Most of us have an old desktop laying around that we have yet been able to find a good use for. Sure we may have thought about a few ideas such as harvesting it for parts or even just simple file sharing. But we then contemplate where we would set it up, having to find some extra peripherals, or think that you would be limited by the low specs of the system.
One such use you can re-purpose that old computer for is a private server. Which you can use either just for media and file share over your own network...or if your up to it setting it up so that you can stream all your media via a web browser or some other program from anywhere with Internet access.
If you decide you want to stream your media from anywhere with Internet access you will have to decide in which way you would like to do that. I have used both windows server 2008 and wowza found here, for this purpose with relative success. Before you do so you may want to take a look at this before choosing how you will stream your media.
The initial set-up is very simple. You simply need to pick an OS you would like to use. If your a student you can acquire a free copy of windows server 2008 at dreamspark.com its a website that provides students with free copies of Microsoft software.
As far as the initial set up you will need to have peripherals while you install the operating system you choose to use, whether it be a server OS or not. However after installing the OS you can set up the PC/server so that you can access it remotely. This way you could put the server any where you like with no peripherals. The computer does of course need to be connected to the Internet.
If your using windows the tool you will be using to access your desktop remotely will be found either at the top of start>programs list or found in start>programs>accessories and is called remote desktop connection. Once you find the program all you have to do is enter the external IP address for your PC/server and the password to it and your set.
You will need to have port 3389 open for remote desktop connection to work , a tool that can help you a lot in this process (and further down the road) is pfp port checker found here.
If your worried about performance don't...these tasks wont require too much processing power and as far as ram if you don't have any extra laying around you can pick up some more for fairly cheap. I would recommend 2 gigs ram but one would most likely be fine as well.
Here are two tutorials on re-using old pc's...the dvr project may cost a bit of money as you will need a capture card and software such as sage.