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Could I just keep using XP for storing pictures and playing games?

Question: Leo, I have an old desktop using XP. If I disconnect it from the internet, could I just use it for games and storing pictures? Thanks.

A lot of people are wanting to extend the life of their Windows XP machines. What you’re suggesting is not unreasonable, but I have questions about whether or not it’s going to be useful.

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A disconnected life is … safe

A machine that’s not connected to a network and never makes direct or indirect contact with another computer is actually quite safe. There’s no way that malware can make its way on to that machine.

Unfortunately, in my way of thinking anyway, that machine’s not particularly useful either. It’s limited to what’s on the machine; no more and no less.

It’s fine for playing games, as long as you never want to put a new game on it, as long as you never expect to do any online gaming, and as long as the games themselves never expect to connect to the internet. It will be a fine, dedicated gaming machine.

Storing pictures? Sure, as long as you never add any more pictures to it. It’s a fine machine for viewing the pictures that are already stored on it. The problem, of course, is that putting more pictures on to the machine means that, by definition, it will come in to indirect contact with other computers.

Cutting the CordA disconnected life is … unlikely

Do you download your pictures from your phone on to the machine? Well, you can get some malware that way. Do you copy the pictures onto a USB drive and then transfer them on to that machine? USB drives are definitely one way that malware has been known to spread. And if you connect the computer up to a network, even just a local network, you’ve got all the same vulnerabilities as the other computers that are connected to your network.

Basically, any approach that’s going to make that machine useful, by adding more pictures, for example, potentially violates the very security that you’re trying to achieve by making it an unconnected, dedicated device.

It will probably work. But it’s possible that if you want to make the machine useful, then you will still end up being at risk.

To be useful, realize risks remain

My recommendation: just don’t fool yourself into thinking that it’s safe. Either keep doing all of the things you know you should be doing already to keep your computer safe, connected or not, single function or not, or change the operating system. Update to something that’s supported; be it Windows or Linux.

My biggest concern here is the false sense of security…and that once you find out just how limited a disconnected machine really is, the steps you might take next will render it somehow vulnerable.

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20 comments on “Could I just keep using XP for storing pictures and playing games?”

  1. >The problem, of course, is that putting more pictures on to the machine
    >means that, by definition, it will come in to indirect contact with
    >other computers.

    Sorry Leo, but this is incorrect. I pull the memory out of my DSLR and plug it into the computer to load pictures onto my computer. I have an older phone and I just pull the memory card out of it and plug it into the computer to load pictures. While my computer IS hooked up to the internet, it does not have to be to load these pictures.

    • Ronny. You phone is, in actuality, a computer. Though it’s pretty unlikely that your memory card would have a virus, you could put it into a computer that does have one. And then, afterwards, put it into the XP machine.

      I think the point is that of course you can do that. Anyone can keep running an XP computer if they want to. Just don’t have a false sense of security that it is perfectly 100% safe.

      • What is really being spoken of is user habits. Know thy memory card, don’t open attachments in email and don’t respond to any uninitiated popups and use the latest Chrome or Firefox browser (definitely not IE8) with Web of Trust if needed. There, as a user, you have tamed the tempest in the teapot and will continue to not get any viruses regardless of the state of MS updates. If one gets by your hardware firewall AND your good computing habits and BS radar AND your anti-virus program, then and only then might an update patch help stop it. Personally I’m never ever relying on the 4th line of defense to stop anything. 100% safe? No way, just 99.99% and I’ll take those odds…on guard!

    • Your camera’s memory card can (and probably does) come into contact with other computers. There are viruses that are known to propagate via memory cards. Thus the scenario you describe could, indeed, transmit a virus from another computer to your XP computer. It’s not common, but it is quite possible.

  2. My very first computer virus back on Windows 98 was from a disc that a friend gave me. I wasn’t on the Internet yet but he was so he downloaded a media player for me to try out. Unbeknownst to him, it had the Chernobyl virus on it.

    I learned early on that even a “disconnected” computer isn’t really disconnected from threats.

  3. Why not work the other way?

    Copy the photos over to a new/er PC, leaving the XP as a stand-by archive only.

    Alternatively take the HDD out of that XP; and connect the HDD to a newer PC as either an internal or external second disk; but also copy the photos on to the new/er PC’s main Disk as well.

    Another variant is to take the HDD out of the XP PC, scrapping the remains of that PC. Copy the photos on to the new/er PC HDD; and keep the XP HDD off-line as a back-up.

  4. this is all crap what you say. Two years ago i bought a laptop win7 64bit and i had problem to play my fav game that i always play on XP so i sold it. This year i bought a desktop with high performance win7 64 bit from dell and the game is still freezing, so i say this is all crap with the new windows 7 or 8. And i can play the newest games on XP. I wonder how much they pay you for saying this crap!!!!!!

  5. I have two old XP computers:- a lap-top and a desktop. My new computer runs Win7 [spit], but that will not run any of my scanners, nor some of my add-on hard drives (despite the USB connection), nor quite a few of my old programs. So I still use them, for scanning and OCR. And, No, they are not connected to any network; I transfer the stuff on memory stick. Yes, I know – there is a risk of contamination; but I reckon my software keeps my new machine clean, so the risk is minimal. PITA, sure. But I can’t afford a new scanner ! So much for “backwards compatible.” Pah !

    • Your scanner solution is VueScan by Hamrick Software. One of the things that made me angry when we replaced a WinXP desktop with a Win7 machine was that there were no drivers for our little USB-powered Canon scanner. VueScan was the solution I found – and it’s been a great one. Not free, but less expensive than a scanner or a computer. ….. just a satisfied customer……

  6. Here some more ideas for an older PC with Win XP: 1. Replace Win XP with Linux. 2. Replace Win XP with a newer Windows OS. 3. Create a dual boot PC with method 1 or 2. I have a 2002 computer with Win XP. This desktop PC is just sitting around unused having been replaced with a Win 7 desktop, a Win 7 laptop and a Win8.1 laptop. I was considering replacing the older desktop’s Win XP OS with Linux as a cost effective way to update the OS, and also as a way to learn one of the Linux operating systems. I don’t know the cost of updating Win XP with Win 7 or if your older PC can handle a Win 7 OS using the basic requirements for Win 7. These would be some factors to consider if you want to update your Win XP OS. One of my jobs required me to use a dual boot with different Windows versions; it’s not all that difficult to set up. Again you would have to consider if an older PC has the spec’s to work with any newer OS you might consider.

  7. Like Robin Clay, I have some fully functional equipment that won’t work with the newer computers and OSs. I keep a machine running Win 98 for a scanner that the manufacturer wouldn’t update the drivers for XP. It does not have an Internet connection, but it does connect to my other computers via LAN.

    I have programs that do what I want which work with XP, but not Win 7, 8 or 8.1. Also, Win 8/8.1 won’t even recognize when I connect my USB printer, which still works with XP. When XP support ends, I’ll disconnect it from the Internet, but keep the LAN connection. [I’m still debating about moving some of my external backup drives there, too.]

    Yes, these are limited use computers. However, I view them the same as many other items – hammers, screw drivers, frying pans, pots, washer & dryer, microwave – you should get the idea. As such tools, they will only be accessed when needed. The rest of the time they don’t even have power connected.

    As Leo says, these won’t be perfectly safe. However, the risk is no greater for these old computers than for my primary one. All external contact is filtered through my Win 8.1 computer, which itself is not 100% safe.


    * a tech svc guy told me that viruses originate and end at the HDD level.
    ** another techie said no, leftover residue (damage) may still be on the machine itself (hardware)

    * a tech svc guy told me a virus cannot survive a full reformat, but a Non-Destructive Format (repair /reinstallation) actually saves file archives,
    and therefore saves damaged contents as well (Win XP)

    ** another techie said absolutely not true; Reinstalling Windows XP/2000/98 (destructive)formats the disk and reinstalls the entire operating system…which WILL delete everything on the hard disk. Once you proceed with these steps,
    you CANNOT recover any data that you did not back up.

    * a tech svc guy told me external/ flash drives are only dangerous becuase you can lose data quite suddenly, especially if they are cheaply made.

    ** another techie said no, the flash can contain transferable virues to any other machine.

    *** a third techie said viruses are only contained (and can be activated) through OPENING PROGRAMS, not data files.
    Never use/transfer programs (or settings for that matter) to another machine if you suspect the original machine of having a virus. If you do, kasperski, norton, etc.
    and nobody else can help you. What he said. So beware of photo software, network printers, etc. when transfering anything.

    The Point: After reading all the comments, I figure it like this; trial and error teaches you the fastest, but is also the most painful way to learn
    something. (HA!) Just becuase someone writes that something he did worked for hi, that don’t always mean it’s gonna work for you!

    Want to see this in action? Visit a few of the micrsft forums and the anti-virus help sites..boy is some of that stuff confuuussing..

    After using Windows pcs since win-95, and experiencing possibly every troubleshooting issue known to IT professionals, from mega-data loss to
    unbelievable security hacks, to compromised web pages, to numerous out-dated machine vulnerabilities, software nightmares, including every
    version of IE, to literally wading through days of encyclopedias of garbled info from online databases that didn’t apply to my situation, to paying ‘professionals’ outrageous fees to help with unexplained catastrophes, (and still be infected after they were through) to blatant major-service-provider infrastructure failures, like downed servers, obsolete network security protocols, etc etc, ad infinitum; ugh!

    I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I know very little about the architecture that makes things happen digitally…
    and therefore should trust in nothing man-made fully. (well electricity maybe, but thats not man-made, even though it feels like they are the real “Power” when you experience an outage.)

    It’s all about living in the digital age, and folks born in the 50’s should be commended for the fact that we’ve adapted this far…

    It doesn’t seem to matter anyway: todays’ security measures and precautions are tomorrow’s headlines for the latest security breaches; ie; Veteran’s Admin, BOA, Dept of Justice website (HA!) and the IRS.

    Fact: If it’s on a pc, ther are multiple copies somewhere, and maybe somewhere else.
    If it’s on-line, forget it. It’s forever. It’s archived, backed up, and stored on servers, possibly ouside the country… (google admits this in their data privacy pages.)

    Finally, as far as that old XP, (I have three, another (yep another techie) told me to scrap the machine after removing the drives with data you want to keep, (if it’s still accessible) and place the HD in an enclosure for viewing without being comnnected on another machine..then you can safely transfer or save the data you want to keep: for me and most folks that’s probably made up of treasured photos, financial records, home-based business data files, employment information, government records, original works of creativy (art, poetry,etc) and journals.

    Thanks for reading; this issue was a must-comment for me, as I’ve had no forum for expression while experiencing so much frustration over all these things over a twenty year period, and I hope I didn’t say anything that’s gonna get me cyber-attacked or shut down…freedom of speech can be risky online.

    And I also take some responsibility myself; careless web surfing, failure to back-up regularly, being ignorant of network, pc, and on-line security, (by turning it all over to someone or something else instead of diligently learning at every opportunity like I do now) and most of all, continuing to subscribe to, and read valuable info on sites like this one: There’s something usable each week for the common pc user, whether he’s a small business owner or a personal user, Leo’s site offers more
    comprehensive info than many other tech forums and community pc-help forums.

    Thanks Leo!

    • Viruses, as any programs, are only stored on drives. These include HDDs and flash devices (USB sticks, phones, cameras, photo frames etc.). So if the hardware has flash memory, the virus can reside there.
      Reinstalling Windows performs a destructive format of your computer, but remnants of the virus code could remain somewhere in an unused portion of the drive, but Windows would never execute any code in the unused space so that is a moot point.
      A repair install would very likely leave the virus intact. If you are sure you’ve cleaned up the virus, this might help in repairing the damage the virus has done.
      While it’s true that a virus is only propagated through an executable file, some viruses disguise themselves as pictures or other non-executables.

  9. All things being equal, all this “stuff” about XP and upgrading to the newer versions of Windows, for me, boils down to one major factor …. COST !!! While I believe that Windows (in it’s own right) is fine; and all the other operating systems that are “bought”, I just cannot afford to keep buying a new operating system just because it is new and supposedly better that the previous version(s). For me, this is why I am migrating to Linux; specifically Ubuntu. IT”S FREE !!! I haven’t completely cut of my copy of Windows XP Home sp3. I being keeping XP for awhile yet. I will keep updating (patching) XP for as long as Microsoft releases patches/updates. I have XP on one HDD and Ubuntu on a separate HDD. When I switch operating systems I just disconnect one HDD and use the other HDD.

  10. The obvious and most practical way to do this is to:

    Make sure your XP machines/splits are clear of viruses/malware first

    Download to the new computer FIRST and scan all files to be transferred (a scan on the new machine prior to this is a recommendation of mine)

    Save to the transfer media and scan IT.

    When you are sure it is safe use the transfer medium only, not a phone or device you cannot be sure of.

    Don’t rely on one scanning program solely. In this case crosschecking isn’t overkill. If you are aware of issues between programs don’t leave them unresolved and make it a habit to read FAQs and forums the software makers provide. Yes. they can seem thick to the newcomer and the staff on those forums can be rather strict for protocol, making it a bit confusing and time-consuming to find an answer but ultimately knowledge is always power. Nothing is 100% foolproof but if you have XP and its full set of necessary updates archived and archive in small chunks (not an entire 4.7 GB DVD or a Bluray disc, for instance. that invites disasters you may not readily be able to trace,

    BACKUP is still of the utmost importance…if you do develop a problem you need to reinstall for it’s there.

    Now, the ONLY problem that hasn’t been solved is the LICENSE. Perhaps this is resolved by leaving SP2 and 3 out of the install (that seems counterproductive) but the alternative is possibly buying the WGA kit from Microsoft, which costs $99 to $149 for XP Pro and only works for one computer…that doesn’t sound groovy if you aren’t too rich and have two or three machines and it’s going to shut the OS down if you don’t validate a program that is no longer supported.

    Bet on the new Microsoft CEO being partly sympathetic, if not very happy. He is intent on keeping Microsoft at the forefront of all they excel at, so he says and I have a feeling that something has to give a little on this. It would be like making a TV obsolete with no converter boxes.

  11. I replaced my old XP notebook with a new Win7 notebook. The increase in internet speed was amazing. But I had a game, Hoyle Table Games Pool, that would not work on a dual core processor and the company was unable to port it to dual core processors so they dropped it from newer versions of the Table Games CD. For a while I kept the old XP notebook just to run this game. But the storage space and the hassle of getting it out and putting it away just was too much trouble. So I cleaned it up and gave it to a recycling non-profit company. Keeping the old XP computer for games may seem like a good idea, but it will not last long. Sorry.

  12. I have important CAD and engineering software I run under XP. Very EXPENSIVE. I can neither afford a new machine, or new versions of the software. So I’m keeping XP. I will disconnect my network, internet and wireless connections. When I want to transfer files, I will transfer them with a thumb drive, and use a Linux machine to do the transfer. (I will virus scan the thumb drive whenever I remove it from the linux machine. )

    Leo, Steve Jobs once said no computer needed a hard drive. We would all run apps from the internet. He also said he didn’t invision Mac’s supporting engineering and business software, and that modems didn’t belong in Macs.) (So he took Apple Macs out of those fields, and prevented developers from marketing internal modems for Mac expansion bus.)

    Jobs was wrong! Computers are what we make them do. Your attempt to define a computer as useful only if it’s connected, is wrong.


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