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old hardware doesn't need an old distro. You just have to be selective about what packages to install. Try a stripped-down debian system. works perfectly fine on a 386. If you have an old 486 or pentium, you should have no problems running XFree86 with a decent number of packages, but KDE and the like are out. Give fvwm a whirl...very light and highly customisable.
Agreed. You didn't really specify what you mean by "old", but anything newer than, say, a 486 with 32MB RAM (and enough hard drive space for what you want to install) is usually perfectly adequate. Many modern distributions, though, are compiled and/or optimized for Pentium architectures (anything with a "586" in the name), so for those you will need a Pentium or better.
Vectorlinux ... based on Slackware but more user friendly ... very stable ... very fast .... 5RC2 ,4.3standard or 4.0 SOHO .... Id get 5RC2 or wait till 5.0 ... using IceWM ... or any GUI ... KDE on my system is usable with 32MB RAM .... its very good . :-)
what about trying damn small linux. as you can guess by it;s name it is rather small. What also might work and is a liveCD like knoppix which would not take up much hard drive space however i am not sure how it would do with the ram. Maybe you could try to find an older version at distrowatch.org