What are the Linux hardware requirements?
"Out-of-box" Linux should run on a 386SX-based PC with 8 MB of memory, but such a low-end computer is practical for text-only applications (no X-window) and will likely have trouble with installation. A 486 with 16 MB memory and 600 MB free (unpartitioned) hard drives worked fine for me under X-windows but I did not expect it to fly (I got rid of it in 2002). My 586-133 MHz with 64 MB of memory runs acceptable under Linux with X or without. My 1.33 GHZ "Athlon" (AMD processor) with 256 MB of memory is a real pleasure to run with an instantaneous response even when running many large applications concurrently. I would not buy today a computer with less than 256 MB of memory (Dec.2001).
My 486-33 MHz with 8 MB memory and 1 GB hard drive had too little memory to run adequately stand-alone under GUI, but was still useful in my home network environment running as an X-terminal (a 486-class machine also performs just adequately stand-alone if it has at least 16 MB of memory but sometimes memory for old computers is hard to obtain and high-priced). (Pls note that Mandrake requires a Pentium processor.)
If you are willing to jump a few extra hoops, you should be able to install and run Linux on as little as 4 MB of memory, but this is probably not worth the effort for the general purpose home Linux machine. I would say: get at least 32 MB of memory, and if possible 128 or 512 MB --more memory can make a difference in performance when running several large GUI applications concurrently. Memory is generally inexpensive these days (but prices can vary from month to month). Please note that many current distributions have problems running their installation programs on older computers with a small amount of memory (although once installed, Linux will typically run just fine
Networking is where Linux really shines, so consider getting 10-base-T Ethernet cards--they are not very expensive and will be perfect to connect your two or more home computers together. Also, look around for old Ethernet cards which MS Windows deems obsolete--they can be bought for a really low price and they will work great under Linux. The 10-base-T system uses "giant phone" (RJ45)-type connectors and normal (not cross-over) "Ethernet" cables. All the computers are connected, from the socket on the Ethernet card, to a small box called the hub. The hub has an extra connection (called "uplink") which I will use if I ever have a permanent "over-Ethernet" connection to the outside world.