How to Revive an Old Computer with Linux

Have you got an old computer gathering dust in the attic? Did you know you can revive it with a modern Linux operating system? It can become a useful router/firewall, server or even desktop computer again. All without buying expensive Windows licences that are no longer even supported. Old limitations on file names, disk size, USB support in early Windows versions can even be overcome. You can put a 21st Century operating system on a 20th Century computer.

Steps

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    Consider what you want, a desktop computer, a server, or a router/firewall.
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    Clean it with compressed air and test if your PC will turn on safely.
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    Determine what your PC will boot from (in the BIOS or manual), old ones might not boot from USB, really old ones might not even boot from CD.
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    If it won't boot from CD, download floppy boot images of Damn Small Linux and Puppy Linux (WakePup for Puppy Linux 1 and 2 series) and once extracted onto a floppy disk, insert them into your old PC. Alternatively download Smart Boot Manager [1], install on a floppy disk and boot the computer - you should now be able to boot from your CD drive. If you're on dial-up and don't want to download Damn Small Linux (50Mb) or Puppy Linux (100Mb), then buy a CD online.
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    Download SliTaz, Damn Small Linux, Puppy Linux and what ever distro you wish to test and burn them to cds or create a bootable flash drive. Boot the Windows 9x computer with each version of Linux and run the computer from the CD or flash drive. See which version works best on your computer. One may not contain a driver for your hard drive that another one may include. Decide which version you are going to install permanently to your old Windows 9x computer.
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    Turn your old PC on if you haven't already and insert the CDs as soon as you can, if successful, you'll be greeted by a DSL or Puppy Linux boot screen for a few seconds (press a key quickly to interrupt the countdown if you like)
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    Unless you have valuable data on the old PC, consider creating a swap partition (with gParted or Ultimate Boot CD) if you have too little ram (less than 64Mb) to run the distros "live".
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    Read and consider carefully using cheat codes at boot (also called boot parameters) to run more from CD and use less RAM particularly with Puppy
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    Choose Xvesa rather than X.org framebuffer if you have display problems
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    Turn off ACPI or APM if you have problems.
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    If you like Puppy Linux but 3 series is too slow, consider 2 series (Phoenix or 214R), or even 1 series (MeanPup or 109CE).
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    If you like Damn Small Linux, also consider Damn Small Linux-Not (with Abiword and Gnumeric) or Feather Linux (also derived from Knoppix).
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    If you have a serial mouse, test whether it is detected and works. If it doesn't, then additional configuration can be made with boot parameters/cheat codes. For dial-up modems, consider a hardware dial-up modem for maximum compatibility.
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    Some gains in performance may be made, once installed to hard disk rather than running live.
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    Also consider a "frugal installation" for performance gains. If you spread the word, tell your friends and share Damn Small Linux and Puppy Linux CDs, you can build your own local support group to help revive old PCs.

Tips

  • DeLi is good with older computers than Slitaz, Damn Small Linux and Puppy but is not live and is harder to install as it requires manual text based partitioning.
  • This old pc can be used as a file server, router, and more.
  • Choose lightweight window managers like JWM, IceWM or Fluxbox rather than GNOME, Xfce (if your computer is old enough) or KDE.
  • Choose lightweight browsers like Opera or Dillo rather than Konqueror or Flock.
  • If you're adding applications, choose lightweight ones like SIAG Office rather than OpenOffice.org.
  • If you want something different and unusual with eye-candy, consider Enlightenment window manager which comes with Elive.
  • If you are familiar with jumper plugs; some CD units can be changed so you are able then to boot from CD. Change the jumper plug from slave to master. It will then show up in your BIOS (or boot options) as a boot device. This option is built on many players. It can be found on the back by the plugs.
  • You may run the computer from the CD or flash drive without ever installing the operating system to the hard drive. This may be a good option for kids, school computers and public computers making it impossible for hackers to do damage. Users would save documents to personal flash drives or in the cloud such as Google Docs.

Warnings

  • If power supply wires have broken do not use the PC.
  • Puppy Linux runs as root.

Article Info

Categories: Linux