Low Ram Ubuntu Distros
June 17, 2012 10:53 AM   Subscribe

Could you recommend a good Ubuntu based distro for old systems having under 512MB memory? Why should I choose that distro over others?
posted by raphael19 to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you're reasonably comfortable with the terminal, install a command line system and add the light weight window manager of your choice. It's been a while but I recall a default install of Xubuntu (which isn't very light anymore) is something like 1200 packages, whereas a server install is ~700. Installing only what you need will result in a system with far fewer unneccessary services eating valuable memory.
posted by Lorin at 11:20 AM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

First, consider upgrading to at least 1GB if not 2GB if you can -- RAM is really cheap and you could probably do that for under $20 after shipping if you're in the U.S.

Even the full-blown desktop claims 512MB as minimum recommended memory. You could probably get away with the biggies, Unity or KDE or Gnome all right.

Lubuntu featuring LXDE is much lighter weight, little more than the Openbox window manager and a small set of lightweight standard apps.

I had put it on a machine recently, but more recently switched to Xubuntu featuring XFCE. LXDE did so little, and I found I was second-guessing its application-choices half the time, and XFCE is sufficiently lightweight to run fine on all but the most limited of machines. (I don't mean to bad-mouth LXDE, which I wouldn't hesitate to recommend for more limited hardware.)

So, short answer: Xubuntu.
posted by Zed at 11:37 AM on June 17, 2012

Oops, missed that you said under 512MB. What are the specs exactly? And for whom is this machine, and what does he or she want to do with it? Lubuntu may go back to being the front-runner. (Or Crunchbang is another Debian-based distro that works well with limited hardware.)
posted by Zed at 11:52 AM on June 17, 2012

Machine is a PIII 256MB Thinkpad intended to download torrent files. There is only one memory slot and max available is 384MB. I have already installed Lubuntu on it but it has not recognized external wi-fi sticks out of the box. That is why I asked for a more hassle-less distro without mentioning what I already installed. Looks like Lubuntu is a decent choice even if there is a need for occasional tweaking.

I will look into Crunchbang as well. Thank you...
posted by raphael19 at 12:21 PM on June 17, 2012

In general, modern Linuxes will be equally bad or good at wifi -- they're good with ones for which there are open source drivers; they're bad with ones for which there are only proprietary drivers. Google for Linux and your particular wifi hardware and you can probably find a solution (there usually is one -- ndiswrapper is a Linux wrapper for Windows wifi drivers) but it may be painful to get it working.) Or it may be easier to find a wifi stick better supported by Linux and buy that.

If it's just supposed to be a torrent box, and you want Ubuntu (which is a perfectly good choice) I'd do as Lorin suggested -- install a command-line only system from the alternate install CD, jump through whatever hoops it takes to get wifi working, then install deluge or transmission which are both server/client based torrent apps. You can install the client on another machine and use that to drive the app -- the Thinkpad itself doesn't need a graphic environment at all.
posted by Zed at 12:31 PM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

In fact an old PIII Thinkpad handles the graphics just fine. I had 8.xx Ubuntu on this machine some time ago. It was somewhat slow but after the boot it was stable. Recently, I wasn't able to install 8.04 LTS on it, faced errors at multiple attempts and lazy to look for solutions. Thus the decision to go for a lightweight version.
posted by raphael19 at 12:51 PM on June 17, 2012

You want it to be a torrent box? I'd just install Debian stable with the bare minimum base install (or perhaps the Ubuntu server install), install bittornado & run that from the command line.

No problems with everything fitting in memory then :)
posted by pharm at 5:51 AM on June 18, 2012

Seconding pharm's suggestion on Debian. Debian Squeeze might be a good compromise. It runs well on my Raspberry Pi which only has 256mb ram....Fully booted I normally have about 40mb free to spare for other apps.
posted by samsara at 8:14 AM on June 19, 2012

I use a SheevaPlug for a torrent box. It has 512mb of ram and runs Ubuntu 9.04. I interact with it via http and use a web-based torrent client called torrentflux. Works wonderfully, no complaints, never had an issue with memory running out.
posted by migurski at 8:33 AM on June 19, 2012

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