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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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  • Windows 2003 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ben_1432 ( 871549 ) on Saturday February 25, 2006 @11:57PM (#14802573)
    Win2003 [] 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 SeeMyNuts! ( 955740 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @12:01AM (#14802582)

    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.

  • 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 He had long since retired it, as Windows was running too slow and the computer tech he took it to said it was too outdated and couldn't be used for anything.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.

  • 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).
  • by tilde_e ( 943106 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @12:22AM (#14802629)
    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 it isn't so loud.
  • by ptcheezer ( 677747 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @12:38AM (#14802664)
    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 off support for older hardware as they support the newer stuff. Like when I couldn't get Knoppix to boot and I realized I had to feed it the "nodma" option. It's just a PITA to struggle with stuff like this in LInux when you just know Windows would find the hardware and use it. Now, I'll probably get flamed and be told I just don't know what I'm doing and I can gather up all the right kernel loadable modules or roll my own kernel, etc. But, my simple point is that it's getting harder to get the newest distros to "just work" on older hardware.
  • Re:Old hardware? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Southpaw018 ( 793465 ) * on Sunday February 26, 2006 @12:59AM (#14802722) Journal
    On the topic of old Dells and this thread - the boss wanted me to spend $1500 or somesuch nonsense on Listserv software and licensing. I pulled an Optiplex GX110 (P3 733/128MB ram) out of a closet. Not exactly as described in the article, but something that was no longer in use on our network. Toss a basic Debian install, exim 4, and Mailman on that puppy. Boom. Bought a $30 switch because I'm lazy (no wiring!) and plugged it in over in a quiet corner of the office.
  • 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 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @01:33AM (#14802802)
    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.
  • by Xtravar ( 725372 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @02:41AM (#14802945) Homepage Journal
    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 machines is that they don't need fans as much as newer hardware, so you can make quite the silent router/compile machine/whatnot.

    Let's be real- old hardware isn't really worth anything unless you have very little money, and if you have very little money, well, then linux is a good choice. For example, students. It's a good learning project to network your house with a linux server/router.
  • Not really (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Chemical ( 49694 ) <nkessler2000 AT hotmail DOT 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.

  • Pentium II? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by StarkRG ( 888216 ) <starkrg@g[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Sunday February 26, 2006 @03:19AM (#14803023)
    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 Linux with X and a window manager? I mean, really, Pentium IIs can decode DVDs (as long as you're not doing anything else).

    Of course I'm "still" using a 1.something GHz Athalon and it's way more than enough for me... Though it would be nice to have a faster processor, perhaps a duel core so that I could encode and decode video in real time at the same time... I probably still wouldn't do it but it'd be nice to have...
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • by swillden ( 191260 ) <> 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.

  • NT4 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by walterbyrd ( 182728 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @12:13PM (#14804094)

    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.
  • Re:Tecra 500CDT (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Chaoticmass ( 213593 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @01:59PM (#14804460) Homepage
    Running a basic KDE desktop on a Athlon XP 2400+ with 256mb ram and I've got KDE's classic theme with the eyecandy turned off... I'm just puzzled to why launching an xterm takes 3 or 4 seconds.

    Running XFCE4 on a P3 1.1ghz with 256mb ram and launching an xterm takes no perceptable amount of time, it just pops up there.

    I guess maybe KDE is chewing up so much memory that launching a new app requires some paging to make room.
  • by Roblimo ( 357 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @06:27PM (#14805435) Homepage Journal
    If I had seen the link to NewsForge instead of before the article was posted, I would have corrected it. Sadly, I have many other duties and can't watchdog our sites every minute. This was a mistake, period. And I'm sure you later noticed that the connection between Slashdot and NewsForge was mentioned in the Slashdot stub -- and that Slashdot's connection with other OSTG sites is mentioned on the top of every single Slashdot page unless a user logs in and specifically chooses not to view that navbar.

    I'm sure you also noticed later that Mr. Brockmeier mentioned the BSDs toward the end of the article -- and FreeDOS too.

    But all that aside, thank you for your comments. We always enjoy hearing from intelligent, well-informed readers.

    Robin 'Roblimo' Miller
    Editor in Chief, OSTG

The shortest distance between two points is under construction. -- Noelie Alito