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Linux On Older Hardware 379

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."
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Linux On Older Hardware

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  • by jpetts ( 208163 ) on Saturday February 25, 2006 @11:42PM (#14802526)
    Do us a favour: post the link to TFA at [], not just the link to a single paragraph at "News"forge.
  • Article Link (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 25, 2006 @11:43PM (#14802529)
    I think it is riduculous that the article link takes you to another OSTG page which displays no more information than the article summary. Here's a direct link to the story 51 []
  • by xtal ( 49134 ) on Saturday February 25, 2006 @11:45PM (#14802535)
    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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 25, 2006 @11:46PM (#14802538)
    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 level_headed_midwest ( 888889 ) on Saturday February 25, 2006 @11:50PM (#14802552)
    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...
  • 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.

  • by Osty ( 16825 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @12:29AM (#14802648)

    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".

  • Xubuntu (Score:3, Informative)

    by InodoroPereyra ( 514794 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @12:41AM (#14802672)
    It would have been nice if they tried Xubuntu [] too. Ubuntu based, XFCE [] as a light, yet feature rich (to some extent) desktop. Clean, good looking, very responsive. Some screenies here [].
  • by BorgHunter ( 685876 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @12:53AM (#14802702)
    [Windows 2000] is part of the Microsoft Windows NT line of operating systems and was released on February 17, 2000.

    The original Pentium 4, codenamed "Willamette", ran at 1.4 and 1.5 GHz and was released in November 2000 on the Socket 423 platform.

    The Pentium III is an x86 (more precisely, an i686) architecture microprocessor by Intel, introduced on February 26, 1999. [] [] []

    In short, when 2k came out, P4 was almost there and PIII Coppermine was ubiquitous. A Pentium II would no more be "high end" then than a Willamette P4 at 1.5 GHz would be "high end" today, loosely. Though you are correct: Win2k does run well on hardware like that.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 26, 2006 @01:26AM (#14802790)
    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 or for more details.
  • 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@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> 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.
  • Re:All true, but: (Score:2, Informative)

    by Omaze ( 952134 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @02:05AM (#14802875) Journal
    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, had no problems sending all of the updates from the original CD installation to current to me. WMP 10, DX 9, IE 6 (with all security updates), no problem. To be honest I don't know when the last time there were any new updates added for the underlying OS but it runs tip top. The only problem I had was, 5 weeks ago, DiamondMM requested an e-mail address to send instructions on how to obtain the latest drivers for the V550 (RivaTNT) card. After applying all of the MS updates the v2.02 (original CD) drivers were nonfunctional and the v3.68 (the latest as of 2004 and the newest I had) drivers had a really nasty quirk--after about 20 seconds the top 1/4 of the screen would end up on the bottom, the screen would be pushed up with about a 1/8 screen height black bar, but the mouse would (of course) still act like the screen was fine. Have fun finding "Shut Down" in that scenario (CTRL-ALT-DEL, TAB, TAB, TAB, ENTER, ENTER). The v2.54 drivers work (it helps to keep old software sometimes) but DirectX support doesn't include 7. I just checked the DiamondMM site now and they no longer have the silly "give us an e-mail and we'll send the instructions to you" (and throw your e-mail address into our nice corporate hopper) policy--unless that's something they only pull on people who cruise in on IE but not Moz. I doubt that I'll ever reboot that system and try the new drivers, though. It runs Debian nicely. Packet forwarding also works in Debian with a little sysctl and iptables. On Win98SE the dhcpsvc.dll (I think that's what I tracked it down to) is either missing or the lib is incomplete. ICS doesn't work on 98 until after I put Norton's firewall (with a newer dhcpsvc.dll) on the system. Norton, even with a bare minimum install and turning off all the automatic notification crap, makes the system unstable as hell once it fetches the, and I'm not kidding, 10-15 updates which it needs. Talk about reboot hell.

    On the other system the drivers which shipped with the Dlink DWL-G520, v4.00, don't work with a default Win98SE installation. The AirportXtreme software is installed, I can see my access point (WEP encrypted) correctly, but it never associates. I know from past experience this is fixed with the latest Dlink drivers but, since the system is connected via wireless, I had no way to get to my server and fetch them from my archive. The CDRW is here in the workstation. I didn't feel like screwing around with it so I promptly installed Debian from 2.2 CDs, put in some madwifi drivers (from an archive CD), and haven't turned the system off since.

    I bet Win98 still works pretty well once you manage to get through all of the updates and reboots. The real issue is the firewall/anti-virus that's still necessary. If I put 98 systems on the 'net without the firewall/AV they'd probably run quite well. It's anyone's guess as to how long an unprotected 98 system would last on the network.

    I don't know how current you mean by current. Both of these systems installed and ran Win2k quite nicely and both run Debian Potato, Woody, Sarge, or Sid with no problem. I don't have a copy of WinXP that I can try. A new laptop should be here early next week. If the manufacturer is nice enough to supply an actual WinXP CD and not just some OEM recovery image bs I might try putting XP on the workstation to check out the performance. Of course I'll have to keep it off the open network. I wouldn't want MS invalidating my brand new laptop's key because a hobby experiment tried to call home.
  • >> 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:


    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.

The rich get rich, and the poor get poorer. The haves get more, the have-nots die.