If you’ve got desktop PCs and laptops in several rooms around the house, your music, photos and video could probably benefit from better organisation. Even if you know what machine a particular file is stored on, accessing it from another PC will involve copying it over or setting up filesharing options.

A simpler approach is to store all your media in a central repository, which is available to any system on your home network. Any one of your machines can be used for this purpose, but you may prefer to set up a dedicated home media server. This is unlikely to be accidentally switched off, and with only one use it won’t be slowed down by other tasks or junk files and programs that accumulate over time.

Dedicated media servers are available from around £100, rising to £1,000-plus. But if your budget is tight, and you have an old PC that’s doing nothing but gathering dust, we also explain how you can put it to good use by creating your own media server. This method will cost you only your time - although an old PC will probably be less energy-efficient than today’s hardware. If you’re going to be running a media server all day, every day, the hit on your energy bill could soon mount up.

Digital Home Advisor

We’ve used a Windows XP machine, although you could use an even older PC - provided that it’s powerful enough. If you’ve got a redundant Vista or Windows 7 machine, even better.

Our example uses a Windows-only network. If all PCs are running Windows 7, HomeGroup will automatically let you share files between them.

Step 1. Your old PC is probably full of unused data and applications, which consume valuable disk space and could be slowing performance. Uninstall any programs you don’t need and delete unwanted data. If it’s still running slow, consider reinstalling Windows as a last resort.

DIY media server 1

Step 2. Also consider giving the machine a physical spring clean. If it’s been gathering dust for a year or two, it’s probably rather grubby. A build-up of dirt can prevent proper ventilation and cause the PC to overheat. Use a handheld vacuum cleaner on the grilles, and a can of compressed air on the internal fan.

DIY media server 2

>> Continues