In part one I showed you that you could install a linux distro on a new computer and transplant it into a 386 computer in a short amount of time and with little effort. Now it is time to move on to bigger and beefier machines like 486’s, Pentiums and better.
I am going to break this quick tutorial down into sections based on installed RAM. While this won’t be a “how to” for all old PCs in the world I hope to at least send you in the right direction. I will mention a few distributions mainly for the super low ram machines. Its not my intent to start a distrubution war, and I have not personally sat down with every single one to make a educated assessment. However, you’re more than welcome to chime in.
Join us after the break and see what options you have for that old “boat anchor” sitting in the closet!
Less than 16 megs of ram:
This is where my second laptop comes in. It is an old first run Pentium running at 90Mhz with 8 megs of ram. On machines with <16 megs of ram there is not much choice out there.
Much like the 386 install, you can use an older distribution, but you do have a couple of other options. One is DSL linux, which is no longer being supported outside of its community. Another is Deli linux, which is also not supported anymore, but has a fork called DeLicate. Since DeLicate does not have an installer, you need to install DeLicate 8 first and then upgrade through the package manager.
DeLicate and its fork have 2.4 kernels, which is still pretty new for modern applications. It will boot on 4 meg machines and if you fiddle with swap space you can even install it directly on your target hardware.
Since my old laptop does not have a CD ROM drive or a functioning floppy disk I put the hard disk in my desktop computer and booted the installer from a CD. With only 8 megs of ram I can get Xwindows up and running ok, but any activity and the system turns into a swap zombie.
(after about a half an hour here is gnumeric)
netBSD should work with 8 megs of ram, though every time I have tried this, it locks at boot on the target machine.
16 to 32 megs of ram:
Same as above, except you’re going to have a much better time running Xwindows and a windows manager. Again, you can either run an older mainstream distribution that will boot or you can run deli.
The BSD’s of the world should work fine on these machines as well, if you want the newest possible software.
The Heavyweights, 48 megs of ram or more:
If your machine has 48 megs of ram or more you have it pretty easy. Almost all distributions will boot and run without problem from this point on. Which distribution you choose totally depends on the power of your machine. For example, a lightweight ubuntu remix should run well on a Pentium 3, but you might not want to run that on your Pentium MMX.
Some of the standard distributions that I have had good luck with in the past include: Debian, Slackware, Tiny Core, gentoo, puppy and a million more. If you want a distribution that comes off of the cd with modern useful apps already installed, you might want to look at connochaetos or slitaz, which will function well in 80MB or 128MB of ram.
Most distros still allow hard disk installs and network installs if you can not boot from floppy or CD ROM. In the worst case you just pop your target drive into a more modern machine and install from a cd or usb stick.
I hope this helps your old machines find a second wind. We would love to see them. If you have dusted off an old boat anchor and got linux running on it, please share it with us in the fourms!
Thanks for reading and happy retro computing.