Which linux distro for 486/400

I know this isn't a new question for this forum, but I've read the previous answers and would like additional/current input.

I have a IBM (literally, not clone) with a 486/400 AMD, 320MB of RAM, NIC card, and 10GB HD. Right now it's running Win98.

I'd like to get recommendations on a "full" but free distro of linux to install - this will be my first install, and I want something simple to install, but full-featured, with a GUI. This is going to be learning environment, so I can wipe it clean and go again if needed.

Any thoughts? Thanks.
LVL 38
Who is Participating?
LuxanaConnect With a Mentor Commented:
Hi lherrou

All Linux distros are good for learning. Only package management is different. You Have to main:
APT- management ---> Debian, Ubuntu
RPM- management --> Red Hat etc..

Dieban have a quite more difficult installation but anyway I recommend Debian. Every linux distro can be installed on your PC. Also you said thet it is for learnig so why you don't try more then one so you will see the difference. That is the best for learnig:-)


wesly_chenConnect With a Mentor Commented:
> I'd like to get recommendations on a "full" but free distro of linux to install
It depends on your purpose for Linux. If you just want to play around or know about Linux command, then
any Linux distribution in linuxiso website will do.
I would say Knoppix (Debian base) will be good to try since it has very nice GUI stuff.
You can play around the LiveCD version first for the feeling. Then install it to the hard disk for performance.

If you consider for the career related to Linux, then RedHat Linux or SuSE Linux will be better since most of
companies use those two distributions (RedHat is popular in USA and SuSE is popular in Europe).
The free version of RedHat and SuSE have the similar or same administration/configuration command set.
I would recommend the Fedora Core 3 (latest free RedHat Linux version) which is quite popular have you can
get a lot of help from internet for it when you need it.


lherrouAuthor Commented:
Luxana - thanks, that's a good thought about trying more than one, since this is just a test/play machine.

Wesly - I'm not looking to have a career related to Linux, but I try to keep up in technology, and have been meaning to play
with Linux for a while. It's been 11 years since I've touched a *unix-type OS, and  that was on a Sun.
Introducing Cloud Class® training courses

Tech changes fast. You can learn faster. That’s why we’re bringing professional training courses to Experts Exchange. With a subscription, you can access all the Cloud Class® courses to expand your education, prep for certifications, and get top-notch instructions.

I wasn't aware there was such a thing as a 400MHz 486!  P-1's started @ 60MHz if I remember right...then there was about a 2 year gap until anything hit 400MHz.  I googled a little and saw a couple references to 486/400's but it still just doesn't sound right to me.  Fastest 486's I remember were 133 or 166's and AMD called them "586's".  

I know this is off topic...it just really struck me odd that a 486/400 ever existed when I never saw them over 166....where are all the 200's, 233, 266, 300, 333, etc 486's?

I'm not calling anyone a liar or saying they don't exist...just wondering how I missed them and/or why when at 400MHz CPU's were using PII architecture (and about to start on P-III's at 450MHZ) that something as antiquated as the 486 architecture was still being used.

Anyway...to make this an on-topic post, I'll throw in one more lil tidbit:  Whatever distro you decide on, *especially* on a learning box, I'd urge you to do all your configuration via command line and not rely on the point-n-click GUI config utilities.  All the GUI config utils are just front ends to edit the actual config files anyway, and if you can configure a system via the files, you will be able to get around almost any linux or *BSD system (although you may need to hunt around to find the same files on different distributions as they each have their own preferred system file placement preferences).  GUI utilities can be nice I suppose, but each one is different and if you jump to another machine it may not have the GUI util you're used to.  Also, if you want to make a configuration change remotely, you're much more likely to see systems that are configured to allow ssh access than remote X sessions.  If all you know is what pretty buttons to click on you'd be stuck.
lherrouAuthor Commented:

Nice rant. :)

Well, actually it's an AMD K6-2 at 400MHz, which I should have called an x86/400. So here's the revised description:
I have a IBM (literally, not clone) with a x86/400 AMD K6-2, 320MB of RAM, NIC card, and 10GB HD. Right now it's running Win98.

And yes, the point of playing around with this is to learn the command line, not just the GUI. On the other hand, I anticipate at some point switching over to Linux and ending my dependence on Uncle Bill - so having pretty buttons to press will be useful for the other, less hardcore users in the office.
> I try to keep up in technology, and have been meaning to play with Linux for a while.
Well, stiil recommend Fedora Core 3 or Knoppix 3.7.
320MB RAM and 10GB is ok for those 2 Linux distros.
RoachConnect With a Mentor Commented:
These are too fat for your old computer.

All Linux distros are good for learning. Only package management is different. You Have to main:
APT- management ---> Debian, Ubuntu
RPM- management --> Red Hat etc..

Try one of the small distributions meant for old CPU's

   2-Disk Xwindow Linux  

something like that meant for old cpu computer.  check linux.org for distro list.  look for Minimalist distro's.
Fedora Core 3 or knoppix 3.7 are ok for the hardware specification.
I've a PII celeron 400 Dell Inspiron notebook (128MB memory,6GB disk) load with Fedora Core 3 without problem.
Slow, maybe, but most of Linux distros will be the same slow. Just don't run Office suite or firefox browser, which take a lot of resources.
macker-Connect With a Mentor Commented:
I concur with wesly on this.  It may be a little slow, as expected, but it should not be a significant problem.  I also endorse his suggestions in distros.

A lack of RAM is what would get you.  Also, distros such as Knoppix are more likely to offer you light-weight window managers such as fluxbox, blackbox, twm, etc.  Stay away from KDE and Enlightenment.  Gnome might be okay, depending what window manager is used, and your patience.

Personally, I don't care for debian.. it's a PITA.  But some Debian-based distros like Knoppix make it easier to tolerate, especially since you're operating from a live-cd environment, which is wonderful for "testing" distros.  SUSE is available in a "live eval" cd, and while I'm a fan of SUSE, I prefer the older versions.  Part of it is a matter of personal taste, and what you're accustomed to.  Fedora will likely have a very large support community available for you, whereas Debian will have a fantaical fanbase which may be comprised of a lot of technically minded people, a fair number of "I run Debian because I'm cool" cluebies, and a lot of elitist "go RTFM" attitudes.  Try them all, see which ones you like, see how much help you get.. finding the right support forums can make or break your Linux experience.

As for hardware description, "K6-2 400mhz" would be the best way to write it.

Trivia: There were 486 DX/4 100's, which was internally clocked at 100mhz but externally clocked at 25.  There was also DX/2 66's which were internal clock at 66 and external at 33.  The internal/external clock is today represented as "FSB", or Front Side Bus frequency.  Little different meaning, but same sort of "two numbers" approach.  The DX refers to CPU's with a built-in math coprocessor, while the SX models were without, though sometimes you could get an independent math co-processor fitted in the matching socket.  IIRC, the coprocessor model was 387/487.
"A lack of RAM is what would get you."?  hmmmm.  I disagree and frequently run debian boxes of 128MB or less (almost 3x less than the author's K6-2) with no problems sans-X.  Heck, I ran arguably the most bloated, resource-hogged window manager made (enlightenment) the few time I actually *did* install X...still on 128MB or less RAM machines.  I don't think 320MB would be "lacking".  Oh well.....I'm a debian fan, too (and currently have debian, slackware, mandrake, and FC3 X-enabled boxes scattered around the house....tho the majority are still X-less debian boxes).  4 years ago I loved SuSE (mibbie 5-6 yrs, actually...whenever 6.0 was released), 2 years ago I preferred Mandrake.  Distros change, individual preferences change, useage changes and therefore appropriateness of each distro....they're all free, just grab a couple, burn the .iso's, if one gives you a headach on install, cut the power and reboot to a different install cd and repeat.  Disrto <blah> may be the best for you except it doesn't automagically detect your <bleh> card....so switch to Distro <blih> and mibbie the <bloh> driver needs tweaking, switch to Distro <bluh> and all works so now you have your favorite.....for a while.  Close you eyes and pick one....chances are you'll be changing your mind soon and want to try sumfin different anyway :)
I wasn't making comments on what constitutes a lack of ram, I'm simply saying that a lack of ram _will_ down a box, especially one that is CPU limited.  with enough ram, it will continue chugging away, albeit slowly.  with a lack of ram, no matter how fast the CPU, if it goes into swap and can't keep up... it will die.

It is possible to run Linux in environments with extremely minimal hardware resources (e.g. 486 class cpu's and 16-32mb ram, e.g. TiVo series1), but Linux has been configured to run in this environment.  As you said, "sans-X".  Load up X, Enlightenment, mozilla, openoffice, gimp, etc... and your RAM will rapidly start depleting, and your performance will scale in a non-linear fashion.  Again, it all depends on what you're actually doing, but as a generalized rule, it's RAM that will come up as insufficient rather than CPU, when running on dated hardware.

I've run Slackware on 8mb of RAM and an 80mb IDE hd.  It didn't exactly scream, but it worked.  Ran mini-linux in 4mb RAM, and that included an X server (5 1.44mb floppies.. heh.)  Personally, I'm quite thankful those days are gone, and refuse to run production servers with less than 1GB of RAM and workstations with less than 512mb.
As a beginner, I recommend the popular one instead of "best" one. Besides, "best" one is always not coming out of box.
It needs to be tweaked/tuned to become most suitable one.

So I recommend the popular distros for beginners so they can get help easier.
Knoppix is Debian based. It comes with KDE. After installed in hard disk, it is debian.
Knoppix is "LiveCD" version of Debian.
paranoidcookieConnect With a Mentor Commented:
Oh dear it always seems to end up in a distro war, I am not trying to flame just want to help lherrou understand why there are significant differences between distros. Linux is mearly part of the package maintainers like red hat/debian/suse provide linux along with numerous utilities and programs.

Package maintainers write utilities to manage the various functions linux can provide. Personally I would you grab a copy of red hat or suse as these are the most popular linux distros in business environments. Whilst there are literally hundreds of distributions all with features to recommend you might as well learn the dominante systems. Once you feel confident you can try out the other flavours out there.

IMHO the diffrence between the distibutions and the holy wars that stem out of them are holding back widespread linux adoption

macker-Connect With a Mentor Commented:
"Holy wars" over distributions will always exist, much like Windows vs. Unix/Linux.  It's a little different between distributions though; anyone can say "Linux is better than Windows", and if they're talking about a web server, they're probably right.  Saying "my distro is better than your distro" is often an ill-fated argument, because which distro you pick depends on your needs.  It's much like comparing passenger cars, light trucks, mini-vans and SUV's.  Which you pick depends on what you want to do, and people will always have an opinion that one is better for all purposes, but it's an irrelevant argument.

From the "newbie" standpoint, wesly's comment is appropriate... "popular" vs. "best".  "popular" ensures support.  "best" is more useful once you know enough to determine which "best" suits your specific requirements, and you are comfortable enough to take advantage of it, even if it's not the most widely supported.

That said, three of the most popular and widely-supported distributions are Debian (sysadmins), RedHat [now Fedora project for non-commercial] (home users), and SuSE [now SUSE] (Europe).  Other distributions, such as Knoppix, Mandrake, etc. are based on these distributions.  There are differences, but if you know one, you can figure out the other.

Debian and Slackware are both known to be more ... primal distributions.  I'm sure both have made many advancements to put a more user-friendly finish on it, but they both tend to satisfy more advanced users, and users of older hardware.

There's also many specialized distributions such as "Lindows" [now Linspire], "EasyLinux", and Xandros [based on Corel Linux], all of which are oriented towards novice users who prefer to be shielded from Linux itself, and just want a desktop.

The choices are vast, and it all depends on what your requirements are, in order to narrow the field.
well put, macker :)
lherrouAuthor Commented:
Thanks to all who responded. Due to a busy schedule and an employee quitting, I haven't had time to tackle this yet.

I have increased and split the points.
Question has a verified solution.

Are you are experiencing a similar issue? Get a personalized answer when you ask a related question.

Have a better answer? Share it in a comment.

All Courses

From novice to tech pro — start learning today.