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Ok, so very new to this, and I don't really know where else to look. Quick low down -- Doing dual boot with Windows XP Media Center 2005 on clean secondary drive. On the hunt for a beginner-friendly Linux OS, was thinking Debian? I need to know what kind of Linux to look for.
Debian's a great distro alright. Team Debian don't release buggy, half-baked crap. HOWEVER, because of their exhaustive testing, the kernels tend to be a bit long in the tooth, so you may find they don't recognise some of your hardware. I'd strongly recommend as an alternative, PCLinuxOS 2009.1 which has excellent hardware detection and is the closest thing in Linux to ready-to-run straight out of the box. Better in that respect than Ubuntu, even. Have fun.
The i386 would suffice for your hardware. Your not going to gain much performance for the 64 bit distribution. If you want to utilize 4GB you can compile your kernel to utilize the highmem for the 32 bit kernel. This has been covered a lot here on LQ so do a search.
I would suggest that you use a LiveCD from 'The LiveCD List' to see what you are comfortable with. This way you can test drive without installing.
These links and others can be found at 'Slackware-Links'. More than just SlackwareŽ links!
Well, here I'd say that AMD64 is the commonly found 64-bit architecture in PCs.
IA64 also is 64-bit (as are others, but those already disqualify by being totally different CPUs, for example Sparc), but it's just for a specific line of Intel-CPUs, the Itanium, which didn't really find its way into users' homes.
On the hunt for a beginner-friendly Linux OS, was thinking Debian?
I think some distribution based on Debian will be significantly more beginner-friendly than Debian itself. I really like Mepis and think it is more beginner friendly than other distrubtions. Kubuntu is close.
As others have explained, either i386 (32 bit) or AMD64 (64 bit) will work with your CPU. There is typically very little performance or functional difference between them, so either choice would be fine.
If you have only 1GB of ram (or less??) you would see a significant difference from the fact that some software takes more memory in 64 bit (and should choose i386). With a decent amount of ram, that becomes insignificant. If you have a lot of ram (over 8GB) the 1GB kernel virtual address space in 32 bit Linux becomes too small for all the tables needed to properly manage all the memory, so you may be limited to less optimal use of that memory (and should choose AMD64).
For the big range in between (where memory size doesn't determine your best choice), I think more software improvements are likely in AMD64 performance than in i386 performance, so as packages are updated there may start to be more performance difference. So I would suggest AMD64 now to avoid the inconvenience of switching later.
Thank you very much everyone for your speedy and informative responses, you have all assisted me greatly. I will be sure to reply soon with the distro of choice. As for the arch, I believe I will be going for the i386, as I have 2gb ram on this machine, and I don't have any programs (that I know of anyways) that will even utilize the 64bit.