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Can you feel it? The thrilling static in the air? It’s because the world’s top 500 supercomputers are now all run on Linux. The last couple of non-Linux Chinese holdouts have dropped out of the list, superseded by newer Linux-running replacements.

An unstoppable combination of factors help foster this environment: generational expertise though open source in academia, research labs and beyond make it the prime choice for development. Built-in support for high-performance commodity components, drives down hardware costs and speeds development. The modular and scalable nature of the kernel ensures that it can be tailored to any task. Reliability, efficiency and more all mean that Linux is now the only choice for high-performance computing.

That’s lovely, but how does it apply to your perfectly capable AMD Athlon XP from 2003? All the features of the Linux kernel that make it perfect for powering supercomputers, apply to your 15-year old technology, too. If properly motivated, kernel developers and distro maintainers can still compile and package compatible kernels and the required software to run on. It’ll run as fast and smoothly as your hardware allows. But for how much longer?

This issue we’re looking at how Linux distros are made to support older hardware, how they’re tuned to run on low- memory systems and generally run faster on limited hardware. With more mainline distros cutting 32-bit support − even though it appears 32-bit systems still account for around 20 per cent of PCs out there − the question is how much longer will up-to-date software be available for them?

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