With some trepidation, I began looking at my parents old PC. It was loaded with software that I knew was extraneous for my purposes. I decided to run ScanDisk and to defragment the drive (did I need to do this? I don't know, but I wanted to be safe). I also began sleuthing my hardware, as suggested by one of the Linux books I was referencing. I discovered the following specs about the computer:
Intel Pentium III Processor
40 GB hard drive
128 MB of RAM
CD-ROM drive (predates CD-R/RW capability)
2 USB ports (not sure which type, but presumably 1.0)
3 1/2" floppy drive
Iomega ZIP drive
Linksys Gigabit Network Card EG1032 v.2
Basically, the layout for a top of the line workhorse computer c. 2000.
I deleted as much of the extraneous software as I could and considered the computer ready for Linux.