resources to Search for...:
Remember, if you do need a new computer, the cheapest new Dell will be all you will need nowadays, or you can get a netbook, radio, and a Kindle2 book reader for the price of a single more expensive tower.