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Linux on a Pentium II?

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August 5, 2012 3:10:03 AM


I've come across a very old PC and I'm considering putting some flavor of Linux on it, but I'm concerned about compatibility problems and other issues coming from the system's age. First of all, this is the system. It's not impressive, but it did run UT pretty well at one point. It ran fine a few months ago when I finished copying files from the old HDD with Windows 98 on it, so the hardware's at least functional.

Pentium II
Two sticks of RAM, one's 128MB and I'm pretty sure the other's 64MB.
Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 (PCI)
An SiS 6326 AGP video card (Probably unused. It was still in the system with the Nvidia card, though.)
What looks like a modem, produced by Motorola
A network card, produced by Davicom
An 80GB IDE Seagate HDD that I just bought for $12
I'll be using a spare PSU I have laying around to test this. Maybe I'll actually spend ~$20 on a dedicated one later.

I've got an AGP slot, three PCI slots, and two ISA slots.

So my first question is how I should handle inputs. The motherboard only has one PS/2 port (I think it may actually be a DIN port, it's black rather than the normal purple/green). I have no idea how both things were connected before, as that's the only I/O port I see besides ethernet, modem, video, and a coax hookup. Would I run into any installation issues if I just bought an PCI USB card and ran the mouse and keyboard through that? I know windows would probably want a driver for the card before I could use the keyboard connected through it to install said driver. I don't know how a Linux install package would handle that.

Obviously, the next question is what flavors of Linux are even an option. I've heard that Ubuntu won't work on a PIII, so most certainly won't work on a PII. I haven't used anything but CentOS before, so I don't have much knowledge of how demanding different distributions are. Does anyone have any experience with running Linux on a Pentium II or similar very old hardware?


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August 5, 2012 9:48:19 PM

Well, I know that Lubuntu and Xubuntu use less RAM. Try out Lubuntu. And I also know that Zorin OS lite requires only 128mb or RAM to run, so you could try that too.
And it is possible to get Ubuntu on a Pentium III. I've done it before.
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August 6, 2012 1:17:20 PM

A USB card is exactly the solution that I would try for the keyboard and mouse issue.

I would recommend Puppy Linux for an old machine. This says that minimum requirements for 4.1.2 are 233mhz CPU and 128 mb RAM:
http://www.puppylinuxfaq.org/first-steps-in-puppy-linux...

If the second memory stick is only 64MB, I would guess that you only have 128mb of usable RAM. Can you power up the machine to check how much RAM it is currently using?

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August 6, 2012 4:11:00 PM

AnUnusedUsername said:
. . .

So my first question is how I should handle inputs. . . .

Obviously, the next question is what flavors of Linux are even an option. . . . Does anyone have any experience with running Linux on a Pentium II or similar very old hardware?

Right on input regarding USB . . .
xPud is worth looking into -- extremely lightweight and simple

Recommend maxing out RAM for the motherboard, as a first step ( for example, here ) good cheap AGP cards available same place.

Upping RAM will give more options for distro -- like antiX-M11-i486 and others.

Best wishes!
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August 8, 2012 11:07:44 PM

I have an old Dell laptop running Puppy Linux on 256 MB RAM. 128 MB seems a little low if you want a graphic desktop, but it might work. Don't expect miracles, though.

What do you want to do with it?
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August 9, 2012 1:32:29 AM

As for what I want to do with it, at this point I basically just want to get it running because it's a waste to have it sitting in a box. Maybe I'll come up with a good purpose eventually.

I'm pretty sure it won't pick up two different sticks of RAM, the other stick wasn't in the system when I last took it apart. I'm a bit surprised that that's considered low even for the lightest distributions, this thing ran win98 with less than 128mb of ram without any problems. Are there older (circa 2000) versions of linux around that might be an option, or would I just be giving myself compatibility issues? I can buy more RAM if I absolutely have to, but I'd rather stick to what I've got if I can, this isn't a very serious build.

I've thought about Puppy linux, but I'd rather have something I can actually install to the HDD than something that's only on bootable media.
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August 9, 2012 10:59:59 PM

Puppy Linux can be installed to HDD. It's actually quite simple.

As for the use of this PC, you could use it as a small file server, for browsing the Internet (flash content may be a problem as it eats up CPU resources), document editing, email, ftp server, or even a small web server.

I haven't done it with Puppy, but there should be a way to have remote desktop so you could access this PC from another PC or notebook. I use ssh -X user@ipaddress to access my new PC from my Mac, or remmina (see http://remmina.sourceforge.net/) on a Linux box to control another Linux box remotely.
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Anonymous
August 11, 2012 1:16:24 AM

puppy or dsl is what I would use
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August 15, 2012 5:28:02 PM

I'm a little late to the party here, but since I'm running Linux on a 15-year-old Dell Pentium II, maybe I can add something, if the OP hasn't already made up his mind.

I bought the Dell Dimension 2350 new in 1997, I think, and it came with Win98 as an OS. I added two 128MB sticks to the one that was already there years ago, and I ran that until MS stopped supporting it, then moved to Linux, eventually settling on Mepis 7.0 (IIRC).

I pulled it out of storage a couple of weeks ago and discovered that it won't run the top-line distros any longer, partly because of the RAM shortfall, but also for other issues. That's probably the case for the OP, too.

What I'd suggest is to consider the lower-resource distros, like Puppy and Mepis AntiX, Lubuntu, yes, then go to the forums for each of them and see how much support you're likely to get from the experienced crowd. For my part I got very low support from the Xubuntu crowd, and a extremely high level of support from Mepis, so I installed an older version of the main Mepis (8.5, vs the newer 11, primarily because I really disliked the up-to-date AntiX). So far, I've received detailed help on installing a printer and a scanner, and that's no small thing.
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September 1, 2012 3:55:14 PM

Best answer selected by AnUnusedUsername.
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September 1, 2012 3:58:50 PM

Well, it turns out I'm short a few cables and they're fairly hard to come by retail. Once I have the system together I'll probably just try as many builds as I can and settle with whichever one I can get to work. My question was basically is it possible, and it seems like the answer is yes, although its not the best idea.
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