Autarchy of the Private Cave

Tiny bits of bioinformatics, [web-]programming etc

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    Installing Linux onto an older computer

    17th August 2007

    As a primer and a generally good guide, read Linux on old hardware. Pay special attention to kernel arguments (“cheat codes”): those do come handy often with older hardware.

    From personal experience, have to say the following:

    • if a computer was manufactured/assembled before 1997 (or so), it may NOT boot the CDs of the majority of modern Linux distributions. This problem is due to the BIOS restriction, and might be cured by BIOS update (flashing BIOS), but I didn’t check for the availability of older-motherboard BIOSes with newer boot CD-ROM support: such an availability might not be the case. The problem is described in the Damn Small Linux wiki, and Damn Small seems to be the only distribution which cares to provide an ISO image, which boots of the systems with older BIOS. Summarizing: if your old computer fails to boot from other Linux’s CD, try the latest ISO image of the Damn Small Linux, which has ‘syslinux’ in it’s name – that is the boot loader which works even for older BIOSes. (The newer boot loader is named ‘isolinux’.)
    • Puppy linux is indeed a good choice for it’s user-friendliness
    • Zenwalk Linux was not specifically tailored for the older computers, and is a complete Linux system; however, it’s default config allows it to run on older systems immediately after install with no extra tweaking.

    Currently I have access to an old Pentium 100 with 32 MiB RAM, which at the moment runs DamnSmallLinux; as time permits, I’ll try to install DeLi Linux onto it: just hope that DeLi has SYSLINUX and not ISOLINUX.

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