A Blast From the Past

So back in 2001-2002ish I built a dual Athlon system with a Tyan MPX motherboard. It stopped functioning around 2011 and it wasn’t too important to me, so after switching a few components with no luck, I gave up on it and consigned it to accumulating dust in a corner. Today I decided to play with it after all these years and swapped ram from one slot to another and much to my surprise it booted! It was running Mandrake 10.1 at the time of its’ near death experience, but I have forgotten my passwords for it since then. So does anyone have a good distro suggestion for putting on the this old darling? I’d like something reasonably lightweight, but hopefully not return to a 2.6 kernel. The machine ran well in its’ day, but most distros seem to have gotten bloaty since then. I’d appreciate any advice.


I’d appreciate any advice.

It’s generally helpful to describe your intended purpose for the system. Recommendations will generally be different if you’re going to use it as a server, or a desktop.

Sometimes wildly different.


My general purpose varies with the wind. I like to play with computers, so anything goes. I haven’t put a distro on older hardware for a good while, as in maybe a decade, so I don’t really know what works good for something that’s more vintage equipment. Long ago, like when this thing was new, I liked Slackware for older stuff, but that seems close to abandonded today.

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Maybe Puppy Linux.

Alpine is also lightweight (someone installed openbox and Xorg and it idled at about 43meg of ram) but doubt it would work. :thinking:

If you’re going “general purpose” my suggestion is Debian.

The debian-installer is ncurses based, so it’ll install on almost anything. You can get headless if you want a server, you can go graphical if you want a desktop. You don’t have to change tools to do either.

Start with a minimal base, and install only the applications you want. No bloat!

It’s widely supported, including third party proprietary software, and if you wanna go crazy and make that system 100% Richard Stallman approved by using absolutely zero binary firmware or proprietary software, you can.

Even down to the firmware if you want. Tyan boards have some of the better libreboot support.

Want stable? Use Debian stable. Wanna install once and have a rolling distro? Go Sid!


Those both look interesting to me. Alpine describes itself as based on Busybox, which I don’t have much if any experience with, but I always have a fond spot in my heart for Fluxbox. Does Puppy has it’s own package system? If so how well does it work?

Debian actually makes a lot of sense for this. I hate to acknowledge it but ncurses is my basic idea of a gui. Would you recommend the latest stable or something in between potato and now? I got a scary feeling lately when I read a.out is now deprecated, which is why I wanted to bring this thing back to life. It seems like kernel functionality and support might get dropped for the old but still loveable machines.

I hate to acknowledge it but ncurses is my basic idea of a gui.

Feature, not a bug. :slight_smile: No shame in seeing it’s value.

Would you recommend the latest stable or something in between potato and now?

Always stable or later. Always.

If you’re going to lean towards desktop-style use, I’d actually recommend Debian Testing. First, it’s more current which tends to be helpful for things like gaming and GPU use. Secondly, Debian Buster is currently frozen, so it’s a decent target for a soon-to-be stable system anyway. Things aren’t going to change much between now and when Buster becomes the next stable release.

If you’d prefer to wait, Debian Stable is also fine.

You do not need to use an old release just because you have older hardware.

I got a scary feeling lately when I read a.out is now deprecated

Not slated for Linux 5.1, which hasn’t even been released yet. You still have a while before any distro makes that a limitation, but a lot has changed in Linux land. Most of the time, things get replaced, not eliminated. Stability is something the Linux kernel developers pride themselves on.

As long the Linux kernel itself suports x86, you should be fine. It still does, as does Debian. Incidentally, Debian supports more architectures than most Linuxes. Only some of the BSDs rival it for number of supported architectures.

You can reset the password as long as you can get to the bash prompt, otherwise you can boot a livecd and edit the /etc/shadow file manually, that way you can have a bit more of nostalgic fun before you wipe it

I can get to a bash prompt in single user mode. I guess I don’t know how to reset the passwords from there.

If your prompt drops you straight to a root shell, just issue the passwd command to change it.


If it requires you to supply the root password to get to the root prompt, you’ll need to go the LiveCD/USB route to change it.

In the live session, set your root password:

sudo passwd root

Copy the root user’s line from /etc/shadow

Mount whatever partition or drive contains the real system’s /etc directory

Edit /etc/shadow on the main system, replacing the root line in that file with the one you copied from the Live system.

Reboot. Your root password is now whatever you set it to in the Live session.

(Note: I have not tested this process on Mandrake 10. It’s possible the newer LiveCD uses a hashing algorithm the older system doesn’t understand.

Worst case, you can’t login but that’s already a problem.)


Thanks for the help there. I’ll set the system back up tomorrow and give it a try. I knew it could be done, but I wasn’t sure how. I was hoping the passwords would suddenly pop back into my brain, but no luck on that so far. I hope I’m not getting old. :thinking:


A long list, much longer then I had for my 486 :slight_smile:

One distro is written in FASM, an assembly language. That had to be allot of work. Hi had my best success with LXLE but IMHO sometimes the best distro is the one that doesn’t freeze after 30 minutes

If you find an 8088 youcan install Minix

Nice! I remember Mandrake. Wasn’t the Walmart edition bastardized or something? I remember buying the walmart edition at 6.something and then I ended up spending a week or longer downloading the iso for an updated version. That may have been the 90s though.

IIRC they got installation discs before the next release cycle so you could get up to date SUSE or Mandrake, then they decided to go with Lycoris and Lindows/Linspire and quit testing and people started to get computers that would have Linux preinstalled but wouldn’t work after setup and other issues. Mandrake had problems so they merged with another distro then that had problems and split into OpenMandriva while other developers went to make Mageia. And now you know stuff you never needed to know…

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