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Installing Linux On a 386 Laptop

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the for-the-modern-luddite dept.

Debian 260

An anonymous reader writes with a link to Hack A Day's step-by-step guide to installing Linux on a 386 laptop, which looks like a nice rainy-day project, as long as you are a stubborn hardware collector. It gets complicated, though, because 386 support has long since disappeared from most mainstream distros, which is why the writer went with Debian 1.3.1.

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this is a hack? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079210)

So it's now considered a "hack" to install software onto a device it was meant to run on?!?!?

Re:this is a hack? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079308)

but.... but... but.... it's teh Linux!!!!onehundredeleven!!!!

Re:this is a hack? (2, Insightful)

fragMasterFlash (989911) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079436)

Considering the i386SX has a 16 bit data bus and can only address 16MB of memory I'd say this qualifies as a rather sweet hack.

Re:this is a hack? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079456)

Why a hack? Linux has always been able to run on shitty old gear. It was around when said shitty old gear was bleeding edge. Pick an old distro that was designed to run on the gear of the time, and durr, it works.

Re:this is a hack? (4, Interesting)

Demonoid-Penguin (1669014) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079554)

Why a hack?

Because it's not a DX chip (full 32-bit). It won't work "out of the box" and I've spent the last decade using apt, so I'll call it a hack. Looks a lot simpler than ELKS which is the only other way I know to achieve the same thing (early Windoof will run on the same chipset, but requires thunk layers)

From the Debian Installation manual:-

However, Debian GNU/Linux squeeze will not run on 386 or earlier processors. Despite the architecture name "i386", support for actual 80386 processors (and their clones) was dropped with the Sarge (r3.1) release of Debian[2]. (No version of Linux has ever supported the 286 or earlier chips in the series.)

I've managed to install to 386-DX chipsets with 4MB of RAM, but not the SX. Very impressive. Especially given the price I can pick up industrial single card 386-SX boards. Not of interest to gamers and such, but very, very useful non-the-less.

Re:this is a hack? (2)

ProgramadorPerdido (2435608) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079758)

Internally the SX had 32bits, only the data bus was 16 bits.

Re:this is a hack? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079868)

Yes, but all of that is referring to MODERN distros. This article is about running a distro from the era on hardware from the era. There's nothing special about that whatsoever. I agree that it would be a very impressive hack if he'd managed to get something modern onto the old machine - but he didn't.

Re:this is a hack? (1)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079898)

Actually, if I were to do something like this, I'd use LFS [linuxfromscratch.org] instead. Or better yet, cross-compile NetBSD for i386.

1) cat or dd the laptop's harddrive to a faster computer's disk as a disk image
2) Mount the disk image
3) Compile and install the OS onto the disk image
4) cat or dd the disk image back to the laptop hard drive
5) Profit!

I once got a 386 for free and installed Redhat on it back in 1998. It's not that big of a deal.

Re:this is a hack? (1)

Demonoid-Penguin (1669014) | more than 3 years ago | (#37080006)

Actually, if I were to do something like this, I'd use LFS [linuxfromscratch.org] instead.

Maybe if you took the time to read TFA you wouldn't talk rubbish

Or better yet, cross-compile NetBSD for i386.

That has been done (FreeBSD installed on a 386-SX) but it was a while ago, and it was a *big* job.

I once got a 386 for free and installed Redhat on it back in 1998. It's not that big of a deal.

You installed it on a 386-SX?? Really? I've got early copies of RedHat if the floppy disk haven't died, and plenty of 386-DX boards - I'm betting, like the RedHat manual says, it won't install on an SX chipset.

Re:this is a hack? (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079962)

Except if you read TFA you'll see the guy used Debian 1.3 which I believe is old enough to actually support a 386 OOTB. I have to agree with the other posters I don't see how this can be in any way called a "hack".

What's next, an article about installing Win 95 on a Pentium I? Hell I have an old B&W G3 in the closet maybe I should write an article about installing an older PPC distro on it, get me some money from page views. I wouldn't even call it a "hack" to do what I'll probably do with it, which is install an AMD dual core in the case. This is just using an OS as it was intended on hardware it was designed for, nothing more.

Re:this is a hack? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079488)

Considering the i386SX has a 16 bit data bus and can only address 16MB of memory I'd say this qualifies as a rather sweet hack.

As KingRobot mentions further down the page, this is exactly how you used to have to do it. There's nothing "hackish" about this at all. I mean, honestly, it's like calling it a "hack" to install Windows 3.11 on this laptop.

Re:this is a hack? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079506)

Let me guess, you were born after the year 2000, weren't you?

This may surprise you, but many of us here used far less powerful systems for decades before systems like the 386 described in the article were even released. I remember getting my first 386, and being astounded at how much more powerful it was than the 8088-based PC I'd been using up until then. That PC, in turn, was much more efficient than the account I had on the shared VAX at work.

In fact, you can actually do quite a lot with such a computer. You just can't be stupid when doing it, however. That means you have to write your applications in efficient languages like assembly, C and C++, and you need to have a minimal level of care with the algorithms you choose. It's not like today, where any jackass can throw together some shitty JavaScript script and run it in a highly inefficient web browser like Firefox.

You kids can play on my yard all you like, just don't be blatantly ignorant about the state of consumer computing a mere 20 years ago.

Re:this is a hack? (1, Interesting)

farrellj (563) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079704)

You said it!

I used to use a 386sx system as my firewall for my home network back in the 90s. It also was hooked up to my US Robotics Courier modem that I had from my days of running a BBS on Fidonet and PODSnet.

Now, if he got it to run X, I might consider that a reasonable hack...but just running Linux...lame.

ttyl
          Farrell

Re:this is a hack? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079852)

Now, if he got it to run X, I might consider that a reasonable hack...but just running Linux...lame.

I ran X in glorious 16 color on 386. It was upgraded to 16mb of ram because the year before i wanted to play doom. WindowMaker was doing amazing colour dirting and it looked much better then Microsoft Windows 3.11

Back then it did feel kind of hackish because i had to compile Xfree86, Wmaker and other stuff in manner that was not 'configure; make; make install;'. But i was also learning all this for the first time.

Re:this is a hack? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079516)


Considering the i386SX has a 16 bit data bus and can only address 16MB of memory I'd say this qualifies as a rather sweet hack.

Uhh, no. The distribution he chose was from the mid 90s. A 386 was an underpowered machine at the time, but well within the specs of a linux distribution.

Believe it or not, 16 megabytes used to be considered a lot of memory in the mid 90s. Windows 95 required a minimum of 4 megabytes, with 8 recommended.

Re:this is a hack? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079540)

The data bus width is irrelevant (only slows it a bit), and I ran that version of Debian GNU/Linux with 4MB RAM. Where's the hack?

Re:this is a hack? (1)

tokul (682258) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079592)

I'd say this qualifies as a rather sweet hack.

Nope. He is running old os on old hardware. Guess what people were doing with Debian 1.3.1 or Slackware 2.0 when 386SX was not old hardware.

Re:this is a hack? (1)

jo7hs2 (884069) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079706)

Meh. I ran Windows 95 on a i386sx notebook for several years, with 10 megs of ram and a compressed hard disk, so I'm not really impressed. The floppy install took most of the day, and the boot time was almost a full battery charge towards the end of my run with the computer, but once it was running it was surprisingly functional, despite the 5/10/20mhz variable frequency processor setting.

Re:this is a hack? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079916)

Considering the i386SX has a 16 bit data bus and can only address 16MB of memory I'd say this qualifies as a rather sweet hack.

That is completely transparent to the software level (even the OS), it is not an issue. The issue is the stray instruction generated by the compiler that isn't supported by an 80386, or the use of the more advanced paging features of newer processors, the support for which can be completely turned off during the kernel build process. Getting drivers to work on the old hardware in the device is probably the hardest part.

Re:this is a hack? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 3 years ago | (#37080008)

look, one of the reasons linux was sweet early on was that WHO THE FUCK HAD MONEY FOR 16 MBYTES ? it was better to stick with not using X back then. if you're going to install _anything_ on a i386 these days linux is the obvious choice, sticking to not using X is obvious choice. debian 1.3.1 though? that's not an obvious choice.

wouldn't qualify it as a sweet hack though. some crazy setup involving installing win 3.11 and win32s, installing some task-manager and hacking some later windows libs to work on it.. that would. because it would be crazy. if you want some use out of a 386sx, linux it is. but choosing some embedded aimed distro would make more sense. because you can then save on the memory use. or slackware, as apt really likes memory if my memory serves me well(and that's not such a problem with slack).

Re:this is a hack? (1)

rwa2 (4391) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079546)

10 years ago I installed Slackware on an old 486 monochrome laptop through a serial port. I was too cheap to buy the proprietary external floppy drive.

I think I ended up resizing the 120MB [sic] DOS partition down to 40MB, and then using some serial port transfer program to send over a minimal linux loader that could load the installer kernel from DOS. Then I think I had to keep booting to DOS to erase and transfer over a few more of the 80MB+ of slackware floppies and install a few packages at a time until I had enough of a system to get a PCMCIA NIC working, and eventually X. But I think I spent most of the time in screen and emacs.

Good times.

Re:this is a hack? (1)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079618)

Oh yeah? Right now I have a Xircom Pocket Ethernet Adapter III in a sealed box. Still has the $39.95 price sticker on it. To get older, I have to go non-pc...

Re:this is a hack? (1)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079664)

I have a box of 8" Dysan floppies, still in the shrinkwrap.

Re:this is a hack? (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079884)

I think I ended up resizing the 120MB [sic] DOS partition down to 40MB

[sic] means that you're quoting someone else's typo, to show you just faithfully reproduced it. Since you're neither quoting nor was it a typo it doesn't make any sense. I assume you meant something like [yes, MB] though I'm not sure there's any latin for that. This has been an informational message by your local grammar Nazi. By the nature of this post, it will contain at least one typo.

Re:this is a hack? (1)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079640)

Because most current software are developed with different limitations in mind. Doing anything with this sort if hardware these days is almost akin to doing embedded development.

Heck even a smartphone is more capable as equivalent hardware. Actually with that in mind, a better hack would be to be able to run a smartphone as a desktop computer, even with limited software.

Re:this is a hack? (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079752)

Even an older embedded device(NSLU2 4 lyfe!) is substantially more capable. The one major kicker(at least for me, speaking as somebody who is OK in userland but not so much a hardware wonk) is that PC BIOSes suck; but(aside from a bunch of annoying bugs, and some relatively predictable losses in function as you go back in time) they largely suck in the same way. By contrast, two feature-identical embedded linux plastic router/AP boxes, released at the same time, might have totally different bootloaders and the ability to brick hard enough that some soldering and xmodem(if serial is still alive) or JTAG work will be required merely by messing up your flash partitioning...

You can brick a PC, at least one new enough to have a flash BIOS, or something old enough that configuring X wrong will possibly fry something; but embedded stuff is still much easier to really paint yourself into a corner with.

Re:this is a hack? (1)

realityimpaired (1668397) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079882)

Actually with that in mind, a better hack would be to be able to run a smartphone as a desktop computer, even with limited software.

... you do realize that there's smartphone builds available for some distros? And failing that, you can get access to many full desktop functions running on smartphones, including terminal shell/ssh, word processors, web browsers, spreadsheet programs, etc.. Hell, Android *is* Linux, just with an interface that's designed for a small touchscreen as its main input device. There are smartphones with HDMI out ports that can be hooked up to a TV, and can accept input from bluetooth keyboard/mouse, even. So no, I wouldn't really call that much of a hack. In fact, the Motorola Atrix [wikipedia.org] is designed specifically to function as both phone, and (with the help of a dock built for the purpose) a desktop/laptop replacement for light surfing/email duty.

Now, if you could convince Linux to run on something like a first-generation Palm Treo [wikipedia.org] , I'd call that a hack. :)

Re:this is a hack? (1)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079924)

You can just cross-compile NetBSD for i386. And there you have it: modern OS on ancient 386 hardware.

Rainy day (2)

Jack Malmostoso (899729) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079220)

Considering how shite this summer's weather has been in central Europe, we would have had time to install gentoo from Stage 1 on a 386.

Re:Rainy day (1)

Murdoch5 (1563847) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079240)

That would take longer then the entire summer and most likely fall.

Re:Rainy day (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079464)

That would take longer then the entire summer and most likely fail.

FTFY

Re:Rainy day (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079630)

That would take longer than the entire summer and most likely fail.

FTFY.

Slashdot- home to the smartest idiots on the planet.

Re:Rainy day (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079878)

That would take longer then the entire summer and most likely fail.

FTFY

THAN. It astounds me that people who understand regexes stumble on simple, plain English.

Re:Rainy day (1)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079290)

Interesting you mention Gentoo - that is one of the few distros that I'd expect to work fairly well on an i386, since it is built from source.

You'd need to find something to boot off of that contained wget, fdisk, etc, but once that is done you should be able to do just fine. Or, you could just rebuild the install media/etc for i386.

Getting it started would be the only painful part - once you're up and running with an i386 toolchain you should in theory be able to install anything you want. Of course, you'd have to have a pretty minimal install anyway to fit within the RAM constraints on any i386 motherboard.

Re:Rainy day (1)

larppaxyz (1333319) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079370)

Do you have any idea how long it would take to just compile kernel on 386sx and 4MB of memory? My guess would be something around 6-10 days and it would be almost impossible with 120MB HD. Oh, and i really would like to see how that old HD would bang swap partition while compiling with that amount of RAM :)

Been there, done that.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079412)

6-10 days?

I don't think it was that long, but it certainly seemed like eternity!

Now get off my lawn.......

Re:Rainy day (1)

Forty Two Tenfold (1134125) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079414)

Do you realize that you can compile for the target architecture on different machine?

Re:Rainy day (1)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079420)

I'd definetly go with Gentoo myself, of course you could cross-compile on a more modern box, at least to build the kernel and toolchain.

Re:Rainy day (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079432)

You can use distcc to offload compilation to a stronger machine. I installed gentoo on an old linksys nas that way.

Re:Rainy day (1)

John Courtland (585609) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079472)

Back in the early 2000's I built kernel 2.0.36 on a 1994-era 40MHz 486DLC (shitty TI/Cyrix chip) w/ 12MB of RAM and it took about 10 hours. The AMD 386 my dad bought in like 1995 was also 40MHz and would stomp that 486 piece of garbage. I bet if you could find a high end 386 w/ 12MB of fastpage it would take about the same amount of time.

Re:Rainy day (1)

IrquiM (471313) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079578)

Did you forget to push the turbo button?

Re:Rainy day (1)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079632)

When I did, it went into plaid.

Re:Rainy day (1)

Firehawke (50498) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079648)

Shit, I wouldn't even call a Cryix a 486. Like you said, higher end 386s tore those things to shreds. A guy I knew back in highschool had one, and it had a notorious chipset defect that caused it to semi-randomly scramble floppy writes under certain conditions.

Re:Rainy day (1)

yuhong (1378501) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079940)

I think the problem was the motherboard DMA was not aware of the internal cache inside the Cyrix, since it was a 386 motherboard.

Re:Rainy day (1)

Bert64 (520050) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079512)

Nothing to stop you fitting a much larger HDD to a 386, the BIOS won't handle it but Linux shouldn't have any trouble.

Also, there's always distcc for speeding up the compile, or just compile on a faster machine and copy the bins.... It's relatively easy to make a chroot for gentoo and then compile everything in it with 386 cpuflags, the resulting binaries will run just fine on newer hardware.

Re:Rainy day (1)

spaceyhackerlady (462530) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079562)

My first Linux box was a 486/66 that originally came with 4 MB of RAM, but I upgraded it to 32 MB. It compiled kernel 2.0.36 in a couple of hours. I started my thesis work on it, but got a used Pentium motherboard along the way and finished it on a Pentium 233MMX. Which I still have.

...laura

Re:Rainy day (1)

Demonoid-Penguin (1669014) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079582)

Do you have any idea how long it would take to just compile kernel on 386sx and 4MB of memory? My guess would be something around 6-10 days and it would be almost impossible with 120MB HD. Oh, and i really would like to see how that old HD would bang swap partition while compiling with that amount of RAM :)

My grand-daughter loves my old laptop- it's an IBM Thinkpad 380D - it's Debian built from source but no way did I compile it on that machine.

Re:Rainy day (1)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079642)

Yeah, but once you are done, it would make the ultimate seed box!

Re:Rainy day (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079836)

Nothing like that long. I was custom-compiling kernels under Slackware 3 on a 486SX with 8mb of RAM in about 2 hours. I'd wager as long as you pruned off a good deal of the hardware support that comes with the new kernels you could do the compile in less than a day.

Why not LFS? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079230)

Why not Linux from Scratch? http://www.linuxfromscratch.org/

Re:Why not LFS? (1)

BrokenHalo (565198) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079520)

I have gone down the path of LFS, mostly by way of setting up a very specialised system. I definitely wouldn't bother with it for a desktop box, since life is just too short to subject yourself to the workload of effectively maintaining your own distribution.

However, a simple approach to getting Linux running on a 386 might be to simply download one of the slightly older Slackware ISOs. I haven't checked the most recent offerings since I migrated to Arch, but IIRC it wasn't that long ago (1-2 years?) that Slack was offering 386 binaries as standard.

I can't figure out why this is remarkable (1)

carlhaagen (1021273) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079282)

The Linux kernel and the GNU userland is afterall i386, is it not? Up until just recently I had a long-running OpenBSD system on an old P75 with 64mb of RAM. It wasn't until just last year OpenBSD/i386 actually started requiring a 486.

Re:I can't figure out why this is remarkable (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079342)

nothing supports the 386 anymore, maybe net bsd if you have 16 megs to boot it

Re:I can't figure out why this is remarkable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079374)

nothing supports the 386 anymore, maybe net bsd if you have 16 megs to boot it

So all those i386 distributions that you can get (Fedora, Debian, etc) don't run on the i386 platform? That's fucked up!

Re:I can't figure out why this is remarkable (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079442)

no they require a minimum of a 486, for example the last debian that works on a 386 is potato (2.2)

Re:I can't figure out why this is remarkable (1)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079778)

no they require a minimum of a 486, for example the last debian that works on a 386 is potato (2.2)

Was this an Aperture Industries potato?

Re:I can't figure out why this is remarkable (1)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079672)

So all those i386 distributions that you can get (Fedora, Debian, etc) don't run on the i386 platform?

i386 is a platform and 80386sx or 80386dx is a CPU. And that CPU does not have the advanced instruction sets from the 80486 CPU that is now required. Just like the mainstream Nvidia driver no longer supports Gforce2 cards.

Re:I can't figure out why this is remarkable (1)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079764)

Not really. There were probably additions to the instruction set that most software now depends on. Given the lack of a market for the 386 and that almost no developer has one anymore, there is very little reason to target such a system.

Re:I can't figure out why this is remarkable (1)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079438)

Actually, Debain is still (only) i386.

Re:I can't figure out why this is remarkable (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079452)

debian states in a dozen places on their webstite that i386 requires a 486 cpu

Re:I can't figure out why this is remarkable (1)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079524)

Didn't realize that. I assumed that being marked "i386" meant it was i386. Silly me.

Re:I can't figure out why this is remarkable (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079550)

welcome to linux

Re:I can't figure out why this is remarkable (1)

John Courtland (585609) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079624)

i386 simply means it requires a 32-bit mode

Re:I can't figure out why this is remarkable (1)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079680)

http://linux.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2378254&cid=37079672 [slashdot.org] i386 is a platform and 80386sx or 80386dx is a CPU. And that CPU does not have the advanced instruction sets from the 80486 CPU that is now required. Just like the mainstream Nvidia driver no longer supports Gforce2 cards.

Re:I can't figure out why this is remarkable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079454)

No, gcc defaults for debian is march=i586 since mid-2010. See http://bugs.debian.org/cgi-bin/bugreport.cgi?bug=609690

Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079284)

The question is why? When you can get much more processing power at less dollar and energy cost from installing Linux on a hacked/rooted old smart phone, ereader, and yes even router.

Re:Why? (2)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079474)

It is a geek thing. We wonder if you could run a website from a Commodore 64 (I will be nice and not link to that one), a two-axis panning time lapse rig built from Lego [hackaday.com] , or build a nuclear reactor [slashdot.org] . You don't need a practical purpose to do these things. The point is to see if they can be done.

Now I have to agree with the first poster that installing an old version Linux on a 386 doesn't rank too high on the scale of these sorts of things. It would be interesting just to remind us how far things have progressed since then.

I have to admit I have an installation of Windows 3.1 running on DOSBox for this very reason. But that is not too hardcore either. Much more amazing is the fact that I know someone who still actively uses their Windows 3.1 system as their only computer. When you see how capable Word 6 was, it shows that things haven't improved a great deal in the word processing world in all that time.

Re:Why? (2)

jones_supa (887896) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079638)

And yet some people's hobby are vintage cars too, even though you could get more MPG from newer stuff...

Re:Why? (1)

Demonoid-Penguin (1669014) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079748)

The question is why? When you can get much more processing power at less dollar and energy cost from installing Linux on a hacked/rooted old smart phone, ereader, and yes even router.

Because the same hardware that chugs with Win98SE running an antivirus and a decent firewall, even when NLited - but can be pretty responsive when running modern true-32-bit software. "Leverage new life out of old hardware with new software". This post is being made on an IBM T22 Thinkpad running Squeeze KDE. I don't have plasma effects or widgets enabled (nor do I want them). But this processor and 256MB of RAM won't run anything useful and modern using the software of it's era - for most tasks it's just as quick as my 6 month-old high-end 2GB RAM laptop - which runs Windoof 7. Except power on to useable is 8 seconds, shutdown is 5 seconds (guess which OS does that).

Disclaimer: once Windoof 7 has been around for a few more years there'll be more way to trim the fat - but I'll never have the ability to do that at source code level, and it's not in the companies interests to release performance patches.

By all means *you* go buy the latest hardware every year - if it does what you want, then more power to you. But if your 2GB of sub-light speed RAM, dual-core 64-bit 3GHz machine with it's SATA hdd can't do anything useful quicker than my sub 1GHz single-core 32-bit processor with 256MB of PC100 dragging an IDE drive.... hey you do the math - you help the economy, I'll watch my wallet and my power bill.

Though really it's just about building things - gives me more joy than acquiring things.
Sad really.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079928)

You know all this. You know trivia down to the chip level. Yet you don't know that it's means IT IS. Baffling.

Beware the price of IDE drives (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079300)

AKA PATA drives. Their price has jumped and they are getting scarce.
I just checked Microcenter and they had only one type and it was about $110.

It could be fun, but don't invest much cash.

Re:Beware the price of IDE drives (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079332)

compact flash and a ide adapter, you dont need a 40 gigger on something like this

Re:Beware the price of IDE drives (1)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079742)

Find a local Computer Recycler. These guys are local to me. http://www.compurecyclers.com/ [compurecyclers.com] You can get a box of IDE drives for the cost of lunch. Also, lots of old hardware, and hard to find memory.

But... (1)

eexaa (1252378) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079310)

...but does it (still) run linux?

Re:But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079614)

I understand that sometimes it is difficult to read the summary. To answer your question: yes.

Re:But... (1)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079800)

Well this is the million monkies. Any computing hardware could be made to run Linux, given enough crazy code monkies, though the Babbage Machine would probably be pushing it ;)

Use LFS or similar... (1)

dermoth666 (1019892) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079352)

I did pretty much that to install a linux distro on a 486 laptop - I compiled the kernel, libraries, etc. - then built a bootdisk and filesystem. I then went on and copied the ~15m filesystem using a bunch of floppies (no network) one disk at a time after booting from the floppy, and finally installed the bootloader.

The Linux From Scratch HOWTO has all instructions for it, although in my case I diverted a little bit from it - for instance I used uClibc instead of Glibc and a 2.2 kernel. Doing it from scratch gives you the best way to select more recent components for some parts while using smaller/older ones elsewhere, so you don't end up with a totally outdated system.

Hack? (1)

KingRobot (703860) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079364)

I feel dated, I mean, "back in the day" this was how you used a machine like this...

Re:Hack? (1)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079478)

No kidding. I remember mounting the hard drive and a tape drive on the boot floppy.

Re:Hack? (1)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079808)

That is nothing. Back in the day we were using punch cards.

wrong distro (1)

pngwen (72492) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079418)

Shoulda used gentoo. If gcc can compile for it, gentoo can do it! Plus it would have been a hack too, as all gentoo boxen are hacks!

And yes, I run gentoo on all my machines and have done so since 2003. (My first gentoo box was in 2002, the rest of my machines were converted a year later.)

Re:wrong distro (1)

IrquiM (471313) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079590)

True - wrong distro - just install slackware, and be happy with it! No need to compile everything!

Still got a functioning 486DX4 with slackware 3.5 installed on it. Works like a charm!

Re:wrong distro (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079620)

Imagine how fast it would have run with all the optimization, too!

Difficulties of 386 support (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079450)

As the author of the referenced article pointed out, many/most distros dropped support for the 386 some time ago. IIRC from the discussions on the NetBSD mailing list, a lot of this had to do with the bloat required to support 386-specific workarounds which were not an issue for the 486 and later chips. There was some discussion of handing it with conditional defines and/or separate ports, but it came down to the level of code obfuscation (from the conditionals) vs. the number of real users.

Re:Difficulties of 386 support (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079910)

This does not make sense to me. It is my understanding that all of the x86 chips shared a common underlying instruction set. Given that, two questions: Why would 386 not be supported if 486 is? Why would 386 have a bunch of workarounds that later ones in the line did not require?

why is this here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079538)

Whats next? An article about breathing?

Old software installed on old computer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079608)

Film at eleven. Seriously, what is the interest here? 1997 era software on a 386sx? What is the big deal?

Been done before (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079682)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CIUyM6GTmU

My old 386sx16 booting Slackware with a 2.0.35 kernel

Slackware 2.0.35 seems to be the way to go.

Compiler Technology (3, Interesting)

TejWC (758299) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079710)

I was wondering, hypothetically, if somebody where to take the source code of Debian 1.3.1 and compile it with the latest version of GCC and somehow made it compile; I wonder how much faster it will compared to the binary that was released back then. I mean, has compiler technology improved much in the last 14 years when it comes to slow machines like the i386?

Floppies???? (1)

jsimon12 (207119) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079718)

Why didn't the guy just make the stack of install floppies like we used to do back in the day? Or break out his PCMCIA SCSI card (still have one along with a single speed SCSI CD)

moores law has gone too far (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079740)

now that 1.6ghz processors, 1gb RAM and 160GB hard drives are considered "low-end" netbook specs, it is so surpising to hear about old software taking up so little.

This is nothing! (3, Funny)

Scholasticus (567646) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079784)

I installed Linux on a vellum codex! I even included X11, but went with Xfce instead of GNOME 3. It's sweet, man ... very illuminated.

OpenBSD (2)

Billly Gates (198444) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079796)

The issue is the bloated glibc libraries eat up all the ram.

The libc ones in OpenBSD use much less memory and the system is less intensive. BSD init is much leaner as well. If I were bored I would install a BSD OS on such a beast and would not even consider Linux unless old 2001 era libc 5 is being used.

Heh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079846)

Posting this on a not so old PC with antiX (i486) for future use on a very particular netbook.

Anyway, my suggestion: distrowatch, search (old computers, based on Debian, not based on Ubuntu, i386) yields 37 alternatives. Check for language support, desktops availabel, offered apps etc.

For me, the i486 criterion led to antiX (still under testing, but seems very good). Maybe the best distros for i586, i486 and i386 are all different! IMHO the desktop plays a major role, since apps are easily fetched from Debian repos. See if what you prefer is offered.

Ubuntu is directed towards i686 (maybe i586, too)... that's why I explicitly excluded it (but I have hopes that Unity comes to be rather good e.g. for touchscreens).

Ill do one better (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079874)

Ill install OS/2 from the original floppies on a PS/2 model 80. ya, that will show them!

WTF? and why do we care?

Thanks for the (bad) memories. (0)

gukin (14148) | more than 3 years ago | (#37079902)

Oh the time we wasted on those old, hideously expensive machines. The hours I wasted trying to get our application to run on a customers old hardware. The worst was a 386 with 2 Meg of ram and a tiny hard disk. He insisted we use that machine because it was still working and he didn't want to shell out the $1500 for a new 486 with 16 Meg of RAM. I couldn't make it work, the disk had errors and the machine was a POS Packard Bell with some intermittent problems.

He finally paid for the $1500 for the 486 but shortly destroyed everything trying to dual boot win95. Heck even Win95 hated 486 or weaker machines.

Why is this remarkable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37079934)

Why is it remarkable to install debian 1.3.1 which was released around 1997 on a 386?

I mean i would be impressed if it were some more recent version of the kernel and userland.
But i guess for that you would need Gentoo or LFS (which would probably take days if you dont use a different PC for Compiling).

Dune 2 (1)

Krneki (1192201) | more than 3 years ago | (#37080036)

If you manage to make it run, you should try Dune 2. It's a revolutionary game.
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