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Maes

Min spec Linux?

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At my current army job, my tasks involve repairing and setting up a lot of computers, with hardware ranging from first-gen Pentiums with EDO DRAMs, up to the latest Quad-Cores. I've even set up Windows XP on a P-166 with 64 MB for surfing the internet and word processing, and surprisingly it got the job done.

After some inventory checks, we found some even older 386 and 486 boxes (this means EDO or SIMM memory modules, with a maximum possible RAM of 64 MB and 16(?) MB, accordingly).

I was wondering if there was some way to put these machines to some use, in particular as simple internet access points, with a GUI browser. Sure, Windows 95 and 3.1 would be perfectly feasible, and would have a GUI and browsers that kind of work like modern ones, but they would be far too unsafe and wouldn't last very long on the internet.

I've heard so many times about how wonderful Linux is, and how you can use it on old machines etc. but I know very well that doesn't include modern Ubuntu or Redhat distros...

So, does anyone have a working experience/ready-to-deploy solution on what kind of distro I can use for setting up a working "internet PC" with a GUI and Linux on a 386/486 with 16 MB of Ram or so? Hard disks up to 2 GB and LAN cards can be provided, but the 386 may have to work with a HD < 512 MB due to BIOS/IDE limitations.

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_Linux_distributions#Hardware_requirements

I suggest Slackware, but it will need some adjusting to make it extra fast. Dont do a maximum install, will be less than 500 mbs for an install with a few nice extras.
Try dillo, its very fast but doesnt support flash or java.
Blackbox or fluxbox come with slackware.

For a quick, easy and probably best solution just use DSL, Damn Small Linux. Just put cd in drive and its done. Dont even need a HD. Also can just format the HD with a filesystem for storage and load the OS from cd. Maximum storage without needing an OS on the HD.

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Catoptromancy said:

Just put cd in drive and its done. Dont even need a HD.

We're dealing with slow machines before the El Torito spec, and less-than-128mb rams here

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leileilol said:

We're dealing with slow machines before the El Torito spec, and less-than-128mb rams here


Not only that, but even if you slap a CD-ROM drive on it (which they do have), there's a 95% chance that they won't be able to boot directly off it (something not uncommon even in 1998 Pentium-class motherboards, at least with certain BIOSes).

So, I need a distro that can, if need be, be installed off floppies, or at least has a "boot from floppy - install from CD" scheme. Even windows XP has that!

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Catoptromancy said:

I have run DSL from cd on a 400mhz 64mb machine and formatted the 6gb HD with ext3 for storage.

http://damnsmalllinux.org/wiki/index.php/Boot_Floppies


Heh, a machine with a CPU > 100 MHz and Ram >= 64 MB would be deemed good enough to run Windows 2000 or Windows XP by our standards (which can be lightened enough to actually be responsive and useful).

What I need is an off-the-shelf (if that can be said of Linux) solution for something way below these specs. The easy way would be going Windows 98SE or lower, but security (yeah, laugh) reasons prevent it.

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Maes said:
Not only that, but even if you slap a CD-ROM drive on it (which they do have), there's a 95% chance that they won't be able to boot directly off it (something not uncommon even in 1998 Pentium-class motherboards, at least with certain BIOSes).

Smart BootManager fits on a floppy and can boot any drive recognized by the BIOS (including CD-ROM drives), even if the BIOS itself can't boot from it. Or at least it does on my 1997-era system...
(There's probably other floppy-based bootloaders that do this, but it just happened to be the first one I found that did the job.)

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CODOR said:

Smart BootManager fits on a floppy and can boot any drive recognized by the BIOS (including CD-ROM drives), even if the BIOS itself can't boot from it. Or at least it does on my 1997-era system...


Thanks dude, I certainly have some use for that (starting an XP installation with 4 floppies is not exactly the fastest thing to do...especially since there's no SP3-specific set of floppies).

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For the 386s, you have to make sure to choose a distribution with Linux 2.4, as 2.6 dropped support for that ancient CPU. You'll also want a math co-processor in them; I believe Linux can emulate floating point operations without one, but it's even more painfully slow than a 386 with one. You'll probably want at least 16MB of RAM for a bare system.

You can also try OpenBSD, but you'll need OpenBSD 4.1 for the actual 80386s, and it does in fact require a math co-processor. Later versions run on all 486s (except the 486SX, which sadly lacks a math co-processor) and up. Requires at least 4MB of RAM for the bare system.

By far the biggest problem you'll encounter is finding a web browser modern enough for making it usable. SeaMonkey less bloated in speed and RAM than Firefox is, and it uses the same rendering engine, it could be a contender though it'll certainly be sluggish. You might want to look into Epiphany with WebKit, or even Midori in the future if it becomes stable.

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I run DSL on a 486/75MHz laptop with 16MB of RAM. I never bothered to try to get X/graphics to work at an acceptable speed, though - it takes about 30 minutes for the window manager and desktop to load.

The DSL site has a boot floppy, which you can use to boot off the CD. Then you can install it to the hard drive, if you want.

X/graphics works fine on my 120MHz Pentium laptop (don't remember how much memory it has).

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Sadly, the 386 is actually 386SX....I should have made that clear before...also the "486" machine appears to be some sort of Pentium Overdrive (a Pentium modified to run on a Socket 3 mobo and voltages).

Meh. Perhaps I'm better off installing OS/2 Warp...

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In the case of a computer where booting from CD is not a viable option but connecting to the internet is, the best solution I've found is the Debian net install floppies.

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CODOR said:

Smart BootManager fits on a floppy and can boot any drive recognized by the BIOS (including CD-ROM drives), even if the BIOS itself can't boot from it. Or at least it does on my 1997-era system...


Doesn't work with my 486.

I have just ran DSL on my 486 (installed it the LOADLIN way rather than floppy), the window manager is a bit sluggish and I can almost play Doom on it ! Eats up 13mb of ram.

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