I certainly believe that old gear shouldn't be thrown away. So when a client of mine wanted to dump a Presario 4505 desktop (PI 166MHz, 16MB on-board RAM, 2.1 GB HD) on me free-of-charge, I decided to see if I could use it as a small web/email server.
While not a total Linux n00b (I used Solaris UNIX in college and have had Mint on my laptop for 6 mos and have used Puppy Live CD for a year for disaster recovery in my tech business), I don't consider myself a fluent Linux user by any means. However, the live CD distro Damn Small Linux (DSL) 4.4 made this project a (relative) breeze. Perhaps my experience can help you...
I was able to boot the DSL Live CD, but it dogged a bit. After maxing out the RAM with 32MB PC66 for $7 on eBay, I tried again, and this time there was much better performance, but a slow startup and apps started slowly. It detected a random old ethernet card I threw in it and I was surfing immediately. I decided that a hard drive install would do me some good so I set off...
DSL doesn't come packaged with GParted (which I like), so I booted Puppy 4.12 Live CD and dealt with the HORRENDOUS lag in order to partition a swap space on this old WIN95 machine (I tried to use SystemRescueCD 1.0, but this Old Bird wouldn't load it). Since I only have 48MB RAM, I chose to have 128MB swap space to ease the use of larger apps.
Partitions in hand, I rebooted DSL and using the handy right-click fluxbox menu, chose a hard drive install. After a few short scripts, DSL indicated it had installed and the script ended without offering to configure a grub or lilo bootloader. Needless to say, attempts to boot the machine without the Live CD were unsuccessful. Another attempt using the DSL menu hard drive install also failed.
After a little research (ie. RTFM) I found that typing 'install' at the DSL Live CD boot prompt began a non-GUI installation script. I was asked only which partition I was to install to, and DSL auto configured my swap space and after some quick choices (lilo or grub, single vs multi-user), I had a fully functional desktop capable of surfing, email, word processing/spreadsheets, and music. (note: In my research, I also read that some users had problems as DSL didn't allow installation to sda1, but I had no problem at all using sda1 as my target.)
[The only deficiency I see is that when dillo or firefox is in the foreground, my graphics revert to 256 colors. Mayhap my 1MB of on-board video just isn't enough?
Perhaps $15 on eBay for an 8MB graphics card is in the cards...]
I plugged in an external USB hard drive enclosure housing a 130GB drive. DSL recognized it perfectly, and now I have space to host my own website with 100+GB of email storage. I'm off to install XAMPP and I will have a server with only a 75 watt power supply.
Not bad for a system with more ISA ports than PCI, and for $7-$22 invested?!? All I can say is - Thankx Damn Small Linux!!!