It used to be we needed to upgrade our office computers every three to five years.

It was a major undertaking every time. Now, you can upgrade your hardware in 20 minutes at no cost. How? Take your old hardware and load one of these options on it.

1. Ubuntu, Mint or a similar Linux system

These are free downloads and can be installed on any Windows machine that can run Windows Vista (released nine years ago) or newer. Ubuntu and Mint look like Windows but they’re lighter, so old machines run faster.

2. Neverware’s CloudReady

If you don’t want to learn Linux, CloudReady may be the answer. CloudReady, which is compatible with computers running Windows Vista (and potentially XP), turns your computer into a near-Chromebook by running open-source Chromium software. Your former programs will no longer run, but you can do tasks that only require a browser, such as:

  • run Microsoft Office programs like Word and Excel;
  • check email, calendar, tasks;
  • call landlines (e.g., via Google phone or Skype);
  • access your files;
  • use your back office admin software;
  • access most modern client databases;
  • use industry-specific services and software.

You don’t need state-of-the-art computer systems to run your business. For individual use, CloudReady is free.

3. Jide’s Remix OS

This may be the coolest revolution for aging hardware. It turns your old computer into a super-powerful Android device, running with a keyboard and mouse instead of a touchscreen. The mouse cursor replaces your finger on the screen. Remix won’t work for apps requiring swiping (e.g., games), but it works well for documents, email and browsing.

Since Android was designed to run on smartphones, which use low power, the system flies on the oldest computer I could find (about seven years old). Remix, which is a free download, combines the browser-like advantages of the CloudReady system with the ability to download and use Android apps, like Microsoft Word, when offline. If you’re familiar with iOS and Android phones, the software on this system is easy to use. Like a smartphone, the screen shows rows of icons.

How to install

All these solutions require you to download the new operating system onto a USB stick. Then, restart your computer and watch the screen—remember which key the screen indicates for startup options (usually F2 or F8).

Then, restart again while hitting the correct key, taking you to startup options where you can change the priority from the hard drive to the USB drive. Restart the system a third time and you’ll get the option for Linux, CloudReady or Remix. You can test drive any OS by choosing “run,” which means the computer will start up using the USB stick, although this will take longer than usual because any USB stick is slower than your hard drive. If you like how the OS runs, restart again and choose “install.”

Hardware solutions

If your old hardware is broken, consider low-cost options.

Chromebook/Chromebox ($200 and up)

Assuming you operate mostly in the cloud, a new Chrome device, plugged into an external monitor and keyboard, can be set up in 10 minutes. Note: some new Chrome devices can now run Android apps, so be aware of what type you’re purchasing. I picked one up for $220.

Remix Mini PC ($90 or less)

This inexpensive device plugs into your monitor and keyboard, creating a full system. It’s sleek and fast, and you can expand its storage to 128 GB by adding a micro SD card. That will store centuries of Office docs, spreadsheets and PDFs. (My 27 years of work fits on a single DVD.) Since $90 is half the minimum cost of my (former) tech support guy, I have one ready to go. When something stops working, it will be disposed of ethically and replaced with a Remix Mini.