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Installing Linux On Old Hardware? 507

cptdondo writes "I've got an old laptop that I've been trying to resurrect. It has a 486MHz CPU, 28 MB of RAM, a 720 MB HD, a 1.44MB floppy drive, and 640x480 VESA video. It does not have a CD drive, USB port, or a network port. It has PCMCIA, and I have a network card for that. My goal is to get a minimal GUI that lets me run a basic browser like Dillo and open a couple of xterms. I've spent the last few days trying to find a Linux distro that will work on that machine. I've done a lot of work on OpenWRT, so naturally I though that would work, but X appears to be broken in the recent builds — I can't get the keyboard to work. (OK, not surprising; OpenWRT is made to run on WiFi Access Point hardware which doesn't have a keyboard...) All of the 'mini' distros come as a live CD; useless on a machine without a CD-ROM. Ditto for the USB images. I'm also finding that the definition of a 'mini' distro has gotten to the point of 'It fits on a 3GB partition and needs 128 MB RAM to run.' Has Linux really become that bloated? Do we really need 2.2 GB of cruft to bring up a simple X session? Is there a distro that provides direct ext2 images instead of live CDs?"
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Installing Linux On Old Hardware?

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  • by NaCh0 ( 6124 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @06:21PM (#29929537)

    Find a distro from the same era. Redhat 2.1 (and I'm not talking redhat enterprise 2.1) circa 1995 will install and give you an X environment. Maybe even good old 3.03 would fit the bill.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by arodland ( 127775 )

      Older than it needs to be. I ran Slackware 4 (just about contemporary with Redhat 6.0) on a laptop with lower specs than that, no problem.

      • I also went with slackware. It worked great on a Celeron 500 (admittedly significantly faster than a 486 though) with fvwm or tab wm. I think it's best to go with a real distro with up-to-date libraries. He will have to not install a large portion of the packages but that may a little hairy getting in under 720MB though.

        Slackware's minimal requirements: []

        • 486 processor
        • 64MB RAM (1GB+ suggested)
        • About 5GB+ of hard disk space for a full install
        • CD or DVD drive (if no
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Megane ( 129182 )

        Slackware was one of the great floppy-loadable distros. I don't think they break it up into floppy-sized chunks any more, but I remember all the fun of trying to install Slackware 3-point-something from floppies. The biggest problem was that HD floppies were sufficiently unreliable that I was constantly re-writing floppy disks on another machine.

        Also, Slackware was good for making minimal installs. In particular, Red Hat tried to install and enable EVERYTHING. There were so many buffer-overrun bugs (at lea

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Lumpy ( 12016 )

          Actually it's not hard to set up slackware or even debian to do a netboot install.

          If it has a network card you can configure them to do a netboot.

    • by migla ( 1099771 )

      If this is the best solution, it's too bad, isn't it? Surely there has been all kinds of developments and innovation and enablement and whatnot over the years that doesn't require more computing power - ideas that are new and better, not just more of the same?

    • by rouge86 ( 608370 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @07:10PM (#29929993)
      Actually, I would consider using new software. Gentoo excels in the area of customized builds that meet only the needs of the hardware. When I used to build my system, my idea of bloat is anything that required GTK or QT. I installed Evilwm, and Ratpoison works really well too. I would also compile Enlightenment's Engage dock. The dependencies were fairly small. If you need a file browser, there are some that don't need GTK or QT, but I would prefer xterm as a file browser over those graphical versions. You may need to experiment some with the system to see what works for you as opposed to just taking someone's suggestion. Debian distros probably would work since they tend to support older hardware.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Carnildo ( 712617 )

        You can't install Gentoo unassisted on that machine: you can't fit both the Portage tree and the compile environment into 720MB, and 28MB of RAM requires the use of a great deal of swap. I'd do the following:

        1) Partition the hard drive into a 250MB swap partition, a 20MB bootstrap partition, and a 450MB system partition
        2) Install a floppy-era Linux on the bootstrap partition.
        3) Using the bootstrap Linux to give you network access, mount network drives for /usr/portage, /var/tmp, and /tmp.
        4) Install Gentoo

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by spauldo ( 118058 )

        Debian used to work well on older systems, but I wouldn't say that these days. Two years ago, Debian on a Pentium 75 was usable with a minimal install, and would fit on a 400MB hard drive. Those days are long gone. I'm about to replace my two Pentium systems with Pentium III, which rankles my sensibilities since I see that as major overkill for a simple firewall and a DNS/DHCP/IRC server.

        OpenBSD might be a better choice, actually. It runs on minimal systems and uses very little disk space, so he would b

  • Older Distros (Score:5, Informative)

    by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @06:22PM (#29929547) Journal

    You'll be looking at older distros. I certainly had X running on that kind of hardware back in the day through Slackware, and all its versions can still. We're talking a machine from the mid-1990s, so you'd be looking at Slackware 3 or 4 or something like that. You could try the older versions of Debian if they're still around, too.

    • Re:Older Distros (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @06:42PM (#29929755) Homepage Journal

      Or a current BSD distribution. On old hardware I typically install netbsd. I have tried Minix but the hardware compatibility is not good.

      • Re:Older Distros (Score:5, Informative)

        by Bootarn ( 970788 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @10:07PM (#29931393) Homepage
        Indeed, I have installed both OpenBSD and NetBSD on an i586 machine with 32 MB RAM in the past without any problems at all. Both worked great with my Xircom PCMCIA ethernet card, but I think NetBSD did the best job of detecting everything.
      • by Alrescha ( 50745 )

        "Or a current BSD distribution. On old hardware I typically install netbsd. I have tried Minix but the hardware compatibility is not good."

        I agree with this. I'm not sure what the philosophy is, but Linux distros seem to throw away knowledge like it was candy. I recently attempted to install Ubuntu on a nice 2000-era laptop. Ubunto apparently doesn't know how to talk to the controller and/or write to the hard drive. I installed FreeBSD 7.2 instead.


  • Damn Small Linux (Score:2, Informative)

    by Reyendo ( 1451201 )
    It may be too limited, but would Damn Small LInux > be sufficient?
    • by icebike ( 68054 )

      Its far from limited in my experience.

      I have used it when traveling visiting etc and don't want to drag a laptop. Boot from a thumb drive in any library.

      It has everything you need for every day use.

  • There's always DSL. It's 50mb and uses an older kernel. I used it on a laptop with no USB booting and 64mb ram, but I did have a detachable CD drive.
  • Personal Experince (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jean-Luc Picard ( 1525351 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @06:25PM (#29929571)
    I can attest to BasicLinux on old hardware like yours, at 2 Floppys worth of space, X and Links pre-iinstalled []
  • by Jeremiah Cornelius ( 137 ) * on Friday October 30, 2009 @06:25PM (#29929575) Homepage Journal

    A Trove of these things: []

    Promising: []

    Non-X woth graphical browsing: []

  • A rare item. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by hebertrich ( 472331 )

    If you're lucky and can actually find it , QNX had a whole distro on a floppy.
    It was intended as a demo , but had full features like file browsing and some net.
    That might be able to boot the machine. But frankly , i know of no other distro
    still able to boot and install via a floppy.This will prove interresting to follow.
    Im just as eager to find out as you :)

    Happy hacking

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      QNX is not a linux distro
    • by zoloto ( 586738 )
      Those images can be found <URL:> . On <URL:>, you can find information about it as well but if you look for quick and easy i suggest this. Googling for QNX Demo Floppy Images yields a ton of information...
    • Re: A rare item. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @08:03PM (#29930585) Homepage

      why use a floppy? take out the hard drive and install the base OS to the drive from a host PC. I do that all the time with tablets as they dont have CD or floppy.

  • Try Debian (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wiredlogic ( 135348 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @06:25PM (#29929587)

    Older versions of Debian supported floppy installs. The last time I tried it (with etch I think) I had some issues that annoyed me and the response I got is that nobody on the dev. team wanted to suffer with a kernel image that doesn't have the kitchen sink loaded so they crippled/dropped floppy install support. Still once you have an older system running it is trivial to upgrade if you have some connectivity.

  • Have you tried Damn Small Linux [] It sounds like exactly what you want. It will run on a 486 with 16MB of RAM, and 50MB harddrive. It runs X, Dillo is included, and has several install methods available, not just live disks.

  • Voyage Linux! (Score:2, Redundant)

    by niko9 ( 315647 )

    Use Voyage Linux!

    It's a stripped down Debian that's designed to run on embedded devices, and run entirely in RAM. It keeps Debian's APT package manager for super easy installation. Only 128MB or disk space (tiny base install) required for the base install. I use this distro on my PC Engines Alix board for a audiophile USB music server.

    In regards yo getting it installed, you can either take out the HD and do the install on another machine or beg-borrow/steal a PCMCIA USB adapter.

    If you use X, I would recomme

  • by eronysis ( 928181 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @06:28PM (#29929631)
    I have an ancient Toshiba satellite running a pretty current version of desktop-BSD. Full graphical desktop extremely small footprint etc...
  • a 486? Why on earth would you bother? Even a p3 laptop is pretty obsolete these days, but still can be had for under 30 or 40 dollars on craigslist. That would be a quantum leap above the 486 you are planning on using.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Qu4Z ( 1402097 )

      Because he can?

  • Damn Small Linux and Tiny Core Linux being some of the obvious choices. Your real problem is getting things booted in the first place. I wonder whether gPXE is able to see your PCMCIA network card. If it did, you could just boot that off of a floppy and from there it would be a pretty simple task to netinstatll something; if not, well I'm pretty sure DSL has a set of floppies still. You could also try installing Slackware 9, which I think was the last version to ship a floppy set -- just install the very ba

  • Slackware 7.1 would probably support that old lappy... I used to swear by it back in the day. The only issue you may have is the NIC. Make sure, though, to put on some sort of lightweight WM, like blackbox or flvwm(95). KDE was the system default for the 7.x series, and was a bit of a hog, FYI. (To this day, the closest to a heavyweight WM/DE I will use is xfce4...) Good luck! Also, let us all know what you end up putting on the old girl... --Stak
  • by harlows_monkeys ( 106428 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @06:35PM (#29929695) Homepage

    I have a similar laptop, although mine only has 16 MB or RAM. I've got a better processor, though. Anyway, I see several people have suggested run a distro from that era. Indeed that works--sort of. My old laptop runs fine with a Redhat from that era, or a Slackware (or whatever Windows it came with, for that matter).

    The reason I say it works "sort of" is that if you just run a distro from that era, you have a browser of that era. I had hoped to use my old laptop as basically a terminal for configuring routers and other things like that which have web interfaces.

    The problem is, all my routers have web interfaces that assume browser features that are too new for that era. I was not able to find a browser that was new enough to actually work with my typical consumer home router and still run acceptably on the old system. I think I got Konqueror to work once--but it took something like an hour for it to start.

    I think the browser is going to be the determining factor as to whether or not this is feasible for you.

    • by oatworm ( 969674 )
      The RAM doesn't help. Assuming that he can get the kernel and X to load up in under, say, 8 MB, that still only leaves 20 MB for the browser and any objects present on the web site. Obviously Flash would nuke it from orbit, as would most Javascript-enabled pages these days. Images would hurt, too. I'm not saying it can't be done, mind you, but there are a ton of corners that would have to be cut to pull it off.
  • by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @06:36PM (#29929705) Homepage

    ...and install Debian. Install only the base system: select no "tasks". Then put the drive back in the old machine, configure the network, and install what you need.

  • by Bleek II ( 878455 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @06:39PM (#29929735)
    486MHz? You mean an Intel 486?
    • by ibmman85 ( 643041 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @06:48PM (#29929809) Homepage
      I'm surprised no other comments (well, that I saw) picked up on that. While it's not impossible for a 486MHz machine to have shipped with those specs, it sounds more like a late high-end 486 system- especially the video. Well, I guess all of it actually. 486MHz would have been K6-2/3 (overclocked) or (overclocked) P2 or P3, and most of those systems shipped with hard drives over 1gb, and more than 32MB RAM. I think not having a CD-ROM and especially NO USB points toward it being actually a 80486... If it's a 486 CPU, even if it's something 'nice' like a DX4, it's probably not worth it. Unless you really have a very good reason... Redhat 6 or earlier works pretty well, I used to have a really decent Redhat 6 server setup on a P100 with 64 MB RAM but considering how cheap you could get other hardware for, unless it's for some proof of concept of the re usability of hardware from past eras, it's really going to be a pain.
  • After getting Debian running on an old Desktop system [], I can say it does work, but you're guaranteed to hit speed bumps along the way.
  • by zx2c4 ( 716139 ) <> on Friday October 30, 2009 @06:40PM (#29929747) Homepage
    A lot of posts here claim that Linux now a days is bloated, has too many lines of code, too many dependencies, requires too many resources, bla bla bla... These posts conclude that an older linux distro is necessary. But what about the various embedded systems that have even slimmer resources than what we have here, and run Linux fine? It may be that most distros now a days are meant for new hardware and the kernel defaults to more demanding settings. But all of this can be tweaked and customized at ease. Play with Gentoo. If this doesn't fare well, investigate Linux distros for embedded systems.
    • point out one distro based on embedded linux, if you would. One that does not require USB to boot, or a LiveCD. Compared to the old days of linux kernel 2.0.36, linux kernel 2.6.xx is fucking Windows Vista, pre-SP1. Even the netbook-oriented distros are pigs compared to linux distros from that time. You can yammer on about all the new functionality you have, but linux is still swelling up with 'extra features'.

      I tried to help out someone who had a Thinkpad T600e (Pentium II, 128MB RAM) and wanted to use it
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Lumpy ( 12016 )

        Ok Slackware. I can netboot install it. I can embed it on tiny stuff. Whole OS on a single floppy with busybox.

        Also I can make it work on a 386. you know you are allowed to recompile the kernel to take out all that you dont want. In fact anyone that wants to run a fast machine typically does that.

  • by R2.0 ( 532027 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @06:42PM (#29929757)

    Win95. I believe that the original install CD had a utility to create floppies for a full install. Do that on your main machine, install Win95 on the laptop, then download what you need. I know it sounds stupid, but I'm guessing that Win95 will recognize all of your hardware and actually get you on line faster than trying to sort out the linux drivers for the hardware. Then do a dual boot install and keep Win95 until you get the linux install hashed out - it will beat downloading stuff on your main machine and then copying it to floppies.

  • by Philodoxx ( 867034 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @06:42PM (#29929761)
    You're using hardware that is close to twenty years old. I don't think it's fair to say that because linux has kept up with current technologies (CD-ROMs and USB drives) that it has become bloated. Some other people have pointed out, correctly, that you should be looking for distros from the era if you expect it to install easily on your hardware.
    • SRSLY the hardware in question was state of the art in 1994, which was when I bought a spiffy new DX266 instead of a then-dodgy P75. If you think 2009-1994=20 then I suspect you're using one of those dodgy early Pentiums.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rastos1 ( 601318 )

      I don't think it's fair to say that because linux has kept up with current technologies (CD-ROMs and USB drives) that it has become bloated.

      It certainly became bloated when KDE 4.3.2 comes with Akonadi that requires 100MB of disk space to hold an empty adressbook and a to-do list. [] You can turn it off, but it comes back when some app asks for it. In 90% of cases the functionality can be replaced with:

      new entry: echo "John Smith, Main St. 25, Los Angeles, 0904-666555" >> ~/.contacts
      search: grep -i "s

  • Seriously, why? If your goal is to run dillo and a couple of xterms, pick up an old p3 laptop. People are throwing them away. If you want to do it as a "fun" project, why Ask Slashdot? Is not half the fun in figuring it out?

    As someone who used to run linux on a 486 (and a 386), I can tell you that you aren't going to do any usable web browsing in X in 28megs of ram. Those are lynx specs.

    You can actually do some interesting/useful things in linux with that hardware, but graphical web browsing isn't going to

  • ...when you can get P3 class machines or better for free that will be an order of magnitude faster. For anything under $100, the principle concern should be power usage, since if left on 24x7, that will be far more expensive than purchasing the system itself.
  • Throw MS-DOS and LoopyNES on it. Get some decent NES gaming running on that thing.
    No$GMB also works at that kind of slow speed.

  • You don't mention if a floppy is accessible, but if it is, here [] you go. DSL is just about the most minimal functioning distro I have found. Of course there is always slack [], but you'll have to go a few versions back to install using floppies and network. And there's always a way to get usb [] but I doubt you'd be able to boot from it...
  • by miknix ( 1047580 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @06:48PM (#29929807) Homepage

    I know most of the /. crowd is not Gentoo friendly, we even have a Gentoo meme :)

    But seriously.. You can use emerge, with portage et all, to build a small and optimized/dedicated Gentoo based distribution for that laptop. You don't even need to put portage on the laptop, just use emerge on somewhere else to build packages for it. Emerge will take care of cross-compiling, etc..
    As simple as I can put it, think on it as a Box with a repository-toolchain capable of building packages for *other* Box, while still keeping track of package updates and dependencies.

    NOTE: A "full install" of Gentoo is not required for building gentoo based distros, you can setup a Gentoo chroot (you only want portage and emerge afterall, don't you?) on your debian/fedora/whetever box, or even setup a Gentoo prefix on MacOSX.

    • Seconded (Score:5, Informative)

      by oGMo ( 379 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @06:57PM (#29929883)

      Some people may still have misconceptions about Gentoo. The negative stereotype has long passed, though. Gentoo is, really, a meta-distribution: a dist that lets you make your distribution based on what you want and need.

      You could do what some folks have suggested and get a really ancient dist, and that may be fine .. but it will have all the limitations it had back in the day, and nothing new without a lot of manual compilation and work. (No newer shells, html renderers, etc.) Gentoo just automates the process, and since you're building for x86, you could easily build on another box as the parent suggests. (It's actually not trivial to truly cross-compile a dist between architectures last I checked, but I haven't really done a lot of research. However it is trivial to build for a different architecture which the build machine supports.)

      This way you get all the stuff you want anyway, and all the work to do so is streamlined. Building a boot disk should be easy (as long as you can find a disk drive for your current box!). Check the wiki [] for details on how to do a lot of specialized things.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by miknix ( 1047580 )

        (It's actually not trivial to truly cross-compile a dist between architectures last I checked,

        While most packages build fine as-is, a lot just fail to cross-compile due common stupid things totally unrelated to the source code (libtool and pkg-config I'm looking at you). Problems also show up due to badly written/generated configure and Makefile scripts (I don't blame package authors though because autotools are complex).

        My point is that it is currently very important to Gentoo to be able to cross-compile easily. For instance, we can see the in-portage cross-compiling working when:

        * Distribut

  • 3.11 (Score:5, Funny)

    by heffrey ( 229704 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @06:49PM (#29929821)

    for workgroups

  • I'm not sure anymore, but I know older versions of Mandriva (Well, Mandrake - try to find 9.2 or earlier) could boot from a floppy and install over the network. I installed directly from a mirror a couple times back in the day. Worth looking into. I believe still has the files for older Mandrake distros.

  • You can still download floppies for a FreeBSD Net Install. Assuming your network card works with the drivers on the boot floppies you should be able to do a base system net installation of FreeBSD and then build whatever else you need from the ports tree afterward (or install the binaries from the packages collection. Should make for a small, clean installation with only what you need and nothing else to take disk space or consume your limited resources.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by taobeastie ( 1635647 )
      If unafraid of console only, FreeBSD (7.2) or even current versions of OpenBSD or NetBSD should work just fine, probably able to use the Network card straight out the gate... -Just a thought...
  • by jim_v2000 ( 818799 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @06:57PM (#29929881)
    No, your hardware has become that obsolete.
  • I've used Knoppix in the past (the CD image) and it had an hd-install option that would put itself on the harddrive. You would be able to tell if X works using just the live CD then decide if you want to install.



  • While probably not a solution to the original problem, an answer to the specific question about native ext2 images instead of LiveCD iso images is this-

    The Fedora and CentOS LiveCDs do contain a native ext3/4 filesystem image embedded within a squashfs image. The normal Fedora anaconda/liveinst installer works by copying this image directly to the target destination then using resize2fs to expand it to the destination's size.

    My ZyX-LiveInstaller at [] goes one further and does t

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by David Jao ( 2759 )
      Fedora provides Appliance OS [] spins for recent versions (F10 and up), which are highly stripped down Fedora images, coming in at 100-200 MB of disk. The OS is shipped as an ext3 image, not an ISO image.

      However, it's still pointless to do what the submitter is attempting. 486 machines weren't even interesting targets 9 years ago. Any recent version of Fedora won't boot on a 486, since Fedora is now compiled for i686 and up. Even if you got it to boot, it would be too slow for a modern X, and nearly too

  • I have a useless think pad that for a time was my picture server. I used redhat and booted a floppy and then used a driver floppy for my NIC. This let me install just what I needed from a server over the internet. I killed the RPM database for some reason I don't recall and could NOT find anyone who catered to boot floppy installs. Granted I could have fought and beaten on it and a local PC to do it but I gave up and used another junk one with a CD in it to install Damn Small Linux. It's clean and it's cool

  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @07:04PM (#29929957) Homepage Journal

    Go for NetBSD instead.

  • by doodleboy ( 263186 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @07:06PM (#29929963)
    If so, I'd have a look at LTSP []. At work we're re-purposing a bunch of old thin clients at our branch offices to PXE boot into a modern Ubuntu server. The setup is very easy under Debian/Ubuntu and you'll get a modern OS on every screen.
  • Go take a look. It is around 50MB of space. Yes, it is typically a live CD, or USB distro. But that doesn't mean you can't get it to work. I personally have installed it on a system without CD/DVD, USB, etc., by doing a network install. That may or may not work in your case, as I do not know any PCMCIA network cards which support PXE-boot. That said, you could remove the hard drive. Pop it into another computer and do the install that way. The live CD distributions do a full hardware check even after doing
  • Using anything other than the most very basic console will be painful on a machine that old. Someone suggested using older software, but that won't be very fun, since the web will be practically useless on an old browser.

    i have a Toshiba from that era that I have used as a dumb terminal on and off over the years. At one point I had gui-less version of linux, with a frame buffer version of vnc and used it to connect to my main machine. It was fast and served well as a bed side web browser for years. At a

  • Way back in the day I used to browse the web on an IBM 8086 with 640k of ram, using something similar to Lynx. I know there are versions out there for DOS so a 486 should be plenty. Not sure though how well they handle the web code on more "modern" sites crapped up with php, flash and css.

  • It's a Pentium-90 with 64MB of EDO DRAM. Thing runs Damn Small Linux really well, but it's got rather more RAM than you do. Might be worth a shot if your BIOS supports booting from a CD -- the very last BIOS update for my box enabled that. You'll also need a junker 40x (ish) CD-ROM drive: the 6x drive this thing had originally wouldn't support booting either. I can even run Firefox 2.0 on this; takes 20-30 seconds to start up, and the redraws are slow, but it works a lot better than you'd think. Dillo'

  • My $.02 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sootman ( 158191 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @09:03PM (#29931061) Homepage Journal

    I'm in general agreement with the "that's WAY to old to be worthwhile" crowd here but I will give you the benefit of the doubt and ask "resurrect for what purpose?" There are very few thing that can truly be done with a 486 in 2009:

    • Music player? Probably not. A fast 486 is absolutely at the bottom end of what can decode MP3, and I've only seen DOS (not Linux) players that claim to work on a 486
    • Make it a console-only system: easy enough to do, plenty of distros will give you a CLI and network drivers. Then you can use it to... SSH places.
    • But you mentioned X, so you probably want a GUI. OK, to do what? Games? Tetris would be fine, but nothing newer than DOOM will run on a 486.
    • Browsing station? Well, you can either run an old browser, which won't render any modern pages worth a damn, or you can run a more modern browser, which will be slow as death on that hardware.

    So really, yeah, I can see there are things you can do, and I can appreciate not wanting to waste something, but I just can't see anything really worthwhile that could be done with this hardware outside of single-purpose stuff like a dumb terminal, recipe database, weather station, etc. Only worth pursuing if you have lots of spare time or just really love to tinker of the sake of tinkering.

    Also: even though it's a laptop, I can't imagine the battery is any good, and replacements are probably hard to find by now, so it'll either be stationary, or portable to the extent that you can go anywhere as long as you're within 10 feet of a power outlet. So I can't see you taking this thing to coffeeshops or conferences or anything. If you have a particular goal you want to reach--say you love taking notes in vi and want something you can take to conferences--then you'd be better off getting a newer unit with wireless and a decent battery.

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.