Sunday, February 21, 2010

Making a Ten-year Old Computer Useful with Linux

Even a computer that is nearly ten years old can be made useful again. A certain computer in my house has remained untouched for about five years, but today it found new life with Linux.

In May of 2005 we replaced one of our computers that had been in service for exactly five years. The system specifications were tired even then: 750MHz AMD Athlon processor, 256MB RAM, 20GB harddrive. It had been running Windows 98 when decommissioned. It was stored, moved to a new state, and stored some more.

Yesterday I continued working on the home network infrastructure and looked for a potential fileserver. I found this decade old machine, gave it power and peripherals, then booted it up. Slow as the system was, I was able to navigate the files and actually found over two years of digital photographs that were presumably lost on CDs that were unreadable.

After the recovery came the rejuvenation. Since this machine is to be a network workhorse it needed a reliable operating system with powerful tools readily available. It should be no surprise that I chose Linux, specifically the Ubuntu 9.10 distribution. Even on this old system the installation proceeded without problem, and the subsequent package updates finished with little problem.

Previous experience indicates that this would have been more costly and less flexible using Windows. Indeed, it would have been impossible to use the latest version of Windows (see because the motherboard doesn't even support the RAM requirement.

While the system will need a RAM upgrade and a card to accept firewire connections to external hard drives, the machine will likely be one of the silent, steady sentinels in our home network.

For the technorati …

While gathering information about this system I discovered the dmidecode command. This tool needs to be run with administrator privileges. With it I was able to discover the CPU speed, CPU maker, RAM information, and even the build date.

sudo dmidecode -t processor
sudo dmidecode -t system
sudo dmidecode -t memory

An old article ( describes the information from dmidecode as not completely reliable, but useful. I found it useful for my purposes.

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