I was visiting my parents on the weekend (as usually once a week) and as I stumbled over some small Linux Editions dedicated to run on older Computers, I gave it a try as I have some older Computers there. I even have a 486 with only a small amount of RAM. I did not know that there are either distributions specialized for 486 architecture also.
Unfortunately trying Linux on the 486 was not successful, because ..... because the BIOS did not support the CD drive in the boot order. I did not expect that. OK, it was the time of the 5 1/4 inch and 3,5 inch disks...
Then I tried another machine that was a lot younger - some Pentium with an XP installed and it was annoying slow already to start up. I tried Puppy Linux on it and playing around a little with the Live CD.
IT WAS SO DAMN FAST - even although from CD!
So my hint: Before you are thinking of buying a new computer just because your one is old and slow - and you do not much more than EMail, Browsing and writing some documents - then really think of giving Linux a try!
A list of Linux distributions that also should support older architectures can be found at DistroWatch.com. I would start with Puppy Linux, MEPIS, absolute Linux or Damn Small Linux for example.
Related posts: Why Linux?, Why I switched to Ubuntu, The sad thing about Linux, The operating system.