The Earliest Linux Capable CPUs

Advance Technical Repair of Laptops Motherboard

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Linus Torvalds wrote the first version of the Linux kernel on an 80386 computer in 1991. Today, many Linux distributions still run on 80386 CPUs, although some include optimizations for later CPUs, making it difficult or impossible to run the OS on 80386s. In practice, an 80386 running Linux is probably best delegated to running only very simple programs, or for use as an X terminal for a more powerful computer.

Architecturally, though, the 80386 added the features that are most important for running an advanced OS such as Linux. These features include 32-bit memory addressing and protected-mode operation, which makes multitasking much easier to implement. 80386 CPUs did not include math coprocessors (also known as floating-point units, or FPUs). These devices handle floating-point arithmetic, and greatly speed up mathematical computations. It was, however, possible to add FPUs to most 80386 motherboards. In theory, Linux requires an FPU; but the kernel has optional FPU emulation. In practice, you can run Linux even on a 386 without an FPU, if you've compiled the appropriate support into the kernel.

The 80386 was available in two major forms: the SX and the DX. The SX was a lower-level CPU with a pinout to match that of the 80286. The idea was to let computer manufacturers modify existing 80286 motherboard designs in order to bring a product to market more quickly and inexpensively than would be required with the 80386DX CPU, which had an entirely different pinout. Using the older 80286 interface, however, slowed the performance of the 80386SX relative to the 80386DX.

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