Linux flavor for old laptop
April 15, 2011 6:32 PM   Subscribe

I have an old IBM Thinkpad T30-2366-21U 1.6 Ghz 256 Mb ram, came with Windows 2000 Pro SP4 which MS no longer supports. I wonder which Linux distro would be a good fit for this machine to get a little more useful life out of it. Thanks for your opinion.
posted by ackptui to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you're not sure what Linux distribution to use, the default answer is usually Ubuntu. I don't think the distribution matters as much as what packages you choose to install. It sounds like your limiting factor is the small amount of RAM, so you'd probably want to go with a lightweight windowing system like Xfce or Fluxbox instead of the default Gnome.
posted by teraflop at 6:39 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you'll find Linux Mint is even more user-friendly, esp for a Windows user. It's the closest to "everything just works" right out of the box. With so little RAM, I'd look at an earlier version of Mint, maybe v7 or 8, and download the LXDE version of it. (LXDE is the lightweight desktop environment.)

Another option is Puppy Linux, which loads totally into RAM, so it's screamingly fast.
posted by wordwhiz at 6:56 PM on April 15, 2011

I'm typing this from a 1.6 GHZ Dell laptop running Xubuntu 10.04. I'd bump up the RAM to 1 GB and you'll have a perfectly usable computer.
posted by COD at 7:00 PM on April 15, 2011

upgrade the memory, and install ubuntu. I have a T50 that originally had XP and got dog slow so I put ubuntu on it. It's a sweet little system now that I use for watching videos when I am in the garage.
posted by jockc at 7:03 PM on April 15, 2011

Using old versions of Linux is really a bad idea. But if you have to, at least use a version that is still getting security updates. Really, all of the software that ran on that old version is still available in a modern up to date distro. Use xubuntu as COD suggests and you should be fine.

Do not use puppy. Puppy logs you in as root (administrator), and the only reason it isn't 100% compromised in terms of security is its small market share.
posted by idiopath at 7:06 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a laptop with roughly the same specs and occasionally use it when travelling. I use a Puppy Linux Live CD and keep a save file for personal files on the hard drive. It feels quite snappy and lightweight (Puppy Linux can load most of the system directly into RAM, which is a big help with slow hard drives) and is more than sufficient for basic web browsing and word processing.

If you do it this way I don't think you need to worry much about security, as you are essentially loading a fresh installation every time you boot up. Recent versions have a firewall script built in as well.
posted by fearthehat at 7:29 PM on April 15, 2011

I hate to say this, because there's a good chance it's going to turn you off Linux, but unfortunately I must because it's true: at 256MB RAM, you're going to have trouble running Firefox. If that's not a problem, read on.

Having myself used a 256MB Thinkpad X22 as my main computer for two years, I can tell you that a graphical interface is more trouble than it's worth. Firefox will lag noticeably. Switching windows will hang the system for seconds at a time.

It wasn't a problem for me, because I didn't really use a GUI anyway, but if you want to do anything more intensive or want to avoid learning text-mode equivalents for all your familiar workflows, you should look into a RAM upgrade.
posted by d. z. wang at 10:58 PM on April 15, 2011

Whichever distribution you choose, be sure to check out the T30 page on ThinkWiki .
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:05 PM on April 15, 2011

I have Xubuntu on a very similarly laptop as a lab machine, and it ran with 256M for a long time. If you put up with XP in 256MB, you'll be somewhat happier with Xubuntu in the same, assuming you're not running a lot of stuff (avoid heavy web surfing while editing multiple OpenOffice docs).

That said, once I upgraded to 1G memory, it runs great. Linux is really memory limited, not cpu limited, for typical desktop workloads. Any increase in memory will make a huge difference in how useful it is; even a bump to 384Mb or 512Mb will be very noticeable. Ask your IT department...they might have an upgrade SIMM laying around in a drawer that they'd give you; pc2100 sodimms aren't particularly useful to them any more.

Agree with idiopath...stick with something in development and being updated.

If you've got a Linux server laying about (and, frankly, we all do, of course), you can look at the Linux Terminal Server project, which turns your laptop into a graphical front end for applications running on the server. That ties the laptop to the home network, but makes a lot of old gear useful.
posted by kjs3 at 9:34 AM on April 16, 2011

I'm have a similar spec. machine CPU-wise (IBM X31, though it's got 1Gb of RAM);running a fairly minimal Debian Testing (Wheezy), with the XFCE desktop environment. The base install should run OK on 256MB, but something like Firefox is going to kill your performance. You could try a more minimal web-browser (XFCE recommend Midori, which is in the Debian repos.)
As kjs3 says, an upgrade, even to 512Mb is going to help a lot.
posted by SyntacticSugar at 8:48 AM on April 18, 2011

You could also try Lubuntu; it's an optimized Ubuntu for older machines. Runs a lighter, faster desktop than Xubuntu and has a really nice file manager, LXDE.

You might want to install extra codecs so you can watch movies and listen to mp3s, too. Here's the screencast that explains it.
posted by artof.mulata at 6:24 PM on April 18, 2011

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