Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Linux: still runs on a 486 computer

While this seems like a bit of a goofy project, this demonstrates why Linux is so popular in the server world.  Modern Linux runs on ancient computers:
What is the oldest x86 processor that is still supported by a modern Linux kernel in present time?
I asked the above quiz question during the Geekcamp tech conference in Nov 2017 during my emcee role. The theoretical answer as you can glean from the title of this post is the 486 which was first released in 1989.
He got a modern operating system running on a 25 year old (!) computer.  This is all good fun, of course, but there are some really important take aways:

1. Linux has exceptional support for old hardware.  One of the reasons people have used it is that instead of throwing away old Windows computers, they can turn them into servers.

2. The operating system is very, very stable.  You can have some confidence turning your old hardware into servers because very little in the OS is hardware dependent and so it just keeps running.

All in all, this is a pretty interesting article (although it's very linux geeky).

7 comments:

Arthur said...

The multitude of linux distros can be a giant PITA, but it is really sweet that you can tart up the UI as much or as little as you want to fit various hardware.

I'm personally a big fan of mint's XFCE version because it's pretty light on hardware requirements while still being usable.

I do wish there was a common, distro-agnostic folder layout so users didn't need to get good with various search tools to find out where a specific system file was located. For instance - https://www.tecmint.com/linux-directory-structure-and-important-files-paths-explained/. It's a great graphic. Too bad not all distros agree.

Cecil Henry said...

Ah the 486: remember when that was state of the art speed.

Such a step up from the 286!!!

Now thanks to Windows 10, my i7 still stalls and pauses like an overworked 486.

Plus ca change.

Arthur said...

I spent $4K on my first 486DX-66. That sort of cash stands out in my memory.

Later, I also remember getting the original Quake to run in a postcard size window on that box. :P

486DX-66, VESA video and a >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> SCSI hard drive. Totally rocking at the time.

Rick C said...

11.5 minute boot time. Do not want.

Borepatch said...

Rick C, it's not that the bear dances so well, but that it dances at all.

;-)

Eck! said...

I've run modern linux on a 486DX/66. The biggest issue is that most 486s are rarely more than 32MB and that is a handicap for modern distros. To do it its better to create a limited distro or use Puppy
or DSL. There are rare few 486 boards that supported more than 64mb.

It was however much faster than NT3.51 to boot to shell and a simple gui ran ok. However as a piece of dedicated hardware it was
stable and ran a backup server application smoothly. Its also
immune Spectre and Meltdown. I still have it for air-gapped backup.


Eck!

lee n. field said...

Going the other way, I have a copy of Walnut Creek CDROM's "Linux Toolkit" from 1997. 5 disks, a bunch of distros.

I managed to get an ancient Debian installed on a Virtualbox Virtual. I couldn't get the networking working, or I would have tried to "apt-get" my way to current.

And I was reminded what a royal PITA those old Linuxes were to get oddball hardware working in.