Looking for Linux on Low-spec machines
September 10, 2004 7:09 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone have any suggestions for a linux distro that will run reasonably quick on a pc with a pentium 166 and 64 mb's? I am a total newbie.
posted by ttrendel to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
Not for the newbie, but slackware is PERFECT for that machine. You can give it a whirl, but without some linux manuals you're wasting your time. :-D
posted by shepd at 7:20 PM on September 10, 2004

Really any distribution can fit the bill, just make sure you don't expect a lot of bleeding edge graphics. Fedora just as one example could easily suit your needs. Install TWM or FVWM for your window manager, don't pretend you can run Gnome and you should be fine.
posted by substrate at 9:19 PM on September 10, 2004

What do you want to do with this machine?

If you pick software suitable for such an old beast, ie pretty much forget about KDE or Gnome, use a lightweight window manager as substrate suggested above, then you will have a usable machine, but the knowledge you gain will not be that portable to a more modern Linux desktop. On the other hand anything commandline based will work well and that knowledge will be utterly valuable on any other Linux box. Much fun can be had setting up toy networks with old computers, for example. But you're not going to get an elite workstation out of it.

*ahem* back to the distribution front: if you can get someone to help you with debian, it's pretty easy to pick a selection of packages that will work well on an older box.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:41 PM on September 10, 2004

Vector Linux, which is based on Slackware, is supposed to be good for low-end hardware. It comes with a standard set of applications that are known for being fast and memory efficient. Then again, as substrate suggests, you could use pretty much any distribution as long as you restrict yourself to using those sorts of applications.

But really, if you can track down another 64MB to stick in that machine you'll have a much more pleasant experience.
posted by Galvatron at 10:56 PM on September 10, 2004

Redhat 5.0

OK, Just kidding. Most of them will be fine, but yeah, stick to programs that a linux box of that vintage might have actually been running. For window managers I suggest twm or fvwm (I actually have run fvwm continuously for years, don't much like gnome, enlightenment, kde, etc).

I have several computers of that approximate vintage hanging around doing very useful stuff. Print servers, file servers, routers (old old old computers make excellent routers. All you need is 2 network cards and iptables)

If you'll forgive me for answering a question not asked: with a little intrepidation and about $200 you can make almost any functioning old computer Good. Less if you're willing to settle for some really bargain basement stuff. For $200 you can get a newish athlon motherboard and CPU. Try to get a motherboard that will support the peripherals of the old PC unless you have newish video cards, sound cards, etc on hand or are willing to settle for the crap sound and video that comes with most cheap motherboards. FYI K7S5a are very cheap athlon motherboards and they don't generally entirely suck. They can be had for almost nothing, but don't get the cheapest one. Spend maybe $60-80 on that, the rest on a CPU. Get a friend to help you get it all set up. It's really not so hard. If the old PC is really old you may need a new (larger wattage) power supply. $20-30 or so.

But certainly I understand the desire to use the old PC as iis. Just saying, if you need a little more muscle it's very cheap to do.

Good luck
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:23 PM on September 10, 2004

My first Linux machine was also a PI 166MHz with 64MB RAM! I ran Debian on it and it worked beautifully--for window managers I found that FVWM2 and BlackBox/FluxBox ran fine. Sadly, many of the actual applications will be dog slow (although FireFox 0.9 may be somewhat better now, its 0.4/0.5 incarnations ran terribly).

But if you're using it like I did--to cut your teeth on how to run, configure and use Linux--it will do the trick admirably. Try using it as a very light desktop machine and server, install stuff, learn how to configure things, and you'll be on your feet in no time.

www.tldp.org and the man pages are your friends--don't forget that :)
posted by cyrusdogstar at 1:01 PM on September 11, 2004

There are several distributions designed to be small enough to run on old hardware.

...but I don't have experience with any of them.

For a lightweight window manager, I recommend ratpoision. I use it by preference on a machine that could support the big window managers.

posted by Zed_Lopez at 7:50 PM on September 11, 2004

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