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Ok, I just got my sister's old pc (this thing is slow). It had Windows 98 on it, but it is running so slowly that I was just going to reformat the HD and install a faster OS (linux).
Then the HD crapped out, so I figured I would use it a s a dumb terminal where it would just browse the net without a HD at all.
The system is this: Athalon processor, 650mhz 64mb RAM.
I tried Slax, didnt work (hung up- just got 2 icons on the desktop and thats the further it gets- cd spins indefinitely)
I tried Damn Small Linux, didnt work (gave me an error that said it was pausing for 30 seconds, and this went on indefinitely).
I tried Ubuntu, but it froze at start up screen (I assumed not enough RAM).
Can't really answer that, keep trying Live cd's. If it's an old PC try some older versions. I'd also recommend running some sort of memory test (most live cd's will have this as an option at boot screen) and also google to check if hardware on the PC like graphics card are compatible with the distro.
An optical drive will probably crap out before too long with constant liveCD use. But in any case, the 64megs of RAM is really tough to work within, with no hard drive swap partition. For web browsing, you'll probably want to use Firefox since a small web browser like Dillo can't handle many web sites. Firefox is big and heavy.
With that relatively fast processor, it'd be a waste to not use this box for something. It's just the meager amount of RAM which is the problem (and MAYBE there's something else going on if Damn Small is having a problem). If it's networked with a computer with media files on it, you could use GeexBox as a very lightweight media player. It should play most .avi files smoothly, and of course mp3's are a piece of cake.
If you can increase the RAM to 128megs, then it'll be far more capable. Firefox will then fit comfortably, along with a lightweight window manager.
I actually have a lot of 168pin SDRAM sitting in an envelope unused, because I've salvaged parts from so many dead old slot-1 computers (usually, the motherboard dies but the rest of the hardware is okay).
You know, I am thinking it could potentially be the optical drive. I do run a file server that has Ubuntu on it and that one has an optical drive that I could swap out (its not being used anyway). If there may be potential problems doing this, let me know.
Oh, and if all goes well, I will increase the RAM
ETA: I did the memtest and it ran for 5 hours with roughly 40 passes and no errors. I think the memory is ok....
Yes, I'd suspect the optical drive. I have a ton of flakey optical drives, that just can't seem to boot up a CD.
As far as I know, there are no potential issues with swapping the optical drives, assuming they're both IDE drives. There might be some strange issues with REALLY old IDE controllers, but not on a computer as non-ancient as yours.
If you're totally unfamiliar with the way IDE hardware works, then you'll need to acquaint yourself with master/slave/cable select settings work. Basically, each drive has a jumper to set whether it's the master, slave, or whether to let the (80-wire) cable select whether it's master or slave. If this sounds new or confusing to you, you'll need to brush up on it before messing with the hardware.