What is the smallest , fastest, usb-boot enabled linux distrib ?
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Is it better to install on my regular drive, or should I simply install another hard drive to use just for linux?
Welcome to the forums Neal12! It is good etiquette to start a new thread introducing yourself and describing your specific question. We don't really know anything about you or what your goals are.
Most Linux distributions are quite capable of running side-by-side with another operating system on the same hard drive. This is called a "dual boot."
The advantage to using a second hard drive in your case is that you could experiment confidently with Linux knowing that your Windows (I'm assuming, correct me if I'm wrong) is safe and sound on your original drive, and you can always switch back. You don't necessarily need an entire hard drive, either; you can run most Linux distributions from a Live CD or a USB thumb drive while you are experimenting.
I used Puppy on some Fujitsu P1120 machines about 2 years ago and was very pleased. Had it configured to boot off a compactflash card which I installed in place of the hard drive. The speed was great! Was able to support the touch screen and wifi as well! I also tested DSL but not as extensively. Seems they both worked well.
DSL is almost 2 years old and no sign of the original owner. Not that that is bad but if you want to start usb flash installs start at pendrivelinux.com. If you want DSL or Puppy they tend to have how to's on their forums or web pages.