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Is it an Athlon or Athlon64? Athlon then yes, i686 is fine. The old AMD K6 was an i586 CPU that supported most i686 extensions but not all. The Athlon is i686 and Athlon64 (incl. dual-core) are amd64 or x86_64.
Nope, just upgrading the kernel won't negatively impact any other software you have installed except drivers. Now most drivers are kernel modules that will come with the new package but things like nvidia drivers, wireless drivers etc will need to be reinstalled.
Excellent. I understand that upgrading your kernel is usually for security reasons, is there any other good reason for kernel upgrade? Because I'm always up for an upgrade, but reinstalling the drivers sounds, well, not fun. Especially this usb-wireless adapter, what a mess!
Very good - you may also want to upgrade kernels to take advantage of new features or better support which may be built in. Laptop owners like to keep well uptodate for power management reasons for eg.
You'll find out in time.
YUM wants to give you kernel updates because they are there.
Personally, I disable the update notification and remove that icon from my panels.
For more on fedora, see www.mjmwired.net