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Installing Linux On Old Hardware?

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the where-are-those-old-telegraph-drivers dept.

Linux 507

cptdondo writes "I've got an old laptop that I've been trying to resurrect. It has a 486MHz CPU, 28 MB of RAM, a 720 MB HD, a 1.44MB floppy drive, and 640x480 VESA video. It does not have a CD drive, USB port, or a network port. It has PCMCIA, and I have a network card for that. My goal is to get a minimal GUI that lets me run a basic browser like Dillo and open a couple of xterms. I've spent the last few days trying to find a Linux distro that will work on that machine. I've done a lot of work on OpenWRT, so naturally I though that would work, but X appears to be broken in the recent builds — I can't get the keyboard to work. (OK, not surprising; OpenWRT is made to run on WiFi Access Point hardware which doesn't have a keyboard...) All of the 'mini' distros come as a live CD; useless on a machine without a CD-ROM. Ditto for the USB images. I'm also finding that the definition of a 'mini' distro has gotten to the point of 'It fits on a 3GB partition and needs 128 MB RAM to run.' Has Linux really become that bloated? Do we really need 2.2 GB of cruft to bring up a simple X session? Is there a distro that provides direct ext2 images instead of live CDs?"

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When you have a machine from that era... (5, Informative)

NaCh0 (6124) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929537)

Find a distro from the same era. Redhat 2.1 (and I'm not talking redhat enterprise 2.1) circa 1995 will install and give you an X environment. Maybe even good old 3.03 would fit the bill.

Re:When you have a machine from that era... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929589)

Redhat 4.x should work as well... If I recall correctly I had a IBM PS/2 486 DX2 50Mhz 4MB Ram 244MB hard drive that it worked on back in the day.

Re:When you have a machine from that era... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929597)

I don't think you need to go that old... Perhaps Redhat 5.6 or Suse 6.0

Re:When you have a machine from that era... (2, Interesting)

arodland (127775) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929673)

Older than it needs to be. I ran Slackware 4 (just about contemporary with Redhat 6.0) on a laptop with lower specs than that, no problem.

Re:When you have a machine from that era... (1)

lena_10326 (1100441) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929839)

I also went with slackware. It worked great on a Celeron 500 (admittedly significantly faster than a 486 though) with fvwm or tab wm. I think it's best to go with a real distro with up-to-date libraries. He will have to not install a large portion of the packages but that may a little hairy getting in under 720MB though.

Slackware's minimal requirements: []

  • 486 processor
  • 64MB RAM (1GB+ suggested)
  • About 5GB+ of hard disk space for a full install
  • CD or DVD drive (if not bootable, then a bootable USB flash stick or PXE server/network card)

Re:When you have a machine from that era... (5, Informative)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929865)

DSM Damn Small Linux fits in 16meg []

Re:When you have a machine from that era... (1)

migla (1099771) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929759)

If this is the best solution, it's too bad, isn't it? Surely there has been all kinds of developments and innovation and enablement and whatnot over the years that doesn't require more computing power - ideas that are new and better, not just more of the same?

Re:When you have a machine from that era... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929975)

The better question is, why X? No modern web browser is going to work well on that hardware; hell, with 640x480 video most pages will either drop a horizontal scrollbar or just shatter.

Why not just get a basic install of something like Arch Linux (or your favorite stripped-down textmode distro) and learn to use the virtual tty system?

Re:When you have a machine from that era... (3, Informative)

rouge86 (608370) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929993)

Actually, I would consider using new software. Gentoo excels in the area of customized builds that meet only the needs of the hardware. When I used to build my system, my idea of bloat is anything that required GTK or QT. I installed Evilwm, and Ratpoison works really well too. I would also compile Enlightenment's Engage dock. The dependencies were fairly small. If you need a file browser, there are some that don't need GTK or QT, but I would prefer xterm as a file browser over those graphical versions. You may need to experiment some with the system to see what works for you as opposed to just taking someone's suggestion. Debian distros probably would work since they tend to support older hardware.

Change hardware... (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929541)

Time to get rid of that hardware, or dump it in your own personal museum...

How can I be racist? I LOVE NIGGERS! Here's why! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929613)

  • Slink around, shuffling your feet and bobbing your neck like the lazy retard you are.
  • Walk down the middle of the street because you don't know what a sidewalk is for.
  • Hang out at carwashes and mini-marts because everybody knows these are the best places to be a dope, I mean dope.
  • If you're a nigger bitch, shit three nigger babies into the world before 17 years of age. This assures that welfare money will support you, so your nigger men have more time to commit crimes.
  • And give REAL honest black people a bad name.
  • Oh yes, make sure each nigger baby has a different father.
  • Bastardize the English language in the name of nigger culture.
  • Make sure that several terms have multiple meanings and others have ambiguous meanings and that only 50% of nigger words are even complete words. Real niggers will know what you're trying to say.
  • As a culture, make sure there are always more blacks in prison than in college at any given time.
  • Hang out in packs of 10 to 15 and make sure everyone acts as annoying as possible. This helps to promote nigger individuality.
  • Always talk loud enough so everyone in the 'hood can fucking hear you, and if they are niggers, they will know what your saying, bro.
  • Wear clothes that are 10 sizes too big, making sure the pants hang off your ass.
  • Park at least 5 junk cars in your yard while being careful not to use the driveway. It's OK to abandon them in the street as long as it's in front of someone else's crib.
  • Exaggerate every motion, every tonal inflection and grab your dick a lot.
  • Do drugs, sell drugs, make drugs. Okay, don't REALLY do this, but it IS what niggers do.
  • Turn your backyard into a junk yard. If you don't have a backyard, turn your mother's into a junk yard.
  • Travel around leaching off relatives, friends, salvation armies.
  • Drink cheap wine and malt liquor every day, forgetting that "malt liquor" is just fortified cheap beer.
  • If you're a nigger buck: fuck anything that moves, no matter how ugly she is. After two 40oz, even the ugliest, fattest nigger bitch will look good.
  • Be charitable and covet fat, ugly white chicks. After all, they're niggers too. They can't help being so undesirable to white men that they have to fraternize with black dudes on a 20/20 trip. And white ho's are a special trophy too, especially the not so ugly ones.
  • Spray paint everything in sight with scribbles that mean nothing to white people but mean things to fellow niggers (except niggers from another hood who will probably go after you for tresspassing on their turf).
  • Use the term "motherfucker" in every sentence. It's one of the most versatile words in the nigger language, being a noun, verb, adjective and complete mini-sentence in event you run out of thoughts.
  • Stop in the middle of the street, blocking all traffic to converse with fellow niggers and have complete disregard for everyone else.
  • Overcharge customers at Taco Bell and pocket the difference.
  • Drive your car while slouched so low that you can barely see over the wheel (gangsta drivin').
  • Get a job under affirmative action. Then sit around all day pretending that you earned the position and that the other co-workers respect you. Whenever you fuck up, scream "racism!" & hope you get enough Generation X liberals in the jury.
  • Never, I mean NEVER, take any responsibility for your actions. Always blame others including Asians, Latinos, Mexicans, and especially Whites for your sorry ass stupid lives.
  • Be sure to get a dog, tie it up in the cold and mud and neglect it until it dies. Then start all over again. Cash must be used because you long ago fucked up your credit and checking account.
  • Cram 5 generations into a two room government apartment and still be able to neglect your kids.

Then you too can be a true nigger, and anyone who finds any fault with anything you do is automatically a racist. They don't dislike what you do and wish you would do something better with your life, nor do they wish you would realize that other people exist and should be treated with respect. No, they're just racists who hate you because of the color of your skin, and everything bad in your life is their fault. You nigger.

Older Distros (5, Informative)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929547)

You'll be looking at older distros. I certainly had X running on that kind of hardware back in the day through Slackware, and all its versions can still. We're talking a machine from the mid-1990s, so you'd be looking at Slackware 3 or 4 or something like that. You could try the older versions of Debian if they're still around, too.

Re:Older Distros (4, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929755)

Or a current BSD distribution. On old hardware I typically install netbsd. I have tried Minix but the hardware compatibility is not good.

Damn Small Linux (2, Informative)

Reyendo (1451201) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929551)

It may be too limited, but would Damn Small LInux > be sufficient?

Re:Damn Small Linux (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929891)

Its far from limited in my experience.

I have used it when traveling visiting etc and don't want to drag a laptop. Boot from a thumb drive in any library.

It has everything you need for every day use.

Rule Linux (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929561)

Rule linux can do what your asking. Or at least it would the last time I tried it. These days it's based on Fedora Core 7 Puppy Linux may also fit the bill

DSL (1)

BetterSense (1398915) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929563)

There's always DSL. It's 50mb and uses an older kernel. I used it on a laptop with no USB booting and 64mb ram, but I did have a detachable CD drive.

Sadly (-1, Troll)

Icegryphon (715550) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929565)

Good luck finding a Distro that isn't bloat.
Between Millions of lines [] and dependency hell. []
Linux isn't what it use to be.

Re:Sadly (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929715)

Your "bloat" is my awesome new functionality. And Linux runs just great on tons of crappy embedded devices; even the submitter mentions OpenWRT. The problem isn't that Linux can't fill the niche in question, it's that nobody fucking cares enough to do it. Ancient hardware is stupidly inefficient and should be recycled, not used.

seriously? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929573)

Are you seriously saying you can't find a minimal distro that boots off a floppy? You'll probably need to dig up something from when your laptop was current (maybe slackware?) and then build it up a bit from there, but it's certainly doable. It may not be the most recent kernel or have the latest features, but you'll need to look a little harder.

Re:seriously? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929851)

Are you seriously saying you can't find a minimal distro that boots off a floppy? You'll probably need to dig up something from when your laptop was current (maybe slackware?) and then build it up a bit from there, but it's certainly doable. It may not be the most recent kernel or have the latest features, but you'll need to look a little harder.

Why be a self-sufficient man and do the efficient thing like using Google when you can instead Ask Slashdot and indulge your insecure need to have somebody hold your hand? It's sort of like people who call tech support lines to ask questions that are in the FAQ, the help file, the Web site, the documentation that came with the software, and the readme.txt file when no expertise is needed to follow those simple step-by-step instructions, just basic literacy. I think they do it because they need attention but I don't think they realize it so it's not on purpose.

I'm sure you guys think that's Flamebait (because you don't like it, and only for that reason) but what's ultimately better for a person? To needlessly depend on others for what he could take care of himself, or to acquire basic skills like using a search engine and using them with easy confidence? Really, if the Ask Slashdot posts were vetted so that only the ones where you couldn't effectively Ask Google were accepted, there would hardly BE an Ask Slashdot section.

Look at the posts that give links and other answers. Wanna guess where those came from? Is there a good reason why the original poster could not have done the same?

Re:seriously? (1)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929877)

To be fair, an OpenWRT hacker with a penchant for bringing ancient hardware back to life using some esoteric linux distro is not really the same thing as a clueless user who phones tech support because he can't read a FAQ.

Re:seriously? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929995)

To be fair, an OpenWRT hacker with a penchant for bringing ancient hardware back to life using some esoteric linux distro is not really the same thing as a clueless user who phones tech support because he can't read a FAQ.

I suspect that "I've done a lot of work on OpenWRT" means "I've installed it on several routers" and not "I've contributed to the project". Especially considering the obvious nature of the question he's asking here.

puppy linux (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929581)

Might be good to check out

Re:puppy linux (1)

CannonballHead (842625) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929609)

I have used PuppyLinux and it's pretty good, but he said 28mb RAM...

RAM : 128 MB physical RAM for releases since version 1.0.2 or failing that a Linux swap file and/or swap partition is required for all included applications to run; 64 MB for releases previous to 1.0.2

A rare item. (2, Interesting)

hebertrich (472331) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929585)

If you're lucky and can actually find it , QNX had a whole distro on a floppy.
It was intended as a demo , but had full features like file browsing and some net.
That might be able to boot the machine. But frankly , i know of no other distro
still able to boot and install via a floppy.This will prove interresting to follow.
Im just as eager to find out as you :)

Happy hacking

Re: A rare item. (2, Informative)

dna_(c)(tm)(r) (618003) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929893)

QNX is not a linux distro

Re: A rare item. (1)

zoloto (586738) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929991)

Those images can be found <URL:> . On <URL:>, you can find information about it as well but if you look for quick and easy i suggest this. Googling for QNX Demo Floppy Images yields a ton of information...

Try Debian (2, Interesting)

wiredlogic (135348) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929587)

Older versions of Debian supported floppy installs. The last time I tried it (with etch I think) I had some issues that annoyed me and the response I got is that nobody on the dev. team wanted to suffer with a kernel image that doesn't have the kitchen sink loaded so they crippled/dropped floppy install support. Still once you have an older system running it is trivial to upgrade if you have some connectivity.

Re:Try Debian (2, Insightful)

hackersass (785308) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929637)

Once upon a time Debian used to have a network install that you could boot to with removable media (may have only been CD instead of floppy) and then tell it you wanted to install the rest of the OS from the network. Did a couple of installs this way and it worked pretty well. This was probably 7-years ago. Not sure if this is still available or not.

Re:Try Debian (5, Informative)

hackersass (785308) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929671)

Re:Try Debian (4, Informative)

jonniesmokes (323978) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929831)

I can attest to the Debian install. I did this in 2006 with an old 486 laptop with 24MB. Though the above link brought me to the wrong place when I followed it.

Try []

Its got a lot of floppy images that will take you back to the old days. I had some sort of trouble with the laptop install. The kernel ran fine, but I think the installer had trouble for some reason. I might have ended up apt-get --ing a lot of things. But in the end the system ran. It runs a nameserver and has been up for over a year. Nice thing about laptops is that they have built in UPSs.

Re:Try Debian (-1, Troll)

jonniesmokes (323978) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929947)

I know replying to oneself is really tacking, but I just wanted to comment that something has gone terribly awry in my life if I am 38 years old, just came home from work where I was building a quantum computer, still ride a bike, checked first thing, and replied on how to get Linux running on a 16 year old laptop. All this on a *friday* night. I think a there should be a little "game over" sign appearing before my eyes.


Re:Try Debian (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929687)

I don't think recent versionf of Debian would be a good idea at all. For some reason, the maintainers decided that it was absolutely essential for crap such as bluetooth support and gstreamer to be installed with the base system.

Your best bet is probably to use something like one of the BSD's. If you are an expert, you could compile a stripped-down Gentoo on another machine. Older versions of Debian would work, but do not upgrade to the newest version. your laptop will not be able to handle the latest versions, which have basically become Ubuntu with older software and a text-mode installer.

Re:Try Debian (1)

nevurthls (1167963) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929789)

Indeed, the oldstable (etch) version of debian, which is still supported wrt security has floppy images.

For example, these can be found here: []

It should be easy to stay under 700 Mb, even with x. Just don't install gnome/kde , but do xfce or lxde instead.
you can even get to lenny (current stable version) by changing /etc/apt/sources and apt-get dist-upgrade.

Tiny Core (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929591)

1. Install Ubuntu
2. ????
3. Profit!!!

Also try Tiny Core

Damn Small Linux (1)

pavon (30274) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929595)

Have you tried Damn Small Linux [] It sounds like exactly what you want. It will run on a 486 with 16MB of RAM, and 50MB harddrive. It runs X, Dillo is included, and has several install methods available, not just live disks.

Voyage Linux! (1, Redundant)

niko9 (315647) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929599)

Use Voyage Linux!

It's a stripped down Debian that's designed to run on embedded devices, and run entirely in RAM. It keeps Debian's APT package manager for super easy installation. Only 128MB or disk space (tiny base install) required for the base install. I use this distro on my PC Engines Alix board for a audiophile USB music server.

In regards yo getting it installed, you can either take out the HD and do the install on another machine or beg-borrow/steal a PCMCIA USB adapter.

If you use X, I would recommend a super lightweight window manager like Openbox, or better yet Awesome. You should also check out dvtm; 'tis a console tiling manager. Cool, eh?

SUSE Studio (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929623)

Get an account, and start with the basics.

1. Tweak
2. Testdrive
3. Tweak
4. Testdrive
5. Download
6. Hook up your Backpack parallel port CDROM drive, and go to sleep while it installs.
7. Profit!!1

Damn Small Linux (1)

angelbunny (1501333) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929625)

Personally, I'm biased towards Debian so I'd recommend DSL. It even has a gui, if you want one! ^_^

The only issue I see is you have to make the floppy disks version from an ISO since it is not distributed standard as a floppy disk set.

Here is a tutorial to get DSL installed with floppy disks: []

Not technically Linux but... (3, Informative)

eronysis (928181) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929631)

I have an ancient Toshiba satellite running a pretty current version of desktop-BSD. Full graphical desktop extremely small footprint etc...

too old (1)

citylivin (1250770) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929645)

a 486? Why on earth would you bother? Even a p3 laptop is pretty obsolete these days, but still can be had for under 30 or 40 dollars on craigslist. That would be a quantum leap above the 486 you are planning on using.

Re:too old (2, Interesting)

Qu4Z (1402097) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929823)

Because he can?

Re:too old (4, Funny)

Arlet (29997) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929895)

Apparently not

Re:too old (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929925)

No he can't, otherwise he wouldn't be asking here.

Re:too old (3, Insightful)

dna_(c)(tm)(r) (618003) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929939)

But obviously he can't, he has to ask /. - and therefore he won't...

There are more than enough small distros around (1)

arodland (127775) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929651)

Damn Small Linux and Tiny Core Linux being some of the obvious choices. Your real problem is getting things booted in the first place. I wonder whether gPXE is able to see your PCMCIA network card. If it did, you could just boot that off of a floppy and from there it would be a pretty simple task to netinstatll something; if not, well I'm pretty sure DSL has a set of floppies still. You could also try installing Slackware 9, which I think was the last version to ship a floppy set -- just install the very base system from there and then once you're booted you can try an in-place upgrade over the network.

lrn2search (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929667)

Distrowatch has an entire category for "Old Hardware" which yields the options of: Damn Small Linux, Puppy Linux, Tiny Core Linux, and other options.


Have you looked at... (2, Insightful)

stakovahflow (1660677) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929677)

Slackware 7.1 would probably support that old lappy... I used to swear by it back in the day. The only issue you may have is the NIC. Make sure, though, to put on some sort of lightweight WM, like blackbox or flvwm(95). KDE was the system default for the 7.x series, and was a bit of a hog, FYI. (To this day, the closest to a heavyweight WM/DE I will use is xfce4...) Good luck! Also, let us all know what you end up putting on the old girl... --Stak

WHY would you do this? (1, Insightful)

xiando (770382) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929681)

I barely got passed "486MHz CPU, 28 MB of RAM" when this obvious question popped into my mind: WHY WOULD YOU EVER CONSIDER INSTALLING ANYTHING ON THIS HARDWARE? Throw it out the window and visit the local flee-markets. You can get something as new Pentium3-based laptops for the price of a cup of coffee there these days. Better laptops also tend to lie in piles on recycling points, perhaps you can grab a few better laptops if you go deliver yours there. Perhaps you have some special loving relationship to this hardware, if so then put it in a frame or something and install GNU/Linux on something else. Seriously. That hardware is just not worth the time and trouble unless you are making a museum exhibit of some kind. I realize that this does not help with your original question, I just felt compelled to point out the obvious.

Re:WHY would you do this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929719)

The obvious answer is, "because", which becomes ,"because I can", when he gets it up and running.

Re:WHY would you do this? (1, Informative)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929745)

Agreed. Sometimes though, it's fun to do something "just because". A lot of people doing this have dug up dad's old work laptop out of the attic/basement during fall break and are desperately looking for something to do. In high school, getting linux running on any sort of ancient mobile device gives you serious geek cred. I remember back in high school some guy had found (and got working!) and TRS-80 portable that ran on something like 15 D cell batteries, and could dial home to his linux box using it. I had a laptop I attempted installing Deli linux on. It seems the main problem with these older computers is finding working floppy drives. But when you're 15, broke, single, and a nerd, you make do with the hardware you have.
That said, there is some incredible server hardware (like you said, P3 and above) 1 and 2U rackmount servers with dual processors on craigslist for less than $120 usually. This is in Dallas, YMMV.

Fd Linux (1)

adosch (1397357) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929685)

Fd Linux [] was a pretty popular distro back in the day (cira ~2000) when floppy drives still thrived on sub-pentium machines. This was big competition against others like ZipSlack (Slackware on a ZIP disk) an LOAF (Linux On A Floppy) or muLinux. I really liked Fd Linux. I think development has tailored down quite a bit in the last 3/4 of a decade. However, this has all the console love one would need... it comes equipped with 'lynx' and a like. Hell it's even got limited hardware support for wifi (802.11b)... pretty sweet stuff on 1.44mb that's for sure.

The problem with old distros is old browsers (5, Interesting)

harlows_monkeys (106428) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929695)

I have a similar laptop, although mine only has 16 MB or RAM. I've got a better processor, though. Anyway, I see several people have suggested run a distro from that era. Indeed that works--sort of. My old laptop runs fine with a Redhat from that era, or a Slackware (or whatever Windows it came with, for that matter).

The reason I say it works "sort of" is that if you just run a distro from that era, you have a browser of that era. I had hoped to use my old laptop as basically a terminal for configuring routers and other things like that which have web interfaces.

The problem is, all my routers have web interfaces that assume browser features that are too new for that era. I was not able to find a browser that was new enough to actually work with my typical consumer home router and still run acceptably on the old system. I think I got Konqueror to work once--but it took something like an hour for it to start.

I think the browser is going to be the determining factor as to whether or not this is feasible for you.

Put the drive in another machine... (4, Insightful)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929705)

...and install Debian. Install only the base system: select no "tasks". Then put the drive back in the old machine, configure the network, and install what you need.

Tiny (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929725)

and core and Linux oh my

486MHz? You mean an Intel 486? (5, Informative)

Bleek II (878455) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929735)

486MHz? You mean an Intel 486?

Re:486MHz? You mean an Intel 486? (5, Informative)

ibmman85 (643041) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929809)

I'm surprised no other comments (well, that I saw) picked up on that. While it's not impossible for a 486MHz machine to have shipped with those specs, it sounds more like a late high-end 486 system- especially the video. Well, I guess all of it actually. 486MHz would have been K6-2/3 (overclocked) or (overclocked) P2 or P3, and most of those systems shipped with hard drives over 1gb, and more than 32MB RAM. I think not having a CD-ROM and especially NO USB points toward it being actually a 80486... If it's a 486 CPU, even if it's something 'nice' like a DX4, it's probably not worth it. Unless you really have a very good reason... Redhat 6 or earlier works pretty well, I used to have a really decent Redhat 6 server setup on a P100 with 64 MB RAM but considering how cheap you could get other hardware for, unless it's for some proof of concept of the re usability of hardware from past eras, it's really going to be a pain.

Re:486MHz? You mean an Intel 486? (1)

PishiGorbeh (737623) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929961)

May be mod'ed as "Funny" but It makes sense based on the VGA spec, RAM and Hard drive size; I think they are talking about a 486. Should that be that case then I really wonder: Why bother? This poster doesn't really give any indication toward their objective. Is it educational, Hobby, or what? Bloated? Is 3 Gig HD and 128 MB ram really an issue these days?

It works, but it takes work (1) (771661) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929737)

After getting Debian running on an old Desktop system [] , I can say it does work, but you're guaranteed to hit speed bumps along the way.

Linux Isn't Bloated (4, Insightful)

zx2c4 (716139) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929747)

A lot of posts here claim that Linux now a days is bloated, has too many lines of code, too many dependencies, requires too many resources, bla bla bla... These posts conclude that an older linux distro is necessary. But what about the various embedded systems that have even slimmer resources than what we have here, and run Linux fine? It may be that most distros now a days are meant for new hardware and the kernel defaults to more demanding settings. But all of this can be tweaked and customized at ease. Play with Gentoo. If this doesn't fare well, investigate Linux distros for embedded systems.

OpenBSD -current (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929753)

OpenBSD does all I need on the command line and X, plus there are many of the recent packages you may want. I have OpenBSD working great on my old Libretto 100ct without having to compromise with old, insecure Linux distros.

I know I'll go to hell for this, but... (4, Insightful)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929757)

Win95. I believe that the original install CD had a utility to create floppies for a full install. Do that on your main machine, install Win95 on the laptop, then download what you need. I know it sounds stupid, but I'm guessing that Win95 will recognize all of your hardware and actually get you on line faster than trying to sort out the linux drivers for the hardware. Then do a dual boot install and keep Win95 until you get the linux install hashed out - it will beat downloading stuff on your main machine and then copying it to floppies.

Bloated? Not a fair accusation (4, Insightful)

Philodoxx (867034) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929761)

You're using hardware that is close to twenty years old. I don't think it's fair to say that because linux has kept up with current technologies (CD-ROMs and USB drives) that it has become bloated. Some other people have pointed out, correctly, that you should be looking for distros from the era if you expect it to install easily on your hardware.

Ask Slashdot Strikes Again! (1)

Rantastic (583764) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929771)

Seriously, why? If your goal is to run dillo and a couple of xterms, pick up an old p3 laptop. People are throwing them away. If you want to do it as a "fun" project, why Ask Slashdot? Is not half the fun in figuring it out?

As someone who used to run linux on a 486 (and a 386), I can tell you that you aren't going to do any usable web browsing in X in 28megs of ram. Those are lynx specs.

You can actually do some interesting/useful things in linux with that hardware, but graphical web browsing isn't going to be one of them. Unless maybe you restrict yourself to Craigslist.

Slackware 10 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929783)

Try Slackware 10 [] . Install only the base system and add packages from CD as you need them.

# cd /
# tar -xzf /mnt/cdrom/slackware/x/PACKAGE.tgz
# sh /install/
# rm /install/

Keep track of what you install and maintain a tags file to automate future installations.

tagged "pointless" (1)

SuperBanana (662181) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929787)

...when you can get P3 class machines or better for free that will be an order of magnitude faster. For anything under $100, the principle concern should be power usage, since if left on 24x7, that will be far more expensive than purchasing the system itself.

MS-DOS and LoopyNES (1)

Dwedit (232252) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929791)

Throw MS-DOS and LoopyNES on it. Get some decent NES gaming running on that thing.
No$GMB also works at that kind of slow speed.

DSL (1)

TheQuantumShift (175338) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929805)

You don't mention if a floppy is accessible, but if it is, here [] you go. DSL is just about the most minimal functioning distro I have found. Of course there is always slack [] , but you'll have to go a few versions back to install using floppies and network. And there's always a way to get usb [] but I doubt you'd be able to boot from it...

Maybe Gentoo? Read 1st before modding down. (4, Insightful)

miknix (1047580) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929807)

I know most of the /. crowd is not Gentoo friendly, we even have a Gentoo meme :)

But seriously.. You can use emerge, with portage et all, to build a small and optimized/dedicated Gentoo based distribution for that laptop. You don't even need to put portage on the laptop, just use emerge on somewhere else to build packages for it. Emerge will take care of cross-compiling, etc..
As simple as I can put it, think on it as a Box with a repository-toolchain capable of building packages for *other* Box, while still keeping track of package updates and dependencies.

NOTE: A "full install" of Gentoo is not required for building gentoo based distros, you can setup a Gentoo chroot (you only want portage and emerge afterall, don't you?) on your debian/fedora/whetever box, or even setup a Gentoo prefix on MacOSX.

Seconded (4, Informative)

oGMo (379) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929883)

Some people may still have misconceptions about Gentoo. The negative stereotype has long passed, though. Gentoo is, really, a meta-distribution: a dist that lets you make your distribution based on what you want and need.

You could do what some folks have suggested and get a really ancient dist, and that may be fine .. but it will have all the limitations it had back in the day, and nothing new without a lot of manual compilation and work. (No newer shells, html renderers, etc.) Gentoo just automates the process, and since you're building for x86, you could easily build on another box as the parent suggests. (It's actually not trivial to truly cross-compile a dist between architectures last I checked, but I haven't really done a lot of research. However it is trivial to build for a different architecture which the build machine supports.)

This way you get all the stuff you want anyway, and all the work to do so is streamlined. Building a boot disk should be easy (as long as you can find a disk drive for your current box!). Check the wiki [] for details on how to do a lot of specialized things.

slackware (1)

pinkishpunk (1461107) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929815)

I would go with an older slackware and then upgrade to the newest once you have the net running,the whole problem in your case is the lack of pcmcia support in gPXE, if you have access to a docking station with a isa,pci bus you might beable to use gPXE and start directly into a new distribution. Alternativ is just remove the harddrive from the box and installed it on another box and then move it back, works too.

3.11 (4, Funny)

heffrey (229704) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929821)

for workgroups

I beg your pardon! (1)

gdav (2540) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929983)

DESQview! []

woody (1)

jijitus (1478465) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929841)

Debian 3.0 "Woody" worked for me on DebiaNiKa, a P100 with 16 megs of RAM and 2gb disk usage. It did X with IceWM (looking like Win95) and Dillo, and I even used it as a dial-up router + Apache/PHP server not that far ago. It even had an DIY AJAX interfase for incoming/outgoing byte statistics for the dial up connection. Before that I had tried RedHat 6.1 on that machine. And before THAT, around 2002, I had installed SuSE 7.0 on a 486 using LVM over two hard disks sized 200Mb and 160Mb respectively (yeah, I do mean 1E+6 bytes). So the distros I tried and likely work with your hardware are: SuSE 7.0, Red Hat 6.1, Debian 3.0.

BSD? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929845)

I haven't tried this myself, but I can't imagine a minimal install would be too big. I have installed various versions of BSD using a boot floppy and network installation, and it was always pretty painless. (An old laptop comes to mind, though I can't remember whether it was 386/486-class or not - at most it was a pentium 90.) I'd be more concerned about getting any gui running well in just 28mb of ram, though. Only thing I've seen 'snappy' with that little ram would be the floppy demo of QNX, if you could find it. But it ain't linux, either.

Network install? (1)

Urza9814 (883915) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929859)

I'm not sure anymore, but I know older versions of Mandriva (Well, Mandrake - try to find 9.2 or earlier) could boot from a floppy and install over the network. I installed directly from a mirror a couple times back in the day. Worth looking into. I believe still has the files for older Mandrake distros.

Re:Network install? (1)

taobeastie (1635647) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929967)

Mandrake 8-9.2 ran like crap on my P3 500. This guy has jack for memory, so, we're talking Mandrake 6.0 (which is basically a rebranded RH 5.2)... I would probably suggest going with something like Debian 2.0-3.0 at greatest, personally...

Old Linux (1)

bpechter (2885) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929863)

Use only old Linux.

Corel 1.2 is quite nice on my Pentium 166 with 60Mb.
RH6.2, Slackware, older Debian. I ran FreeBSD 3.x on a Thinkpad 365 with 486 and 28 mhz. I usuallly rebuild the OpenSSL and OpenSSH from source to avoid major security holes for when I need to ssh to a work site.

I'm amazed how much more power even these $250 Netbooks have.


Debian (1)

Matias D'Ambrosio (609229) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929871)

The specs seem more than sufficient for Debian. You will have to tune it after installing, obviously. I got X11 running on Debian using 10MB of RAM (on a laptop with 32MB).
  As you mention, the tricky part is installing. If you can plug the HDD in some other computer, you can format it to ext2 and copy the files no problem. Debootstrap is a very useful tool for this: []
  If you can't plug the HDD somewhere else, it's not really a big issue, just find a floppy distro that can see your HDD, can connect through FTP or HTTP to some other computer, and then just use it to boot and copy the files like the link above shows. It doesn't really need to be a distro, anything that can create ext2 partitions and do FTP/HTTP will work, but linux is probably the best bet when dealing with unknown hardware.
  This is a well known one diskette distro: []

How About FreeBSD? (2, Informative)

Demetrius Berman (1633485) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929873)

You can still download floppies for a FreeBSD Net Install. Assuming your network card works with the drivers on the boot floppies you should be able to do a base system net installation of FreeBSD and then build whatever else you need from the ports tree afterward (or install the binaries from the packages collection. Should make for a small, clean installation with only what you need and nothing else to take disk space or consume your limited resources.

Has Linux really become that bloated? (3, Insightful)

jim_v2000 (818799) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929881)

No, your hardware has become that obsolete.

tomsrtbt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929899)

The reasoned you can't find a non-bloated distro is probably because you are searching for the terms 'desktop distribution'

Fits on a floppy.
But you'll need an internet connection to install anything - by default AFAIK all it can do is bash work. To install packages you'd either have to compile every single one or just compile an apt-get or similar system to use.
Needs a cd-drive or USB-port however!
~100mb big it is known to work on hardware with only 32 megs of ram. Contains Xvesa and Xorg servers with a million and one programs already installed that allow you to do anything out of the box. Puplets (community variations) are also available that are both smaller (ie barebones) or bigger.

Also see

Knoppix? (1)

hazem (472289) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929903)

I've used Knoppix in the past (the CD image) and it had an hd-install option that would put itself on the harddrive. You would be able to tell if X works using just the live CD then decide if you want to install.



What? (0, Redundant)

wumpus188 (657540) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929905)

What is this obsession with old or cheap crap hardware recently? No, really.. I'm not trolling, this is a honest question. Did everyone here gone broke or something?

As to the original poster, why don't you do us all a favor and recycle this old piece of shyt, buy a used 3 years old notebook and stop wasting everybody's time by asking for support of 15 years old hardware.

deja vu (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929907)

hey i went thru this a few months ago. a laptop w/ a 100 mhz pentium 1, 24 MB of SDRAM in a non some weird looking non SODIMM format. about a 500mb of hard drive space, a singular modular bay with a floppy drive module, an extended battery module, and a cdrom module. serial, parallel, and pcmcia slot but no usb. It came w/ a pcmcia 802.11b wifi adapter but no ethernet adaptor.

I tried ubuntu 9.04, tomsrbt, dsl, and puppy. funny enough i had the most luck w/ ubuntu. It was the most hardware compatible and i was able to perform a bare minimal console only install. it would boot up and i could log in but it only had a few KB of memory free so trying to do much of anything would send it thrashing. I dont really remeber what the issue w/ puppy was but tomsrbt and dsl both there were hardware compatibility issues that kept me from installing.

After I got bored with it, I tried unsuccessfully to give it away so it eventually found its way into the dumpster.

PCMCIA CD-ROM or IDE Adapter (1)

oracleguy01 (1381327) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929931)

Get yourself a PCMCIA CD-ROM drive for it. Though finding one might be rather difficult or expensive. Or pull the hard drive out and track down an IDE adapter. I remember being able to access laptop hard drives a little bigger than that with adapters that would convert the smaller IDE connector on the drive to a standard 40-pin connector. You could hook it up to a desktop machine, install Linux and then put it back in the laptop.

Though I have to also agree with some other people that suggest getting a newer laptop, at least one with a CD drive.

Fedora/CentOS LiveCDs do contain native extX fsimg (1)

jdogalt (961241) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929933)

While probably not a solution to the original problem, an answer to the specific question about native ext2 images instead of LiveCD iso images is this-

The Fedora and CentOS LiveCDs do contain a native ext3/4 filesystem image embedded within a squashfs image. The normal Fedora anaconda/liveinst installer works by copying this image directly to the target destination then using resize2fs to expand it to the destination's size.

My ZyX-LiveInstaller at [] goes one further and does this process with the running copy-on-write version of the filesystem, allowing for a rebootless LiveOS installation.

But of course these LiveCD sized filesystems are on the order of 2G (compressed about 3:1 by squashfs). You can probably find a minimal spin that brings that down a bit, but not enough for your needs. A real answer of course is as others have said- get a distro of the same vintage. Linus himself commented on the bloat recently didn't he?

Gone are the floppy net installs. (1)

mrmeval (662166) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929935)

I have a useless think pad that for a time was my picture server. I used redhat and booted a floppy and then used a driver floppy for my NIC. This let me install just what I needed from a server over the internet. I killed the RPM database for some reason I don't recall and could NOT find anyone who catered to boot floppy installs. Granted I could have fought and beaten on it and a local PC to do it but I gave up and used another junk one with a CD in it to install Damn Small Linux. It's clean and it's cool and right now it's running some ethernet testing at work.

The old one is going to be a range dummy.

I've had experiences with a very similar system (1)

PenisLands (930247) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929945)

Yes, Linux really has become that bloated. It's possible to get stuff working, but it's incredibly slow. Getting something to install will take a lot of tweaking (for example, the debian installer will have a lot of trouble if you have less than 64MB of RAM) and tedious work. The install process takes several hours, and if something goes wrong, you usually have to start straight from the beginning again.

I had Debian installed on a Toshiba 460CDT with 32MB RAM, and managed to set it up with X, networking, a window manager (icewm) and a web browser (links2). I tweaked it as much as I could, but it was still not very usable.
Recently, I installed Windows 98 on the same laptop, set progman.exe (program manager) as the shell, and k-meleon as the web browser. Now it's quite tolerable for web browsing use... and it does this while having a fully featured GUI. (and before you say anything, it has not crashed or bluescreened once yet. I've been using it for about a week for web browsing)

I'm a linux fan usually, but I have to admit that Linux isn't worth much on old hardware, especially very old hardware.

kmandla is your man (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929949) [] -- This guy has one of the best recent blgos devoted to running Linux on systems similar to the one you described. He has covered evrything you need.

Unless you *have* to have linux.. (3, Interesting)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929957)

Go for NetBSD instead.

LTSP, if the PCMCIA card supports PXEBOOT (2, Interesting)

doodleboy (263186) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929963)

If so, I'd have a look at LTSP [] . At work we're re-purposing a bunch of old thin clients at our branch offices to PXE boot into a modern Ubuntu server. The setup is very easy under Debian/Ubuntu and you'll get a modern OS on every screen.

Slackware (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929969)

Runs on 486s, still.

faq (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929977)

we seriously need a slashdot faq

Be strong (0, Redundant)

Tx (96709) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929979)

Be strong - chuck the damn thing in the trash now. I know it's tempting. We've all been there. But, unless your nerdiness borders on psychopathy, any sense of achievement you derive from resurrecting that relic will be short lived, and soon replaced by the realisation that you just wasted a heap of time on something utterly pointless. While you might get a little pleasure from the process of getting it up and running, actually using such a pathetic piece of crap once you're done, when people are giving away machines orders of magnitude more powerful, would be utterly perverse. Don't do it.

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