sluggish, aging pc seeks hot young linux installation
December 20, 2005 10:00 AM   Subscribe

I have an old pc. Celeron 600mhz processor, 376mb ram. The ram is maxed out (I believe) and the overhead of microsoft's anti-spyware combined with AVG antivrus, along with XP sp2, have slowed the machine to a crawl. Is there a way to speed things up that is compatible with quicken 2004 and will leave me protected from net nasties? I thank you, hive-mind.

Or, barring that, can someone recommend a lite version of linux that will dual boot, likes older machines, and is easy to install?
posted by craniac to Computers & Internet (22 answers total)
First of all you might follow a performance tweaking guide like the one at Tweakhound. Have you already tried this?
posted by poppo at 10:05 AM on December 20, 2005

Response by poster: I've done some basic stuff, like turning off google desktop, disabling tweaking defragmenting, and getting as much crap as possible out of the system tray. I will check it out, thanks.
posted by craniac at 10:08 AM on December 20, 2005

I had an old machine and just got rid of the MS Anti-spyware program, as it affected performance too much. I just do weekly scans now with AdAware and Spybot. Seems to be working out fine.

But 376 MB RAM and XP sounds like a lethally slow combination. What kind of memory is it? Most memory is pretty cheap these days and it's a breeze to install. If you like the machine, you might benefit the most from picking up some more memory and throwing it in there.
posted by jasper411 at 10:11 AM on December 20, 2005

i don't understand why people always need always-on antivirus systems. you barely even need a firewall; just keep your system up to date and don't open executable email attachments!
posted by soma lkzx at 10:11 AM on December 20, 2005

Yeah Tweakhound will go even further, showing you how to turn off things like unnecessary graphics and audio (pretty much things that are just for show). This may really speed you up. Read it carefully though, no skipping around or you could wind up with problems.
posted by poppo at 10:11 AM on December 20, 2005

Response by poster: I may be misunderstanding belarc adviser, but I believe I only have two ram slots that max out at 256mb, but I can look into it.

We often forget and leave the machine on for a while, and I fear hackage. But I can kill the ms spyware. Oh, I also have zonealarm running full time.
posted by craniac at 10:18 AM on December 20, 2005

You could get a router which would eliminate the need for Zone Alarm. If you don't, you could just use the windows firewall instead of ZA.

Of course, ZA is infamous for being difficult to install.
posted by Four Flavors at 10:28 AM on December 20, 2005

If you have the machine sitting behind a router, you really don't need to worry about hackage coming from the outside. Just make sure you don't execute anything ridiculously stupid.

If, however, you're connected straight to a cable modem, it's absolutely imperative that you maintain some form of firewall. My brother's machine was connected directly for all of 5 minutes before he started receiving Windows Messenger IP messages and all sorts of attempts on his machines. Put it behind a router, and you don't hear anything.

If you know the motherboard manufacturer and model, you can look it up to see if it can support more RAM. Alternatively, you could purchase a new barebones system from eBay that comes up around those specs for ridiculously cheap.
posted by disillusioned at 10:29 AM on December 20, 2005

ditto soma lkzx. I have an old 500 Mhz Pentium that runs XP fine, but sucked when I installed an AV program.

I have virus filtering on my email, I don't download odd executables, I occasionally run a free web-based AV tool and anti-spyware, but nothing in perma-monitoring mode. That seems to keep the system in good shape.
posted by GuyZero at 10:31 AM on December 20, 2005

I'm with you soma lkzx, but your opinion won't be popular here...

600MHz is a little slow for XP even without all the AV drag. Remember to set it for maximum performance: right click on my computer, select properties, advanced tab, Performance settings, select the adjust for best performance radio button.

384mb is a little short on memory too. To find out if you are really maxed out run Aida32 and let us know what motherboard and chipset you have. You might even be able to overclock the CPU very easily...
posted by Chuckles at 10:51 AM on December 20, 2005

Ah... missed this post... Anyway, if you have two 256mb slots you obviously aren't maxed out :) You probably have a BX board, which means you should be able to overclock with no problems. Your CPU is a coppermine celeron with a 9x multiplier and 66MHz FSB, it will almost certainly be happy running at 900MHz with a 100MHz FSB, so all we need to do is figure out how to force it to run a little faster - run Aida32 and report back about your motherboard.
posted by Chuckles at 10:58 AM on December 20, 2005

Can I put in two cents for linux? I have had AMAZING (perceived) speedups going from windows to something like Slax, Vector Linux, or even Ubuntu on ancient laptops and desktops. Since you can get the OS for free, perhaps purchasing Crossover Office to in order to get Quicken 2004 (and other windows software) to run would not be too big a hardship. They are allegedly compatible.
posted by wzcx at 11:10 AM on December 20, 2005

i don't understand why people always need always-on antivirus systems. you barely even need a firewall; just keep your system up to date and don't open executable email attachments!

Ditto this. Get a router and you can skip the firewall with reasonable/acceptable safety.
posted by juv3nal at 11:17 AM on December 20, 2005

Let me stick up for old computers - I have a IBM thinkpad 600x at home, a 500 MHz Pentium with 384 Mb of memory and it runs like a charm. I can even run photoshop on it. Now, it's not blazing, but Photoshop rus fast enough to be usable. Just keep all the extra background stuff off.
posted by GuyZero at 11:21 AM on December 20, 2005

2 slots x 256MB per slot = 512MB, which is pretty much standard for the era the 600Mhz Celeron was manufactured and distributed in. Uninstall Zone Alarm, XP has software firewall built in. Free antivirus programs from AVAST or AVG (Grisoft) are my favorites. Microsoft's efforts are, well, clunky. Spybot S&D and AdAware are a must, as are updates, and trash everything they find. Nothing bundled with spyware is worth a Trojan.
posted by FredsinPa at 11:32 AM on December 20, 2005

I'm a fairly savy computer/internet user, and I have never had a problem with a virus in the 20 years I've been doing computer stuff. I download and run a virus scanner once every few months, and then delete it when it doesn't find anything. You don't need a fancy firewall, use the built in WindowsXP one (or a router if you have one). Firefox will be more secure than Internet Explorer, but if you avoid installing any website apps and pay attention to where you're surfing you shouldn't have any problems with IE. Web based email with built-in virus scanning (eg: works great to filter out spam and other assorted nasties. If you can, shut down your computer when you're not using it (this saves money and makes it less available for bad things to happen) Keep your system up-to-date with Windows Update and don't do anything silly.

Remember, everytime you install an application that is going to be running all the time (virus scanner, firewall, anti-spyware, etc) it's like filling your pockets with heavy rocks, sure at first you don't really notice the extra weight, but as time goes on, you move slower, and slower, until one day you get so sick of it that you no longer enjoy whatever you're doing.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:48 AM on December 20, 2005

Response by poster: Hi, sorry for the delay in response. Here's the Aida32 condensed report. I have a belkin wireless router, and the unidentified usb thing is a crap webcam that won't install..

----[ AIDA32 (c) 1995-2004 Tamas Miklos ]---------------
Version AIDA32 v3.94.2
Report Type Quick Report
Generator Dad
Operating System Microsoft Windows XP Professional 5.1.2600 (WinXP Retail)
Date 2005-12-20
Time 13:27
----[ Summary ]---------------------
Operating System Microsoft Windows XP Professional
OS Service Pack Service Pack 2
Internet Explorer 6.0.2900.2180
Computer Name MOTHERSHIP
User Name Dad
CPU Type Intel Celeron II, 633 MHz (9.5 x 67)
Motherboard Name MSI MS-6368 (3 PCI, 2 DIMM, Audio, Video)
Motherboard Chipset VIA VT8601A Apollo PLE133
System Memory 375 MB (SDRAM)
BIOS Type Award Modular (11/09/01)
Communication Port Communications Port (COM1)
Communication Port Communications Port (COM2)
Communication Port Printer Port (LPT1)
Video Adapter Trident Video Accelerator Blade 3D/ProMedia (8 MB)
3D Accelerator ATI 3D-Rage II+
3D Accelerator Trident CyberBlade-i7
Audio Adapter VIA AC'97 Audio Controller
Floppy Drive Floppy disk drive
Disk DriveST340823A (40 GB, 5400 RPM, Ultra-ATA/100)
Disk DriveWDC WD800JB-00FMA0
Optical Drive Generic DVD-ROM SCSI CdRom Device
Optical Drive LITE-ON LTR-52327S (52x/32x/52x CD-RW)
C: (NTFS) 76316 MB (45563 MB free)
G: (NTFS) 25148 MB (4295 MB free)
Keyboard PC/AT Enhanced PS/2 Keyboard (101/102-Key)
Mouse Logitech USB Wheel Mouse
Primary IP Address
Primary MAC Address 00-11-50-18-08-F7
Network Adapter 3Com EtherLink XL 10/100 PCI For Complete PC Management NIC (3C905C-TX)
Network Adapter Belkin 54Mbps Wireless USB Network Adapter (
Modem ESS ES56T-PI Data Fax Modem
Printer Canon S630
USB DeviceBelkin 54Mbps Wireless USB Network Adapter #2
USB DeviceGeneric USB Hub
USB DeviceLogitech USB Wheel Mouse
USB DeviceUnknown Device
----[ Debug - PCI ]---------------------
B00 D00 F00: VIA VT8601A Apollo PLE133 Chipset - System Controller
B00 D01 F00: VIA VT8601A Apollo PLE133 Chipset - AGP Controller
B00 D07 F00: VIA VT82C686B PCI-ISA Bridge
B00 D07 F01: VIA VT82C571 IDE Controller
B00 D07 F02: VIA VT83C572 PCI-USB Controller
B00 D07 F03: VIA VT83C572 PCI-USB Controller
Offset F0: 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00
B00 D07 F04: VIA VT82C686B Power Management Controller
B00 D07 F05: VIA AC'97 Audio Controller
B00 D08 F00: ESS Technology ES56PCI Data/Fax Modem
B00 D09 F00: ATI 3D-Rage II+ Video Adapter
B00 D0A F00: 3Com 3C905C-TX EtherLink XL 10/100 Fast Ethernet Controller
B01 D00 F00: Trident CyberBlade-i7 Video Adapter
----[ Debug - Video BIOS ]------------------
C000:0000 U.`.M740007.s**RESERVED ..FOR IBM COMPATIBILITY***......04/25/20
C000:0040 01..1.08 .}V.Copyright 1998 TRIDENT MICROSYSTEMS INC...
C000:0080 ...Copyright 1990 Phoenix Technologies.....PCIR#...........`....
C000:00C0 .... 256.. 512.. 768..1024..2048..4096..K ..VGA..EGA..CGA..MDA.
C000:0100 . MODE....16..32..Bit Bus DRAM ..M'*.....'.F...........*.@.....

posted by craniac at 12:41 PM on December 20, 2005

Response by poster: Burp.
posted by craniac at 1:09 PM on December 20, 2005

Best answer: There are several types of slowdowns that affect users, and it's difficult to explicitly say which you are seeing based on your post. Performance balance is a trade-off of what you need to do, what you want to do, what you are willing to do to get there, and what you think is important to get done. Articles, even books, have been written on the subject, I'll try to avoid that here.

I would recommend looking at, and perhaps posting here for critique, a (Ctrl-Alt-Del) Windows Task Manager display of the running Processes. From the View pulldown, select Select Columns, and ensure that at least CPU Usage, CPU Time, and Memory Usage are checked. These fields contain valuable information. Click on the Processes Tab to see them in action.

CPU Usage is your machine's transient load. It may that you are hitting hit transient CPU usage spikes when starting up software, or when applications are reading and writing to the disk. Anti-viruses exacerbate this if they dynamically check applications and/or files, as does having a slow hard drive setup. Since those spikes happen when you are fully interacting with the machine, they can make the whole machine feel like it's running terribly slow when it's really only running slow right when you are looking at it. CPU Time tells the tale here: if the overall CPU time for any application is small compared to System Idle Time, then your machine isn't too slow to run what it has loaded, it just can't keep up under a heavy interactive load.

However, if your CPU Usage is pegged pretty high all the time (consistently above 10-20%), and CPU Time of one or more processes is more than small fraction of system idle time, then you do have a problem with something you've loaded. Either 1) it's got to be optimized, if possible, 2) you have to eliminate the application/process, or 3) you have to live with the slowdown if you want to use the current machine configuration.

Memory Usage can be useful info, too, since a machine which chews up a lot of memory can slow down everything else. For example, the Desktop Weather bug is a real pig of an application, taking up more than 40M of memory just for instantaneous weather information rather than accessing it through a browser. I have a main development 3+GHz machine here that is powerful enough it doesn't matter, but I would never run that hog on a system like yours.

Admittedly a 600 MHz Celery is slow for running modern software under XP. But it isn't a hopeless processor, as there are 400 MHz XP systems out there which chug along just fine. Here, I regularly use anti-virus, firewall, and spyware applications on a relatively slow 1Ghz machine with no great performance degradation. But I kinda like to see exactly what's going on with connections due to its direct connect static IP Internet access, and automatically deal with volumes of e-mail viruses into my domain. You likely don't need all that.

384M (your actual RAM value, although 8M might be invisibly borrowed for video, etc.) is more than sufficient for basic XP usage. In fact, I've used and supported people who use 256M XP installs for years with no great performance problems, along as one doesn't run seriously resource-hungry applications (admittedly of which there are many). 128M RAM with XP, now, that is a figure to always avoid.

If one must criticize, Intuit should suffer a few brickbats as well. Years ago I ran QuickBooks on a mainline 128M 300 MHz PII system and it was plenty fast. The penultimate QB version wallows like a hippo on a semi-dedicated 256M 1GHz P3. Feature improvement is relatively small, definitely nothing like the order of magnitude difference in actual machine horsepower. The old truism that software expands to consume available hardware resources is as accurate now as ever.

I lastly opine that operating systems reinstalls are frequently overprescribed, both online and in the media. A modicum of knowledge and patience often suffice to ferret out the causes of significant performance problems on a Windows machine. Of course, if the reinstall process would cause the user less pain and effort compared to tracking down ongoing problems, then it emerges as the "best" solution. All too often, however, reinstalls are quickly prescribed as the proper solution, without much consideration of the actual situation details.
posted by mdevore at 1:15 PM on December 20, 2005

Response by poster: Maybe I can talk my spouse into using something other than quicken as well.

I will benchmark my machine, do the tweaking, then benchmark again and post the results. Thanks!
posted by craniac at 1:55 PM on December 20, 2005

mdevore, I can see your point about reinstalls, but... If you depend on your computer you really should have the skill required to install your own OS and software. You should also have the backup/install discs required to accomplish the task. Systems do crash irrevocably, and it gives the user a great deal of incite about how a computer works... Of course this line of reasoning can be turned around, because you should really have the skill to debug the problem too...


craniac, have you ever played with BIOS settings before? I don't think I'll recommend it too strongly if you have no idea at all what you are doing... It isn't difficult, but you never know what might happen. Also, CPU speed is probably not the biggest issue you have, all the software and settings recommendations already explored are more important. Next in importance is memory, although swapping a 128mb stick for 256mb probably isn't worth the money and effort to acquire.

However, your motherboard does have a frequency and voltage control option which will allow you to set the FSB to 100MHz. The CPU actually has a multiplier of 9.5, which would imply a final speed of 950MHz. This should still be well within the ability of the CPU you have (most of them seem to be capable of about 1050MHz or so).

If you go for the overclock, run a burn-in program to verify the stability of the system. You don't want the system crashing in the middle of a critical operation! Better run the burn-in program before you make the change too. You don't want to blame the overclock for something that was already a problem.
posted by Chuckles at 7:02 PM on December 20, 2005

> If you depend on your computer you really should have the skill required to install your own OS and software

This may be true -- it's an item for honest debate -- but slides past my point about the frequent overprescription of Windows OS reinstalls. The skill set to do a reinstall from scratch isn't in question; what is in question is the need to do the reinstall in the first place. I dispute it is ever necessary to do a full OS reinstall to resolve a fundamental performance issue, other than for CYA pathological conditions. Certainly it may be easier for a less-technical user to just say "screw messing with this, I'm reinstalling the whole thing", but necessary? Almost never.

Much of the problem slowly -- so very slowly -- being overcome is the perception in computer culture that Windows remains unstable and basic problems with it are extremely difficult to either diagnose or resolve. I have not found that to be true. Obviously I am not a typical end-user, but neither are we discussing an issue so complex that it requires one drink deep of the Pierian Spring.
posted by mdevore at 10:11 PM on December 20, 2005

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