written by: Tolga BALCI•edited by: Michael Dougherty•updated: 3/3/2010
Linux can run on very modest hardware, in fact as low as the archaic Intel 486 processors. Although the minimum requirements are different for the tasks you want to perform, you do not need to spend lots of money for a computer that will run Linux.
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Linux Hardware Requirements
As our Managing Editor put it in his article, you do not need to spend an exorbitant amount of money to upgrade your CPU and RAM. You can do almost everything that you can do with your underwhelming Windows system on the same hardware with better performance. You just need to select the right distribution that fits your existing hardware and be brave enough to install and play with it; you really do not need anything else.
In terms of minimum hardware requirements, you can run Linux on a processor as slow as Intel 486. Considering that almost all of these processors are either recycled, dumped or donated to the museums, it is unlikely that you have one. If your current computer has at least a Pentium III processor or higher, you can run many distributions with the graphical desktop. If your computer’s hardware is lower, I am afraid you will have to go with the text interface.
Instead of talking vaguely with slow/fast/old/new adjectives, let’s base our ideas on the numbers. Here are distributions that have extremely low minimum requirements for a text-based interface (but multiuser and networked):
Slackware: Any 586 Processor, 32 Megabytes of RAM, 1 GB of Hard Disk Space, 4x CD-ROM (or floppy drive if you can’t boot from CD)
Gentoo: Any 486 Processor or higher, 64 Megabytes of RAM, 2 Gigabytes of Hard Disk Space, 4x CD-ROM
(Above hard disk requirements exclude swap space. Add 2 x Your RAM as the swap space; for example if you have 216 Megabytes of RAM, consider a swap space of 2 x 256 = 512 Megabytes. If the requirement is 1 Gigabyte, then you need to have 1 + 0.5 = 1.5 Gigabytes of hard disk space.)
OK, I admit that these are the minimum requirements for an up and running Linux system in text-only mode. Let’s see what do we need for a graphical desktop environment:
Puppy Linux: Any Pentium III processor, 256 Megabytes of RAM, 1 GB of Hard Disk Space, 4x CD-ROM
Fluxbuntu/Xubuntu: Pentium III processor, 256 Megabytes of RAM, 1.5 GB of Hard Disk Space, 4x CD-ROM
As you can see, the minimum system requirements are closely tied to the distribution you choose. Modern distributions such as Ubuntu, openSUSE, Fedora with their full graphic desktops which come with the default installation, require better hardware. However, I can safely say that any single-core processor over 1 Gigahertz and 1 Gigabyte of RAM (slightly higher than the latest smartphones) will run any Linux distribution at a reasonable speed, but of course, the higher the better.
I suggest you compare your current hardware with the system requirements listed in the Linux Distribution’s website. Most probably your current hardware will be much faster.