Forgot your password?
typodupeerror

Linux On Older Hardware 379

Posted by Zonk
from the cachunk-sputter-wheeze dept.
Joe Barr writes "Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier has put together a substantive report on how well Linux runs on older hardware. Are you surprised to learn that the belch of smoke and FUD out of Redmond on the topic last month isn't true? As Zonker shows, 'The bottom line: Linux is still quite suitable for older hardware. It might not turn your aging PC into a powerhouse, but it will extend its lifespan considerably.' NewsForge, like Slashdot, is part of OSTG."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Linux On Older Hardware

Comments Filter:
  • by jpetts (208163) on Saturday February 25, 2006 @11:42PM (#14802526)
    Do us a favour: post the link to TFA at linux.com [linux.com], not just the link to a single paragraph at "News"forge.
    • Because then they would only be able to get hits on one website instead of two. Less ads would be seen.
  • hmmm (Score:2, Funny)

    by Kn1nJa (878764)
    "It might not turn your aging PC into a powerhouse, but it will extend its lifespan considerably."
    Sure it will work nicely on your old 386 sitting in the closet, but will it really increase the lifespan of your old vacuum tube monstrosity that takes up your entire garage? Might make an interesting experiment!
    • by billstewart (78916) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @12:15AM (#14802615) Journal
      I _think_ it was SVR4, but the late 80s are fairly old memory by now so it could have been SVR2, and maybe it was X11.* by then. Sure, it wasn't as fast as a Sun4, much less the HP graphics workstation we had which had 48MB of video RAM, but basically it worked pretty well.
    • "but will it really increase the lifespan of your old vacuum tube monstrosity that takes up your entire garage?"

      It doesn't have to take up the entire garage just because it's old. I've heard a Rumor. There's something out there called a pencil. It's got loads of features, just like modern computers. You can write letters, draw graphics, shew on the end of it and there's numerous other applications. I've also heard it's very small, light-weight and most importantly, portable.
    • Sure it will work nicely on your old 386 sitting in the closet, but will it really increase the lifespan of your old vacuum tube monstrosity that takes up your entire garage? Might make an interesting experiment!

      I finaly retired the old 386 SAMBA server. The BIOS was quite limited on the size of the hard drive that could be installed and the first partition was severly limited in size. Maybe I'll use the old SAMBA box for Apachie on the intranet.

      I bought a NAS box. It runs Linux. It uses the Reiser file
  • by xtal (49134) on Saturday February 25, 2006 @11:45PM (#14802535) Homepage
    I run Windows 2000 on a PC that's 3 years old.. I've got a gig of ram in it, and it works great. I've got Windows 2000 on two or three other old-ass PCs as well, and the only thing I did to make them faster.. was reinstall the OS, cruft-free, every 2-3 years. I still manage to get all my work done, and don't have a compelling reason to upgrade to Windows XP. As much as Microsoft would like me to think, AOE3 isn't enough justification.

    I've got some PII class notebooks running Windows 2000 just wonderfully, even in ~128M memory.

    Honestly, I don't see upgrading in the next year. All I've done is expand drive space, I put three monitors on this machine, it all works great.

    So.. maybe try reinstalling on those old PCs and slobbing in some new memory, and save a few bucks?

    My linux boxes, to their credit, haven't needed touching since I installed them - they just work, and in fact, I'm not even sure how they're configured anymore. They're running on P100 class hardware as described in the article.
    • sorry to go off topic, but one of the things that really pisses me off about XP is that when you run a search, if you delete something, the search will automatically re-run itself.

      Win2k never did that kinda crap and it means whenever I forget to close a search window in XP, the CPU maxes out when the files change around.
      • I don't forsee ever running windows XP. I'm hoping to move to OSX running emulation for legacy and specialty applications, and staying the hell away from Vista. I don't know many shops prepared to make the hardware upgrades Vista is going to require, or the infrastructure changes.

        The only feature I miss is remote desktop, and that's only of marginal utility.
        • by Ayanami Rei (621112) * <rayanami@gmai l . com> on Sunday February 26, 2006 @02:12AM (#14802887) Journal
          >> The only feature I miss is remote desktop, and that's only of marginal utility.

          That's the most important reason why to install Server 2003 or XP. Once you start using it, it changes the way you work with Windows machines.

          I suggest trying to find a copy of Server 2000 so at least you get Terminal Services (with unlimited connections in Per-User mode!). If you're too poor to spring for it, or don't trust P2P, you should try to find NTSwitch.exe... and follow these instructions:

          - Execute the NTSwitch Program (Backup your system first) following the instructions that it gives

          - You MUST immediately afterward successfully install (any) Service Pack. It apparantly creates/restores some necessary registry entries.

          - After Service Pack is installed REBOOT machine.

          When you go into the START MENU>Settings>Control Panel>"Add Remove Programs" and click on "Add/Remove Windows Components" you will get a series of errors - it will tell you what files that are missing.

          These are the (12) files you must have:

          certocm.dll
          certocm.inf
          ins.inf
          licenoc.dll
          licenoc.inf
          ocmri.inf
          rsoptcom.dll
          rsoptcom.inf
          tsoc.dll
          tsoc.inf
          wmsocm.dll
          wmsocm.inf

          You will need to obtain these files either from an existing W2K Server installation or from the 2000 Server install CD.

          Copy all .inf files to the Windows\Inf directory
          Copy all .dll files to the System32\Setup directory

          If this is done correctly then when you run the Add/Remove component it will list (2) Terminal Services options

          You will still need to have either a W2K Server or Advanced Server CD to actually install the remaining Terminal Server files (apart from the ones above), these are located in a compressed format on the \I386 directory (TSC.001) on the CD (about 14MB)


          Once you verify that Terminal Services is running and installed, you can revert the machine to Professional (or keep it at Server if you find it useful).
          Seeing a 2K professional machine running multiple Terminal Services sessions without protest is a clear indication that the Server vs. Workstation distinction is only for market segmentation and maximizing profit, not any technical/support reason.
          • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Sunday February 26, 2006 @09:23AM (#14803663) Homepage Journal

            That's the most important reason why to install Server 2003 or XP. Once you start using it, it changes the way you work with Windows machines.

            Hopefully Vista will really get a decent shell interface, *and* all of the important system functionality will become available through that interface (I'm not holding my breath on that last, though), and then you'll *really* change the way you work with Windows machines. The remote GUI access is okay, but it only works when you have a high-bandwidth connection, and scriptability is very poor.

            (Now we get to the *real* point of this post, which is just to share a little Linux anecdote and do a little chest thumping ;-) ). As an example of what you can do with a good remote shell, consider my experience from yesterday:

            I'm in a hotel room in Paris, France. My wife was at her mother's house in Morgan, Utah, USA and sent me a message via Jabber. She had to get some pictures off of her nephew's digital camera so that she can incorporate them into a slideshow she's putting together for his wedding. He brought the CD that came with the camera, and she installed the software (on her iBook) and tried to download the pictures. Nothing happened. The computer didn't even seem to see that attached camera. We IMed back and forth for a while, trying to troubleshoot the problem, but it was no good. Looking at the camera's support web site, it appears that maybe my wife needs to download a newer version of the software, but it's 40MB and she's on a slow dialup line (my father in law is out in the sticks and even his telephone service isn't very good -- he rarely gets connected at better than 26Kbps). Actually, as it turned out, even after she upgraded the software (at home on a cable modem connection), she still couldn't talk to the camera. Dunno.

            Now, a while back, I gave my father in law a computer... an old AMD K6 300Mhz running Ubuntu Linux (Hoary, as I recall). It lets him browse e-Bay, send and receive e-mail and write the occasional letter and I don't have to support it at all -- it just works. So, I told my wife to go attach the camera to the Linux box. One little complication was that both the Linux box and my wife's iBook are connected via WiFi to a little AP/router with a dialup modem in it. That's because my father-in-law had no way to get a phone line into the room where he wanted to keep the computer (it's an old house). The AP/router, of course, does NAT. Not a major problem... I just told my wife to type "ssh -R5000:localhost:22 ..." on the Ubuntu box to connect to my server at home and set up a tunnel back to the Ubuntu box.

            Then, from my hotel room in France, I connected first to my home server, then logged into the Ubuntu box. Damn... gphoto2 wasn't installed. "aptitude install gphoto2", plus a three-minute wait for the 233KB download to finish (yes, barely over 1KB per second -- it's a *slow* dialup) and I had the software. "gphoto2 -P" detected the camera, identified it, connected to it with the correct protocol and downloaded all of the pictures from the camera. "nmap" found the IP address of my wife's iBook and "scp" quickly copied all of the pictures into her home directory.

            That's it. Problem solved... I looked like some kind of a wizard for being able to do this from 1/3 of the way around the planet, but the truth is that it's no different than doing it from the console. I suppose perhaps someday all Internet connections will be fast enough that you can always use a remote GUI, but that day has not yet arrived, and won't for some years yet.

            A good CLI rocks.

      • Wouldn't installing the Google Desktop Search help?
    • A 3-year-old PC is not *that* old, anyway. Most businesses keep computers for 4-5 years. Now 8or 10 years is certainly getting up there though...
      • A client of ours was still running win95 on about 5 workstations until about 6 months ago. This had the advantage that many modern virus's just won't work on them.

        6 months after the Y2K 'bug' forced some people to upgrade older hardware, we in Australia got a VAT based tax system (we called it GST, because we're idiots) which replaced to some extent the previous 'sales tax' based system. These two events meant that we saw quite a bump in sales that year, and it was interesting to observe a slight bump 3 yea
    • I've got some PII class notebooks running Windows 2000 just wonderfully, even in ~128M memory.

      This would have been pretty high-end hardware when Windows 2000 came out. I ran it as my day-to-day OS on a Pentium-133, and even that isn't all that impressive.

    • Up to this past year, I had a 13 year old Sun workstation serving as the firewall for my home network, running a very recent version of OpenBSD (50MHz SPARC handles DSL bandwidth very nicely:). Even Solaris won't install on these machines, any longer (perhaps Solaris 2.7, but I'm not sure).

      Truly one of the "value added" features of the F/OSS operating systems.

    • Just curious... (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by benjamindees (441808)
      Did you pay for those three or four versions of a, what, $200 operating system?
    • I run Windows 2000 on a PC that's 3 years old.. I've got a gig of ram in it, and it works great. I've got Windows 2000 on two or three other old-ass PCs as well, and the only thing I did to make them faster.. was reinstall the OS, cruft-free, every 2-3 years. I still manage to get all my work done, and don't have a compelling reason to upgrade to Windows XP. As much as Microsoft would like me to think, AOE3 isn't enough justification.

      So, what you're trying to say is that you have a 3 year old computer r

    • It took me a couple years of dealing with WinXP crap to realize that Win2k really is the way to go. Well, for the few times I actually need to use windows. (music production) When the hell is linux going to get good music production software?

      But back to the topic at hand: old hardware. The hardware you mentioned isn't that old.

      I have made routers out of Pentium 133mhz machines with 16mb of ram, using linux. That's where the real value in old hardware is - simple tasks. The nice thing about those older
    • 3 years old? that is practically new unless it was the bottom of the shitbox heap when you bought it. 4 years ago i bought my athlon 2200+ based machine with 512 megs of ram and a radeon 9700 pro. just recently have i started holding off game purchases till i get a new machine because i doubt i can run the games well, i know i can run them.

      i'm tired but my point is that a 3 year old machine isn't that old at all even for a gaming computer for media it should perform flawlessly and office work (unless you
    • I still manage to get all my work done, and don't have a compelling reason to upgrade to Windows XP. As much as Microsoft would like me to think, AOE3 isn't enough justification.

      If cost is the reason, then I have no argument with your reasoning.

      If cost is not the reason, you are cheating yourself by not moving to XP, even on older hardware, as well as new hardware, XP is faster, and offers a lot of little things that are nice.

      There is also significant differences in compatibility, the kernel, and how things
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I have Linux running as a router on a P166 with 32 megs of RAM. It runs Postfix, BIND, nfsd, Privoxy, and Samba, and without a problem. Sure, a GUI might tax it a bit, but for what it does, it runs perfectly.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I would replace the computer with a router personally. If left on constantly, the electric bill will add up. At 5 cents / kilowatt hour, a computer (assuming it uses 100 watts) will cost 0.5 cents to run / hour. If left on continously for 1 year, the cost will be 365 * 24 * .5 cents = $43.80 . Buy a router w/ a usb port ( for external hard drive support), and if you choose properly, it will run linux. See openwrt.org or www.linksysinfo.com for more details.
  • You could always throw a copy of Windows 2000 on your machine too. It's a hell of a lot faster than using XP.

    Computer/Processor 133 MHz or higher Pentium-compatible CPU.
    Memory At least 64 megabytes (MB) of RAM; more memory generally improves responsiveness.
    Hard Disk 2 GB with 650 MB free space.
    CPU Support Windows 2000 Professional supports single and dual CPU systems.
    Drive CD-ROM or DVD drive.
    Display VGA or higher resolution monitor.
    Keyboard Required.
    • It is my experience that XP boots quicker and (with candy theme turned off) is more responsive then win2k.
  • It's nice that you can cutdown your window manager to W2K-like levels (or below), but try finding something with the features and footprint of MS Office 2000.
    • office 97 still works just fine for document creation, you can also use abiword if all you need is word processing.
    • I thought they called it Office XP, but whatever.

      If you want to pull ancient stuff out of a box, try Star Office 5.x for size, speed and features. It compares very well with the M$ Office that was out when it was produced.

      If you want modern software, most of the functionality of Office can be found in DSL, that's why it's so amazing that it all fits in 50 MB. KDE's office suite has most of the same functionality with a much smaller footprint and others make even nicer programs. Abbiword and Kword are bo

  • I don't get it. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ThatGeek (874983) on Saturday February 25, 2006 @11:49PM (#14802548) Homepage
    Ok, a few things.

    1) What's the point of this article? Linux worked on these machines when they were state of the art. Is it such a revelation that it still works on these machines?

    2) Would Microsoft suggest that Linux is less suitable for a computer with 4 mb of video ram than a copy of Windows Vista or XP? The DRM alone would sap the system's resources.

    3) I know that Slashdot's parent company owns newsforge, but would it have been hard to put in a direct link to the article? Here it is: http://www.linux.com/article.pl?sid=06/02/13/18542 51 [linux.com]

    4) Geeks can now smile that yes, in deed, their operating system runs on old computers. OK, now what? What's the significance? Is it that people won't have to upgrade? Is it that they can keep their old boxes around? Surely if they still had them, they would know this already. And it won't make Windows users want to switch as they are all running their apps on shiny new(er) boxes anyway.
    • 4) Geeks can now smile that yes, in deed, their operating system runs on old computers. OK, now what? What's the significance? Is it that people won't have to upgrade? Is it that they can keep their old boxes around? Surely if they still had them, they would know this already. And it won't make Windows users want to switch as they are all running their apps on shiny new(er) boxes anyway.

      The issue is that a previous study [slashdot.org] conducted by Microsoft claimed that Linux wasn't so great on old hardware. That study
    • Re:I don't get it. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @12:09AM (#14802604)
      There are a few reasons why it could maybe not run on aged systems: The system itself, and the various distributions.

      Now, the system thankfully IS working nicely with all the old machines I've tried it on. But there's still the possibility that it relies on some more modern features. There have not been ground shaking steps since the 386 (compared to the leap that came from 286 to 386), but some subtle changes happened. What if the kernel needed certain CPU Operations? What if the system expects to have at least 64 megs of ram? What if it expects a graphics adapter that can at least run VESA standard (ok, unlikely with Linux, but still...)?

      All matters that could keep a system from running on old hardware.

      Then there's distributions. What if the distribution compilers expect you to be able to run X, and run it at at least 800x600 resolution? What if they don't provide a text based installation routine? What if they expect at least PS/2 mice and won't accept serial? What about proprietary CD-Rom drivers, standards developed kinda late in that area? Not to mention the graphics headaches before VESA. Or if they require at least 64 megs for their ramdisk image they want to install from?

      The reasons are numerous. So I'm kinda glad someone took the burden to actually try that. I envy that guy for the time he has at hand to spend on something like this (must've taken weeks to test it through on old hardware).
      • For sure, that's interesting to know Linux is running fine on old hardware, but that's not only interesting, that's also useful to avoid throwing in the garbage can some toxic hardware that can still do useful tasks.

        I don't think it took weeks to test Linux on a Pentium II. I am currently running an old 486-25MHz 16 MB RAM 325MB disk + 500MB disk, ISA only I own since 1993. It is running 24/7 for years now. I am also running a Pentium 166, 64MB RAM and 1 GB HD also 24/7. I have old Fujitsu laptop Pentium 1

        • Well, considering that a power supply that could get you about 150 Watts was plenty in the 486 days and that today a 500 is hardly enough, I kinda think the old gear runs on less power than current hardware.

          I mean, compare heatsinks then and now. I remember having a fan on my 486 (which was kinda new back then, until then it was passive heatsinks only) that could maybe work as the northbridge fan on a current mainboard. When do you need big heatsinks that weigh more than the mainboard? When you have enough
  • by kcbrown (7426) <slashdot@sysexperts.com> on Saturday February 25, 2006 @11:52PM (#14802558)
    ...from a highly stripped-down distribution (such as muLinux [dotsrc.org]) to a highly featureful one (such as Ubuntu [ubuntu.com]).

    So of course it can run, and run well, on older hardware. The only question is what you have to give up to make it work well.

  • by Silverlancer (786390) on Saturday February 25, 2006 @11:55PM (#14802565)
    Windows 98, I've always felt, was a drastically underrated version of Windows. It was only a 200MB install, in comparison to the 500MB of Windows ME and gigabyte plus of Windows XP. And its workings, by comparison, were simple. For example, Windows 98 had the option to completely turn off the usage of the swap file until memory is filled. Doing so made the entire system run from memory, vastly speeding up the system. As far as I know this is impossible in Windows XP. If you have an old system and toss a bunch of extra memory in it (pennies for older systems) you can make it run incredibly fast using Windows 98. I have an older laptop that I recently "inherited" from a friend. It took about 5 minutes to boot up and 30 seconds to even open a folder. I wiped it, installed Windows 98, tweaked it a bit, and installed Firefox. It now runs beautifully, as fast as my main computer. When I use Windows 98, it almost seems to me as if XP was designed to slow down your computer. Too bad most modern software no longer supports it.
    • Win98 is no longer supported by its maker. You can install it allright, but you will find out that modern features won't work on it. You might remember the pains of NT and USB. Now, something like this can and will eventually happen to all systems that are no longer supported by their makers. Some new device arrives and you won't be able to use it.

      Granted, if you're not modifying your hardware anymore, that won't matter.

      But there are other things. Security and bugfixes being the main ones (you will not get
      • Re:All true, but: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Omaze (952134)
        I put fresh installs of Win98 on two different systems (a Pentium2 400 and an AMD K6-3 400) about 5 weeks ago. I'm lucky to have legit licenses for both of them.

        On one system I have LinkSys NC100 cards which Win98SE doesn't ship with drivers for. I have the floppies but, trouble is, the FDD is crapped (come to find out the floppies are dead, too). I had to boot back to Debian to fetch the drivers. Once connected, windowsupdate.microsoft.com had no problems sending all of the updates from the original CD
    • Windows 98 had some of the worst memory management ever. Sure it might run like a champ a little of the time, but if you miss a daily (sometimes bi-hourly) restart, your system will screech to a halt quick.
    • Windows 98, I've always felt, was a drastically underrated version of Windows.

      I agree. My wire got a new computer with XP Home to replace a box that became a hand-me-down to one of the kids. The XP box had a bigger hard drive. We decided to configure some shared folders the same way as the Windows 98 box. We found out very quickly that is not possible. To protect shared folders on the Windows 98 box we had set the permission to Read Only. (media files) so the kids don't mess with them but can play them.
    • by evilviper (135110) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @07:48AM (#14803503) Journal
      Windows 98, I've always felt, was a drastically underrated version of Windows. It was only a 200MB install, in comparison to the 500MB of Windows ME and gigabyte plus of Windows XP.

      No. People were saying, non-stop, how great Win98 was when ME came around. I'd say, at it's peak, it was VASTLY over-rated. Although much smaller and somewhat faster, it isn't a fraction as stable as 2000 or XP.

      The most underrated Microsoft operating system is NT4... Smaller and faster than 98, and every bit as stable as 2000 or XP.

      NT4 got lots of bad publicity for being a version behind 95/98 in DirectX versions, and sadly only got up to DirectX 6.0 before being E.O.L.ed. It also got a bad wrap for lacking USB support, even though several companies released NT4 drivers for their USB devices, USB input devices like keyboards and mice don't need OS support, and a third-party company is still selling the USB stack/drivers for NT4 for $30. These were features Microsoft was holding back on, to force an upgrade to 2000.

      NT4 was great, in it's stability and simplicity. It was frustrating to see a blue-screen when you swapped a videocard, but it only took a little bit of knowledge to solve the problem, and be back to 100% in no time. Repeatability is amazing, unlike 95/98/2000/XP which may install the drivers for a device once, then won't the second time, NT4 was, at the very least, completely consistent.

      For example, Windows 98 had the option to completely turn off the usage of the swap file until memory is filled. Doing so made the entire system run from memory, vastly speeding up the system. As far as I know this is impossible in Windows XP.

      I can't comment on XP, but I do remember that Windows 2003 (the server version of XP) had the option of completely disabling the pagefile, which made it just noticably faster, in only a few very specific cases.

      When I use Windows 98, it almost seems to me as if XP was designed to slow down your computer.

      Why almost? Each successive version of Windows IS designed to slow down your computer. My favorite example is the "Open With..." dialog. It hasn't changed the slightest bit since Windows 95, but it gets SIGNIFICANTLY slower with each release. As in, outpacing hardware improvements... I can only imagine it's because they're making the registry slower and vastly more bloated with each release (perhaps they throw a few sleep() calls in there to make Dell/HP happy).

      Also, there is one huge reason I would suggest M.E. over 98... UMASS support. People REALLY don't want to go to the web and have to download a driver for every single USB device they use. Without UMASS support, you can't just plug-in a USB hard drive, flash dongle, iPod, etc. and have it work. With ME and 2000 being the first versions of Windows with UMASS support, is it any wonder most knowledgable people (myself included) recomend 2000 over all other versions of Windows?

      The thought of engineered obsolesence still makes me gag. I'd much rather have Linux/BSD, where things like USB and UMASS support aren't intentionally held back, and you can always backport any newer features you want.
      • NT4 (Score:3, Interesting)

        by walterbyrd (182728)

        I agree with the poster about NT4.

        I ran NT4 w/SP6 on a 120mhz with 64mb of RAM and it was very snappy. Even cutting down to 32mb of RAM didn't slow it down all that much. Office-97 ran very snappy on this system also.

        Linux with X-Window, and similar features would be ridiculously slow on the same hardware.
  • Linux is VERY scalable. You will not see KDE 3.0 with all graphics gadgets run lovely on a Pentium (first gen) with 64 megs of ram, but if you use the settings that were usual in those days, you'll find that even with the latest Kernel and the latest packages it will run just as fast as it did back then. And for most day to day work that such a machine will see (like, for instance, work as my router), this will be sufficient.

    Now, one could argue that the Systems that come to us from the lovely town of Redmo
  • Windows 2003 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ben_1432 (871549) on Saturday February 25, 2006 @11:57PM (#14802573)
    Win2003 [microsoft.com] requires,
    - 133mhz processor
    - 128mb of ram
    - 1.25gb+ of hard drive space

    From memory, that's a computer in the early 90's with some extra memory and a bigger hard drive, neither of which are anywhere near expensive.

    It's no surprise that other server operating systems run on old hardware as well.

    It's no surprise that Linux will run on older hardware,
  • by billstewart (78916) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @12:01AM (#14802580) Journal
    I don't consider a machine that can boot from CDROM to be old :-) (And I especially don't consider any machine that supports USB to be old...)

    Machines that have to boot from floppy or HD are old, and laptops with random pre-Cardbus PCMCIA Ethernet cards are old, and working with them requires distro support for booting from floppy into a system with the right Ethernet drivers and/or support for booting from MS-DOS file systems that you loaded before the first Linux boot. Many of the distros out there _could_ do it, but don't necessarily give you the documentation to figure out how :-)

    One trick I'm planning to try soon is putting the laptop disk into an external USB shoebox so I can load it from one of my larger computers, side-stepping the whole problem. That still requires a sufficiently small distro, but at least it's a start.

    • I don't consider a machine that can boot from CDROM to be old :-) (And I especially don't consider any machine that supports USB to be old...)

      "Old" is relative, but keep in mind that machines that can boot from CDROM and support USB have been around for nearly 10 years now (I bought just such a machine back in January 97, 9 years ago). A decade-old machine fits my definition of "old". Certainly machines based on a 386 or 486 CPU are older, but a p200 from 96-97 is definitely "old".

  • No surprise there (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Al Al Cool J (234559) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @12:03AM (#14802589)
    I was looking to pick up a cheap notebook last year, and my brother-in-law said I could have his old 400MHz Celeron Toshiba (one of the first generation with DVD). He had long since retired it, as Windows was running too slow and the computer tech he took it to said it was too outdated and couldn't be used for anything.

    I put Gentoo and fluxbox on it (cross-compiling the binaries on my desktop - I am not a moron), opera, abiword, gnumeric, mplayer, and even the MythTV frontend, so I can watch shows in bed. It runs really quite snappy, and seems more responsive than my Dad's 1.2GHz celeron running XP.

    My brother-in-law is quite suprised that I've been able to breath new life into a computer he was told was a junker. He meanwhile has a 1GHz PIII notebook that he is thinking of again replacing because Windows runs too slow.

  • It seemed like not too long ago that Linux was the best option for breathing new life into 486-class PCs. I remember folks running FVWM and XFCE 1.0 on their 486 and first generation Pentium systems because Win95/98/NT ran too slow on the same hardware.

    Now there's actually some FUD that Windows runs better on old hardware? Why is there even a debate at all? Has Windows gotten that much faster? Has Linux gotten that much slower? Has X11/Qt/GTK gotten that much more bloated?
    • Now there's actually some FUD that Windows runs better on old hardware? Why is there even a debate at all?

      Amazing someone would say something so stupid [eweek.com], isn't it? They pretended that distributions made for older hardware don't exist and removed XP's built in hardware install blocks to discover that, "If Linux was installed on an older system, such as an average PC of 1997, then the desktop performance falls below what is typically acceptable for a common user" and, "that Windows performed as well as Linux

      • It outright refused to install on PII and lead people to throw out lesser hardware.

        Sorry, even though I agree with most of your other criticism that part is pure FUD. I successfully installed Windows XP to a P2 233 MHz (albeit with 320 MB of memory - server). It was kind of slow though (surprise) but not totally unusable at least.

  • Some of my older lab machines had enough disk space, but some of them had two 500MB drives, and it's amazing how much trouble it was installing Linux on it back when that meant RedHat 5 or 6. The problem was that the distro either wanted to split the disk up into various partitions, some of which were too large for one drive and others didn't fill the other drive, or else it wanted to treat everything as one large root file system which didn't do the job either. I'd constantly have installs choke because
    • two 500MB drives, and it's amazing how much trouble it was installing Linux on it back when that meant RedHat 5 or 6. ... there wasn't a convenient way to tell it where to fit packages.

      Hmmm, that's tight, but I recall putting Red Hat 5.x onto a single 540 MB disk. Then, as now, judicious package selection is key when you are dealing with the full distributions. Today, I'd put /usr onto the second drive and everything else on the first. DSL, Puppy or any of the other sub 100 MB distributions mentioned

  • My first Linux box was on old hardware, a 486 DX-2 50 in fact. Netscape was a bit slow, but it made a grade dial-up gateway. In fact, I still have the same machine, it has just slowly been upgraded piece by piece to an AMD K6, RAID-1 file-server and internet gateway using an 802.11 USB stick. At one point it also was my answering machine and it emailed me mp3s of voice messages it recorded using a 33.6 voice modem I got on eBay for $1. Now it boots from a compressed initrd so it can put the RAID to sleep so
  • I have a nice shiny new copy of Ubuntu 5.10 that occasionally brings my Sun Ultra 20 (Opteron, 1GB RAM) to it's knees.

    So I'm thinking it depends on what distribution you choose and which desktop manager.

    • you really hit the nail on the head. Most general purpose distributions these days are way to bloated to run on old hardware well. They will run, just not snappy. DSL is a pretty good choice. Simple things like not having 324235 services running in the background and compiling your own kernel will help a lot too (not using initrd and not 2 megabytes in size). Those lesser known distros that so many trolls complain are "useless" and add to consumer confusion actually serve a purpose :-P Come to find out, a o
    • Drivers, man. Graphics especially. It'll kill a decent machine if hardware access isn't speedy.
  • I have a Dell PowerEdge 6450 which I tried to load Fedora Core 4 and SuSe 10 on. They failed to install because I think they don't support the PowerEdge 2/DC RAID controller card anymore and there was a blog I found where I could roll my own kernel with it in there. I went with CentOS 3.6 (RedHat EL 3) because it uses 2.4 with all the right modules or whatever built-in. My point is that I was just thinking about how the newer distros are usually NOT friendly to older hardware because they seem to drop of
    • Have you ever tried installing Windows on a machine, from scratch? Not the OEM version with all the drivers for that specific machine, just a standard retail disk? You run into the same, if not more, problems. Linux is much easier to install than Windows any more. If a linux distro was tuned for the hardware you have like the windows OEM install is, then you'd have an easy time with it, too.
  • Xubuntu (Score:3, Informative)

    by InodoroPereyra (514794) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @12:41AM (#14802672)
    It would have been nice if they tried Xubuntu [ubuntu.com] too. Ubuntu based, XFCE [xfce.org] as a light, yet feature rich (to some extent) desktop. Clean, good looking, very responsive. Some screenies here [osdir.com].
  • Seriously, I got my start with RedHat linux 4.2 on a 33mhz 486 Gateway 2000 with 8 MB of Ram and a 250 MB Hdd.

    From day 1 I knew how much more responsive linux was on older hardware.

    Sure, it was a dog on big tasks but as the router/fileserver I built out of it it was as good as any Pentium class machine would have been.

    LK
  • I'm running RH9 on an iOpener. /proc/cpuinfo tells me that it's a WinChip C6 180MHZ

    4 gig laptop harddrive
    32 megs of ram (shared with video card)

    But the worst part is that the keyboard that it came with doesn't have an Escape key.. which annoys me every time I use vim.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 26, 2006 @01:06AM (#14802746)
    I'm suprised I haven't seen it mentioned yet, but the reason I would use Linux on older machines over older Microsoft OS' like Windows 95/95/ME/2000 is because Linux gives you the benefit of still being a supported OS. The problem with older versions of Windows is that Microsoft simply gives up on them. Even if there's some absolutely critical security flaw, Microsoft simply stop caring.

    Compare this to Linux and you can use a new, fully patched, fully secure, fully tested release and scale it down to run on your old hardware, I think that's the key difference that's been missed by some here when recommending just using older Windows releases instead.

    Put simply, using Linux on an old box means you can run an old box with modern software - modern in that is uptodate in terms of features, security updates and hardware support. It basically feels like when Microsoft gives up on an OS that OS is in a timefreeze, don't expect to have much luck with some hardware/software/security problem that emerged after MS gave up on it, compare that to Linux however and generally you'll have much more luck with resolving said hardware/software/security issue on the same hardware because some kind Linux developer, I guess that's the wonder of open source compared to proprietary.
    • From a server point of view, there's another entire reason. You can construct useful specialized servers using Linux and older hardware. I have built a number of router/firewalls on Pentium Classics with 64mb to 128mb of RAM. Currently I'm running a Postfix mail gateway on a Pentium Classic 200mhz with 128mb of RAM.

      There's just no way to do that under Windows. Period. It was obvious from the very beginning that Redmond was, for lack of a better word, spewing pure bullshit. Running crappy old operating

  • Tecra 500CDT (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Digital Pizza (855175) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @01:09AM (#14802752)
    I have a Toshiba Tecra 500CDT laptop, a 120Mhz Pentium with the RAM maxed out to 144MB (fairly cheap) and a leftover 6GB hard drive I had. I installed Windows XP Pro on it; I had to download the boot floppies (no CDROM booting) and use the Windows 2000 video driver (XP no longer supports the Chips and memory video controller, but the Win2K driver works fine).

    I use the "Classic" theme, 16-bit color (24-bit is unaccelerated by the driver) with ClearType enabled, and it runs nicely! Office 2003, Firefox, WinAMP, and various 2D games all work perectly fine.

    When I tried Fedora Core 2 it thrashed the hell out of the hard drive due to the bloat of Gnome and KDE. Sure, I could have used a lightweight window manager, but I wanted something that approximated the functionality of Windows; turns out that I was better off just using Windows.

    Linux certainly works on older hardware, but not with a very good desktop anymore. How hard would it be to use an older version of KDE or Gnome (I remember running them nicely on 64-meg pentiums back in the day!) with a modern distribution?

    • XFCE4?? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by t0rkm3 (666910)
      Why try some of the Winders alike window managers? Like XFCE, ICE, JWM, or Equinox (EDE)?

      I hate GNOME and KDE. I use Enlightenment 0.16.7 which runs nicely on everything from PII400 to AMD64 3200+.

      Another advantage of *nix. Right tool for the task. A long ago discovered lesson by a network-centric weenie who just wanted an OS that facilitated my job rather than inhibiting it.
      • I probably should get around to trying out XFCE sometime; does it have a good GUI file manager? That's one of the big things I like about Gnome and KDE.

        I'm no stranger to the command line; I use it constantly, even under OSX (lots of shell and perl scripting), but I don't like having to use it just to move files around, as it disrupts my workflow.

        Anyway, screwing around with a system is for me a means to an end, not the end itself.

    • Re:Tecra 500CDT (Score:3, Insightful)

      by strider44 (650833)
      Just wait one second! You say that Windows XP runs nicely after turning off the huge amount of bloat including the theme, the colour depth and the font engine, then complain about the bloat in KDE or Gnome? Did you think about actually turning off some of the extra eye candy? Perhaps changing the style (may I suggest the Classic KDE style?), most definitely the colour depth and perhaps other meaningless eyecandy such as auto-rendering of images in Konqueror.

      You could after all be a little less hypocri
  • Minix [cs.vu.nl] comes to mind as it was and is designed to work on old machines (at least a 386 with 8MB of ram). It's not as "mature" as the other *nixes of course but you can turn trash into servers with it.
  • Don't forget Sparc (Score:4, Informative)

    by AFCArchvile (221494) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @01:41AM (#14802823)
    I've done a bit of installing on some Sparc machines over the past year, so I know a little bit about running near-modern *nix on older hardware. My first foray into it was when I picked up a Sparcstation 5 for free. It has a 110 MHz CPU, 256 MB of RAM, and an 8-bit framebuffer. The first OS that I fully installed on it was Debian Woody for Sparc. The first installation had GNOME; it ran, but not really in a speedy fashion. I later switched back to lighter-weight environments like fluxbox or XFCE. When I picked up the Ultra 2 (2 x 300 MHz UltraSparc, 640 MB of RAM, 24-bit Creator3D framebuffer), it ran quite a bit better in Debian Woody / GNOME, thanks to the faster processors and larger memory space. Still nowhere near P3 level performance, but to be fair, this was a workstation built in 1996, and was the fastest thing in its day. When Solaris 10 came out in the free RTU license for multiprocessor machines, I installed that. Java Desktop loads up a bit slowly, so I usually log in with CDE, but the other aspects of the Ultra 2 are great for a 10-year-old computer. It can even burn 8X CD-Rs without stuttering. Your average PC back in 1996 probably wouldn't be able to sustain the throughput for 6x, let alone 8x. Once the Ultra 2 became the primary user of the 13W3 monitor due to its 24-bit framebuffer, I relegated the Sparcstation 5 to headless duty, using Debian Woody, then Sarge, and currently NetBSD 3.0.

    Right now the Sparcstation series is a bit long in the tooth for graphical use beyond an ultra-light window manager like XFCE, but they were small form factor before there was a mainstream market for it. Companies like Sun and SGI made small workstations with fast processors and great throughput (and high margins and prices!).
  • by ross.w (87751) <rwonderley.gmail@com> on Sunday February 26, 2006 @01:50AM (#14802841) Journal
    If I can only afford an old PII or PIII for AU$50, I'm hardly going to spend anotherAU$180 on Windows XP. I'm going to put a Slackware distro on it for free, and have a reasonably functional office/web surfing/email reading machine.

    If it's an internet gateway or print server, Linux wins again, because if your going to put XP on it to run such things, you've forked over the price of a proper router or print server that will use less power and be quiter and more reliable.

    That's why Linux is better for old hardware, not becuase you can, but because sometimes it's actually worthwhile.
  • Not really (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Chemical (49694) <nkessler2000.hotmail@com> on Sunday February 26, 2006 @02:57AM (#14802979) Homepage
    I've heard this legend for so long, that Linux runs better than Windows on older machines, I actually started to believe it. So I installed Ubuntu on an old 700 MHz IBM Thinpad with 256 MB RAM that I was given. It was slow to the point of being unusable. It took three minutes to boot, applications took forever to launch, and it was completely unusable for watching Xvid encoded video. Not to mention the power management features didn't work at all (couldn't suspend or hibernate).

    I put Windows XP on it and the performance is much better. Faster boots, power management, and just all around better performance. I can even watch Xvid and H.264 encoded videos on it! Sure if I ran Linux in text mode it might be faster, but that wouldn't really suit my needs. The "Linux is faster on older hardware" myth is just that.

    • You used the wrong distro.

      Ubuntu 5.10 is not the best choice for older machines as someone else has mentioned.

      I'm currently running Windows 2000 and Fedora 4 dual booted on a 800MHz Celeron with 256Mb.

      They both run just fine and about the same. Other possibilities are Debian 3.1 (which is very stable and has older packages that would run better on older hardware.

  • Pentium II? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by StarkRG (888216)
    Pentium II is old hardware? I was expecting an article on how it'd run on a 286, Mac 512k, LISA, etc. Or at most a 386. Pentium II is a full two generations beyond the 386 which is the minimum Linux will run on out of the proverbial box (tarball?).

    It'll run rather well on a 386, as long as all you want to do is use it as a local fileserver or router or something... I suppose if you got your hands on a hardware mpeg encoder/decoder you could use it as a DVR...

    Perhaps what the article meant by "Linux" is Lin
    • Pentium II is old hardware? I was expecting an article on how it'd run on a 286, Mac 512k, LISA, etc. Or at most a 386.

      Are you serious? The only version of unix I'm aware of that ran on 16 bit personal computers that I'm aware of is Xenix. Other household names such as BSD and linux were strictly i386, as earlier architectures were unsuitable for a unix system.

  • by b0s0z0ku (752509) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @03:35AM (#14803044)
    Until 2002, my primary machine was a 486-33 Compaq upgraded to a DX2/66 with 56MB RAM and a 20GB HDD. It ran some version of Slackware Linux, and also was the mail server for a few accounts (family, my girlfriend, a couple friends, as well as mine). I even wrote school papers on it using LaTeX and ran a basic X window system with fvwm. At no point was it horrendously slow; in fact, it was faster than most of the Win98/Win2k boxes of people that I knew. It was a sad day when the machine finally succumbed to a power supply failure that somehow fried the main board. Believe it or not, the 20GB HDD lives on as an aux disk in my current server, which is a Dell 1.5GHz Pentium. On that machine, the latest "testing" distro of Debian runs a lot faster than Win Server 2003.
    -b.
  • The article was dealing with the usual x86 scenario. Meanwhile, over on the PPC side, I had put a Mac 6100/66 out to pasture as a web and mail server with OS 8, then 9. As a desktop, it didn't do too badly, but as a server it blew.

    Meanwhile, a Japanese hacker had patched the Linux kernel to run on stoneage Nubus Macs, so I used it to load up a Debian distro. With only 72MB of ram, 4MB video ram, it sucked rocks running X, but (comparitively) flew as a server.

  • I had a PI with 32M RAM running a lightweight Linux server setup. It had Apache, PHP, MySQL, Postfix and DJBDNS. Ran 50 mailboxes without ever having problems.

    I have to admit though that everything was custom compiled for the box to run properly, and no way would it have come close as a desktop. That means specific kernel compile, apache tweak and compile, MySQL compile and Postfix/DJBDNS tweaks and compile. I even compiled PERL for it. Before, it was a desktop and ran Win98 - it sucked.

    The sad paralle

  • by Lodragandraoidh (639696) on Monday February 27, 2006 @12:30PM (#14809048) Journal
    I recently picked up a perfectly functional 486-dx 66mhz Cyrix clone cpu laptop (circa 1993 - made by AST - Canadian company which no longer exists) for $45 from my local Goodwill computer store. It came with 20 MB ram, a 500 MB hard drive, two pcmcia ports, and the usual mix of parallel, serial and keyboard ports. The LCD monitor on it works perfectly, all of the keyboard functions work, and it has a built-in trackball that also is in working order. The outer case is in nearly immaculate condition - only a few scratches here and there. The battery needs to be refurbished or replaced - that is true of any 13 year old laptop.

    It was running DOS 4.1 when I got it (I assume this is what it was originally loaded with). I decided to improve its utility by loading Slackware 10.2 on it (You can see the full blown procedure I used here [linuxquestions.org]). I did not want to use the Zipslack install method (as mentioned in the article, you have some performance issues I could not afford on such old equipment). Without a CDROM, I would need to furthermore modify the installation process. I happen to have a Iomega parallel port zip drive, so I used the boot disk for the zipslack installation to access this drive. The boot disk assumes your root disk(s) will be on the parallel port device. The problem with that is that while the zipslack install disk can recognize and use the zip drive for installation, the regular installation root disks do not (have to talk to Patrick about that). Luckily, you can specify another mount location (just not the parallel port drive) - so I set aside a 100MB partition on the hard drive, and used that for the installation.

    I booted the system from floppy using the zipslack root disk and the standard installation floppies. Then I mounted the parallel port zip drive, and partitioned, formated and mounted the 'source' partition on the hard drive. After that it was a simple matter to copy over the slackware packages I had earlier copied onto a zip disk from my workstation. Finally I kicked off the setup utility after partitioning the hard drive's remaining space. After that, the install was normal. Starting with a 350 MB root partition (used 50MB for swap, and the 100MB source) - I ended up with 25% free space (used about 225 MB for the packages I loaded). I was also able to free up the 100MB source partition afterwards - so I have a whopping 175MB to play with.

    Note that I did not load all the packages available from the Slackware distro - most of the A and AP packages, the key network packages, and some development packages (python). So, no X-windows. However, I found an application called 'twin' (Textmode WINdow environment) [sourceforge.net] that emulated an X server, providing multiple text-based windows that have all the usual controls (resizing, scrollbars, window shade, minimize etc). Twin runs very fast on the 486, and provides the multiple window capability (including copy/paste between windows) that you would need for most jobs. Twin is an older program - last updated in 2003, which I had to build on my workstation, then move over to the laptop via the zipdrive.

    Without a graphics capability, most of the modern tools available in KDE or GNOME are out of reach - but that is okay. I use 'jed' editor (emulates emacs commands - but smaller footprint), and am writing my own tools in python - basically to capture thoughts, and provide automation for uploading my field-notes onto my server when connected to my home network (saving my pennies to get a pcmcia NIC soon).

    Extending the life of the laptop was well worth the trouble. While it may not be cutting edge in terms of looks - for what I do it gets the job done.

Weekends were made for programming. - Karl Lehenbauer

Working...