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Breathing Life Into Older Computers

Hemos posted more than 7 years ago | from the arise-from-your-grave dept.

Upgrades 404

Aron writes "ASE Labs has written an article on using a light distribution of Linux, Damn Small Linux, to power an older computer. With Linux, older computers can be useful once again for many people. From the article: "The oldest computer I have is a Pentium 266 MMX laptop with 64MB of RAM. Most people would just consider this to be garbage and junk it, and if you brought this in for service where I work, I would agree with you. While this laptop might seem old and out-of-date now, it is small and light. I needed something I could easily carry around, so I figured I would see what I could salvage out of this dinosaur. Windows would have a hard time running on this low-spec laptop, but there are many distributions of Linux that will work exceptionally well.""

cancel ×


FP (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#14130655)


Get the PUPPY! (5, Informative)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130671)

Not really news per se...most of us have known for a while now that Linux is a good strategy for reviving old systems that the latest M$ bloatware won't run on.

I like the PUPPY [] myself...give it a shot. ^_^

forget a puppy. here's a kitty.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#14130750)

there's beatrix linux at [] . it's pretty compact....

Re:forget a puppy. here's a kitty.... (1)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130881)

Strongbad's been doing just fine with his Lappy 486. I wonder what he runs on it?

Re:forget a puppy. here's a kitty.... (1)

BushCheney08 (917605) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130988)

I wonder what he runs on it?

My guess is SB-DOS.

Damn Democracies: Drop The Puppy +1, Patriotic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#14130888)

on the DemoRATS to let freedom and democracy rain in Iraqistan.

Feloniously as always,
President-Vice Richard B. Cheney []

Re:Get the PUPPY! (3, Funny)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130902)

Yea, I know what you mean.

My old hardware can't handle Windows 3.1

This Linux thing sounds interesting

Get the PUPPY? I AM the PUPPY! (4, Interesting)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130905)

As long as you've got harddrive space, most older distro's work fine on hardware down to 100mhz. I've got a number of 300mhz boxes running Red Hat 7.3, and they do fine as firewalls and low end FTP servers. Got an old BSD box running named that I don't even know the stats on, and I'm afraid to reboot it, for fear it'll never come back up.

Fedora Core IV was the first distro that wouldn't run on my old PIII 700, so it got refurbed and passed off as a firewall to a friend of mine running FCII with no gui. I could have recompiled the kernel to support the old coppermine architecture, but it was worth the 120.00 dollars to me to upgrade to a much faster AMD processor.

I'm all in favor of keeping the older boxes running and useful, but after a point you have to consider diminishing returns. Recompiling a kernel (and then recompiling it again to put in the junk I forgot the first time) on my home network would have taken more of my life than I was willing to spend on a hopelessly obsolecent box.

Re:Forget the Puppy, try a Burmese Cat (1)

TAZ6416 (584004) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130958)

BeatrIX Linux - []


Mine's still working after 10 years - []

Hardly; they're great for VPN (3, Interesting)

mekkab (133181) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130682)

I've got a Toshiba Portege 233 that still has win98 on it; and its perfect for Outlook, Exceed (for X windows), Excel, and VPN software (and the occaisional web browsing).

I've also got a Pentium 166 (198 MB ram) with the same set up.

They're being phased out infavor of my Mac, but clean installs in windows with only a few applications on them can give you a long and happy life.

Re:Hardly; they're great for VPN (4, Insightful)

Otter (3800) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130765)

Yeah, people talk about old Pentiums like they're cuneiform tablets. What do they think ran on the Pentium 266 originally, DOS?

It will run Win98 happily, or (with a bit of extra RAM, perhaps) any Linux distribution with the services turned off should be fine, if you use WindowMaker or Fluxbox. You don't need to mess with boutique Linuxes for something like this. (Personally, I'd just throw on Red Hat 5.2..)

Re:Hardly; they're great for VPN (2, Interesting)

Ed Avis (5917) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130837)

Really all that matters is the memory. If you can upgrade your old Pentium box to 256 megs of memory then it will run Fedora just fine. Indeed, on machines with lots of memory newer versions of Linux, KDE, glibc etc. are often faster than the old versions, at the expense of being a lot slower when RAM is limited. (Hence all the marketing telling you that version X+1 of a program is always faster than version X.)

Personally, I'd stay with Fedora (or other mainstream distribution) even with only 64 megabytes of RAM; just not run Openoffice on the thing. We used to run Mozilla 0.99 or whatever five years ago and it performed usably; Firefox is leaner and faster than those early Mozilla milestone releases. xemacs hasn't gotten any more bloated than it was before.

Re:Hardly; they're great for VPN (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130942)

I have an embedded box with far less horsepower than this that boots OpenBSD from a flash card and is a firewall. We used to have a few machines around with sub-100MHz SPARC32 CPUs in them that ran NetBSD, WindowMaker and Opera quite happily. Back when I was an undergrad we had a single P133 (with 256MB of RAM, as I recall) driving 7 dumb X terminals - many of which would run Netscape or StarOffice - and it was fast enough that everyone in the room could play xblast...

When people start telling you a P2 is too slow, and you need a special distribution, it's a sign that they're running bloatware.

Re:Hardly; they're great for VPN (3, Interesting)

rbochan (827946) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130884)

Not just for VPN. I use older hardware every single day.

I've been in the process of doing a writeup that I'll be submitting to the Debian Administration [] website.
The laptop I have is an old Dell Latitude CP M233XT circa 1997. It's got a Pentium II 233 MHz processor, 128 meg ram, and the original 3G drive is now a 4.1G hard drive swapped out from a dead HP Omnibook 4100.

I won't rehash the entire article in this post, but suffice it to say, it's the laptop that I use for my business every day. It runs Debian (Sarge) and a customized KDE setup. No complaints as far as usability goes. Things take a bit longer to start up than on my P-III 850 at home, but it's nothing I can't deal with. is the real pig on the machine, but that's to be expected.

Re:Hardly; they're great for VPN (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#14131025)

but i think the problem is you're running win98, an undeniably out-dated operating system. if you run linux, everything is up-to-date and still being supported. even the 2.4 kernel is still maintained (which is what DSL uses i think). so there really isn't a comparison here.

I'm Not Cutting Edge But... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#14130684)

I'm not a cutting edge type but, I have a PIII 350 with 512MB RAM. It runs Winows 98 and Linux just fine and it runs Windows 2000 OK, if a bit slow. It would run Damn Small Linux great! But that POS is headed for the curb. You can buy >1Ghz machines for less than $500. Why mess with junk?

Re:I'm Not Cutting Edge But... (4, Insightful)

dada21 (163177) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130733)

Why mess with junk?

One geek's junk is a layman's treasure.

My church could use a few PCs. My local teen center could as well. I don't have $5000 in my budget to purchase them 10 PCs, but I probably have 15 PCs worth of hardware that could run Firefox and a basic word processor just perfectly with Damn Small Linux or another distro.

Re:I'm Not Cutting Edge But... (0, Flamebait)

ltbarcly (398259) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130885)

Yes, that is sure to get the teens packed in there. Look kids! A basic word processor! Oh, you want to save your file to a disk? Just type "mount /dev/fd0 -tvfat /mnt/floppy". It's EASY and FUN!

Have you put any thought into how you are going to deal with the hundreds of teens who all want to use your 15 computers at once?

Re:I'm Not Cutting Edge But... (1)

dada21 (163177) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130945)

Considering my church is in a high crime area, and I know that we've looked at providing Internet services for both teens and poor families, I think Linux could be a decent substitute for Win98. Firefox is simple under Linux, and the GUI is becoming more user friendly.

I agree, it isn't the best solution, but it isn't a bad one either.

Re:I'm Not Cutting Edge But... (1)

LDoggg_ (659725) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130998)

Oh, you want to save your file to a disk?

Sure, if it was 1995. Who uses 3.5 inch floppies anymore?

Give them spam filtered email access. Or set it up to automount usb thumb drives.

Re:I'm Not Cutting Edge But... (2, Informative)

LDoggg_ (659725) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130941)

LTSP [] is the way to go here.
Check out the latest ubuntu, or K12LTSP

Just spend 1K on a decent server and use the junk machines as terminals. You could use old hard drives to boot from or buy 20 dollar bootable nics from here []

I've got a school running 50 terminals and the minimal maintenance on the terminals is really nice.

Re:I'm Not Cutting Edge But... (4, Informative)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130982)

I reccommend the Linux Terminal Server Project [] . You can hook up two dozen machines fit only for the trash to one competent machine and get a solid setup for little cash. Not much local disk access, but if you're just looking for an internet/email lab, it works great, and you can add in Samba to give each box a "harddrive", and printing capablity if that's needed.

Really nice for old hardware (4, Informative)

nizo (81281) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130685)

I have an old pentium laptop running damnsmalllinux at home with a cheap wireless card I picked up off of ebay. Now I can sit on the couch and connect into my main machine and run whatever I want (firefox, gimp, whatever) and display it back to my laptop. Luckily damnsmalllinux can install with a boot floppy (since the laptop couldn't boot off of CD). Another nice distro is monkey linux [] . If you have to install via floppy on a really really old machine, this one is worth looking at. If you are going to buy an old laptop, try to get one with a bootable CD, or at the very least a floppy and CD, since installing via any other method on old hardware is torture (though slackware with a zip/ls120 drive isn't too bad).

Re:Really nice for old hardware (1)

garcia (6573) | more than 7 years ago | (#14131029)

I'm glad that running apps remotely works that well for you over wireless but even over 100mbit ethernet it's not something I like to do.

I use Win98 on my P133 laptop with 40MB of RAM because the HD is so fucked up that it's not even worth formatting and reinstalling for fear that the fucker might just completely fall apart.

I mostly use putty to my on-going screen sessions and IE on it. It served as my machine machine from 12/96 to 7/99 with Linux and then as an MP3 server for the stereo from 2000 to 2002 and now it's relegated to simple surfing and Putty.

I do occasionally open Word if it's absolutely necessary and I'm just too lazy to go upstairs.

Old computers work fine. You just have to be patient with them ;)

Red Hat 8 on P90.... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#14130687)

I got RH 8 on a p90 with 32M Ram. No desktop or anything else graphical, but it is able to run Apache and Samba. It was a coll little server.

Re:Red Hat 8 on P90.... (1)

ScoLgo (458010) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130879)

I have a similar machine; 12-year old Pentium/90 that I originally installed Red Hat 5.2 on. Since then, I've turned it into a firewall/router using smoothwall [] . Dead simple to install and maintain.

Re:Red Hat 8 on P90.... (1)

Homology (639438) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130918)

I got RH 8 on a p90 with 32M Ram. No desktop or anything else graphical, but it is able to run Apache and Samba. It was a coll little server.

Here is an even slower Pentium running a snapshot of OpenBSD running Subversion, Apache httpd, OpenVPN and a few other services. OpenBSD is great to run on older machine, and the base install is not as bloated as some Linux distros are.

$ dmesg
OpenBSD 3.8-current (GENERIC) #256: Fri Nov 18 11:41:21 MST 2005 mpile/GENERIC
cpu0: Intel Pentium (P54C) ("GenuineIntel" 586-class) 79 MHz
cpu0: F00F bug workaround installed
real mem = 66686976 (65124K)
avail mem = 53309440 (52060K)
using 839 buffers containing 3436544 bytes (3356K) of memory
mainbus0 (root)
bios0 at mainbus0: AT/286+(00) BIOS, date 10/10/95, BIOS32 rev. 0 @ 0xf13ec
pcibios0 at bios0: rev 2.1 @ 0xf0000/0x10000
pcibios0: PCI BIOS has 4 Interrupt Routing table entries
pcibios0: no compatible PCI ICU found
pcibios0: PCI bus #0 is the last bus
bios0: ROM list: 0xc0000/0x8000 0xc8000/0x4000 0xed000/0x1000
ipmi at mainbus0 not configured
cpu0 at mainbus0
pci0 at mainbus0 bus 0: configuration mode 2 (bios)
pchb0 at pci0 dev 0 function 0 "Intel 82434LX/NX PCI/Cache/DRAM" rev 0x11
"PC Technology RZ1000" rev 0x01 at pci0 dev 1 function 0 not configured
pcib0 at pci0 dev 2 function 0 "Intel 82378IB ISA" rev 0x03
siop0 at pci0 dev 12 function 0 "Symbios Logic 53c815" rev 0x03: irq 15
siop0: scsi bus reset
scsibus0 at siop0: 8 targets
sd0 at scsibus0 targ 0 lun 0: <FUJITSU, M2954S-512, 0147> SCSI2 0/direct fixed
sd0: 4149MB, 5714 cyl, 9 head, 165 sec, 512 bytes/sec, 8498506 sec total
cd0 at scsibus0 targ 6 lun 0: <MATSHITA, CD-ROM CR-503, 1.0f> SCSI2 5/cdrom removable
vga1 at pci0 dev 14 function 0 "S3 86C864-0" rev 0x00
wsdisplay0 at vga1 mux 1: console (80x25, vt100 emulation)
wsdisplay0: screen 1-5 added (80x25, vt100 emulation)
isa0 at pcib0
isadma0 at isa0
pckbc0 at isa0 port 0x60/5
pckbd0 at pckbc0 (kbd slot)
pckbc0: using irq 1 for kbd slot
wskbd0 at pckbd0: console keyboard, using wsdisplay0
ep0 at isa0 port 0x300/16 irq 10: address xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx, utp/aui (default utp)
pcppi0 at isa0 port 0x61
midi0 at pcppi0: <PC speaker>
spkr0 at pcppi0
sysbeep0 at pcppi0
lpt0 at isa0 port 0x378/4 irq 7
npx0 at isa0 port 0xf0/16: using exception 16
pccom0 at isa0 port 0x3f8/8 irq 4: ns16550a, 16 byte fifo
pccom1 at isa0 port 0x2f8/8 irq 3: ns16550a, 16 byte fifo
fdc0 at isa0 port 0x3f0/6 irq 6 drq 2
fd0 at fdc0 drive 0: 1.44MB 80 cyl, 2 head, 18 sec
isapnp0 at isa0 port 0x279: read port 0x203
ep1 at isapnp0 "3Com 3C509B EtherLink III, TCM5090, PNP80F7, " port 0x210/16 irq 5: address xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx, utp/aui (default utp)
biomask fb45 netmask ff65 ttymask ffe7
pctr: 586-class performance counters and user-level cycle counter enabled
siop0: target 0 now using tagged 8 bit 10.0 MHz 8 REQ/ACK offset xfers
dkcsum: sd0 matches BIOS drive 0x80
root on sd0a
rootdev=0x400 rrootdev=0xd00 rawdev=0xd02

Damn Small Linux (4, Insightful)

carcosa30 (235579) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130691)

Damn Small Linux would probably run just fine on it. I was running Linux on a 233 AMD, back in 99 or so, and it ran much nicer than my Celly 450.

If you need a windowing system, try fluxbox. Its use of tabs make it much more powerful than other equivalent WMs.

I don't see why this is such a big question. Hasn't it already been done to death here and elsewhere?

If nothing else, you could use it as an X terminal to a much more powerful machine. I have a 700mhz Vaio that I'm using for that purpose.

A long awaited distro (3, Interesting)

dada21 (163177) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130700)

This is actually a distribution that I think will find many fans. I have so much hardware I'd like to donate to my church or local teen center but I know wouldn't run WinXP.

Personally, I've been looking for a throw-away cheap laptop so I can word process on-the-go. My previous model was a Sony VAIO model (PCG-N505VX I believe) with no CD or DVD (useless for me), a gorgeous display, and it was thinner than any laptop I'd ever seen. The processor was a P2-333 I believe, and it did everything I needed it to do (it was the first PC I had with Firewire built in).

Unfortunately, I dropped it once too many times, and it's $sys$. I hate Sony now, but I am desperate to find a similar laptop. I'd gladly install a thin version of Linux, but I am worried about driver support on some of these old notebooks. For me, video driver support is REALLY important (I need fast video as I do tend to swap between windows at incredible speed).

Currently I perform almost all my writing and editing on my Pocket PC Phone with an external keyboard, but it isn't keeping up with my volume. I may go find a used N505VX as the form factor was perfect, and searching the web shows numerous people with successful Linux installs on this unit. I was holding off on replacing my portable because I didn't want to screw with Linux and I knew it was my only real option.

The article is now in my bookmarks, I've been banging my head trying to find a deposit of information on using Linux with ancient hardware. Having a preassembled distro is a huge plus, I hate wasting time tinkering with any production-quality machine.

Why not buy a new unit? Honestly, money isn't the problem. For me, the new laptops are way overburdened with hardware and features that I would NEVER need. I have yet to see a new SMALL monitor on a thin minimalist laptop that works as well as my old N505 did, as brightly as it did, with battery life as good as it had.

I can definitely agree that Windows XP wouldn't run well on the laptop, yet my Win2K install was pretty decent (I needed a ton of RAM though, and the article is aimed at 64MB dinosaurs).

Re:A long awaited distro (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#14130799)

How about a Thinkpad X series? It's not cheap, but it is very small and light.

Re:A long awaited distro (1)

dada21 (163177) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130818)

I tried one and I hated the keyboard. The Sony keyboard was tinier than standard, but it had a better feel to it. I know it seems to be a really bad reason to say "no" to a decent laptop, but when you type/write as much as I do on a daily basis, you want the built-in keyboard to be near perfect!

Re:A long awaited distro (1) (102073) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130978)

I need fast video as I do tend to swap between windows at incredible speed

I don't believe you.

Re:A long awaited distro (1)

cbc1920 (730236) | more than 7 years ago | (#14131010)

My dell latitude pp01s is basically a clone of the sony you were talking about. It, or its inspiron equivalent, are on ebay for pretty cheap. Mine is a 700mhz P3 but I underclock it to 500 to keep the fan from coming on. With a new battery, it'll stay on for a good 3 hours. The screen is small (11") but clear, and the keyboard has good travel for such a small machine. It doesn't have an onboard CD-ROM, but the external one has a special interface that lets you boot from it with no problems.

Makes a great C64 hard drive (3, Interesting)

mccalli (323026) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130703)

The oldest computer I have is a Pentium 266 MMX laptop with 64MB of RAM

I have a Compaq P100 laptop. I set up a dual-boot for Debian and FreeDOS, and it now spends its days as a slave to my C64 [] , bypassing the notoriously slow 1541 snaildrive [] .


NetBSD werks just fine! (3, Informative)

zaft (597194) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130708)

I run NetBSD on a 368DX40 with 16 MB of RAM. It runs fine -- a bit slow, of course, but quite serviceable for a server.

Linux (-1, Redundant)

dlichterman (868464) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130714)

Does it run linux......oh right.

I did get linux running once on a P 1 166 machine.....did not run very good but it did work.

You mean I can run linux on old hardware? (-1)

ankarbass (882629) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130717)

Why is this news? Who DOESN'T know this and who DOESN'T know that it's still a drag to run linux on antiquated hardware. Windows 98 runs on old hardware too, so what.

I still have an old 486/16m with redhat six that I use as a terminal from time to time. I bet most of slashdot has a similar story to tell.

BTW: I use only linux/osx so let's not suggest that I'm a windows defender (tm).

Re:You mean I can run linux on old hardware? (4, Interesting)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130783)

Well, yes, Win98 runs on old hardware, but I'll wager any attempt to run Win98, on say, a Pentium Classic 233 with 128mb of RAM as a firewall for a network of about twenty machines, or as a Postfix mail proxy filtering out distributed dictionary attacks that count in the hundreds of thousands a day, would end in madness. However, I have two old machines in that power range doing these things right now, one running Slackware 10 and one which I'm experimenting with Ubuntu.

Re:You mean I can run linux on old hardware? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#14130840)

Apples to Oranges. Windows 98 was never designed to do those things, so of course it would fail.

Re:You mean I can run linux on old hardware? (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130983)

I'd rephrase that. I'd say the Win9x operating systems were sufficiently ill-designed that they simply weren't ever capable of running that kind of software, while Linux, even new variants, can be configured in such a fashion that they will run on such hardware, utilizing it in a far more efficient fashion than MS ever bothered to.

lolz (-1, Offtopic)

Trolly Bites (934446) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130721)

first post. yay :P

sadly, windows will work just fine (2, Interesting)

nanimo (688603) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130728)

My parents only recently upgraded their 166MHz PII with 64MB memory that was running Windows NT 4.0 exceptionally well. It worked fine for browsing the web, etc, albeit being a little slow on large flash animations

Only one problem... (1, Interesting)

gpinzone (531794) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130730)

Can I load this ultra-light version of Linux onto my old computer with 64 MB of RAM and then run Open Office and Firefox at blazing speed? I don't think this is going to make my applications magicaly need less CPU/RAM.

Re:Only one problem... (2, Informative)

Pantero Blanco (792776) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130921)

Of course not; trying to make older computers perform as well as modern ones at tasks suited to the modern ones is ridiculous. The point, as I understand it, is to recognize which tasks older machines can perform well and avoid wasting resources by letting them handle those tasks.

A laptop that's intended to be used solely for non-graphical word-processing (obviously for a fancy document you'll want more resources) doesn't need blazing specs to be able to run vi or nano. A machine intended to be a home fileserver doesn't have to run a desktop.

Linux is great, but... (1)

The Good Reverend (84440) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130735)

When I had my own P133 with a whopping 32 megs of RAM back in 1997, Windows ran just fine on it. My upgrade to Win98 on my next machine (a P300) was even much so that I can still use that machine if my others go down. While I'm sure DSL or another distro are great for those boxes, older versions of Windows have never given me any problems either.

Re:Linux is great, but... (1)

joostje (126457) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130899)

Windows have never given me any problems either.
They don't give any problems to virus/spyware/etc writers, eigther.

Re:Linux is great, but... (1)

The Good Reverend (84440) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130943)

Bah. I've run Windows for almost 10 years, and in that time, I've never had a virus or worm or piece of software running that I didn't put there. An unsecured linux system can be just as much of a problem if you're not careful.

Re:Linux is great, but... (1)

civilizedINTENSITY (45686) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130951)

Wow. My P266, 32 MB, 4.1 GB HD system croaked when I tried to move it from Win95 to Win98. FAT32 confused the hell out of my BIOS. That system went from crashing every couple of weeks to crashing a few times a month, though. I think it was boosting the RAM to 256MB that did that, rather than the OS change. Win9x just was never stable for me (even running the OEM installed versions.)

List of tiny Linux distributions (5, Informative)

Ricardo Dias Marques (200514) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130737)

Talking about light Linux distributions: there is a list of so-called tiny Linux distributions in the Open Directory Project [] web site (aka DMOZ).

The list is available at:

Open Directory - Computers: Software: Operating Systems: Linux: Distributions: Tiny ms/Linux/Distributions/Tiny/ []

My office (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#14130738)

uses a 266 Mhz system w/ 64 mb RAM as a web/mail server (Linux). We also have a 486 SX/33 running Win95 that we use as a print server (it is hooked up to a large-size printer)

486 24MB RAM. (1)

SharpFang (651121) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130744)

Debian runs fine. A bunch of services, 24/7 server with shell accounts, mail, www, ftp and a bunch others. Upgrade from 16 to 24MB RAM gave it a new lease of life. Upgrade from 2GB to 20GB drive - another. And thanks to low power CPU, I just slapped an Athlon radiator on it instead of the original 486 one, then removed the fan. The drive is silent, the cooler in the PSU is dead already, so the machine is exceptionally quiet.
Recently I bought a serial terminal, an original 80-column amber screen Wyse, and pulled the serial cable to my bed. And now I find myself spending more time online chatting with people over IRC from that terminal, connected to the 486, than on the bulky Sempron box.

Re:486 24MB RAM. (1)

SharpFang (651121) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130846)

One more thing... To get mom from hanging over my shoulder and requesting "find that, check this", I bought her a computer. A Pentium 160 MMX. The old 2GB drive went to it, 64M RAM, an old 17" monitor, SoundBlaster16 ISA, network card, whatever spares I found. And now considerations... She's computer-illiterate. I need to teach her from scratch. I can get a nice easy user-friendly Linux desktop manager, but most of them require at least twice-thrice as much in hardware. Or I can get her a lightweight one... but none of the simple ones I know are really foolproof and easy enough.
Final solution: Windows 98 SE + Firefox + Thunderbird
The box is firewalled, she doesn't even know how MSIE looks like, she doesn't use anything else, just these two and Winamp. It was easy to set up, it is easy for her to use, it didn't take much diskspace (the rest is packed with MP3s), and it runs generally without problems. A BSOD from time to time is not such a high price...

Re:486 24MB RAM. (1)

corrosive_nf (744601) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130890)

if you wanted to avoid the BSOD, you could have put NT4.0 Workstation on it.

Re:486 24MB RAM. (1)

SharpFang (651121) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130906)

Wanted to do so, but couldn't find it anywhere :( Seems none of the torrent sites has it anymore ;)

Re:486 24MB RAM. (1)

corrosive_nf (744601) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130917)

I see it all over usenet all the time. Usually in one of those Windows NT AIO cds

Insensitive Clod! (1)

BestNicksRTaken (582194) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130752)

I used to run RH6.1 (with KDE) on a P200MMX/96Mb

Hehe, code bloat has set in an my Fedora4 box runs about the same speed (3GHz/1Gb)

Why DSL? (1)

El Pollo Loco (562236) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130753)

I have exactly the same laptop. It's not a toshiba, is it? Why DSL though? I run gentoo on it. It runs great. Compile time wasn't bad, as I have a few other machines to distcc it with. And I can run X on it. Although, I recommend using FVWM for the window manager. It's hella lightweight, and highly configurable. The only downside is I haven't got standby/hibernation working yet. But, since it's so old, I threw in a second battery. So I get about 5 hours of constant use out of it.

Re:Why DSL? (1)

El Pollo Loco (562236) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130788)

Sorry, second page of the article just loaded. They're running X as well. But I've got WIFI working. Which may just be because of the card. I'm still not sure why DSL? The greivences they mention are solved by other distros(including, but not limited to gentoo).

Good times... (1)

Kichigai Mentat (588759) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130758)

This reminds me of a few projects I've completed in the past. I remember trying to take on the challenge of installing Linux on an ancient 486 laptop with about 8 MB of RAM, and a 120 MB hard disk. A net-stall where I ended up being able to run GQView.

In my house, I run my own web server, which doubles as my router. Originally, it was a Packard Bell running a Pentium 266 MHz processor with a paltry 64 MB of RAM, but a healthy 9 GB hard disk. After a while, the RAM constraints were too much and I upgraded to a Pentium II system simply because I needed more RAM, and I was worrying that some of the cooling fans were starting to go.

Still, I love these kinds of challenges, to try to push something older, to repurpose it for a modern usage, and to see just how far you can go.

Slashdotted (4, Informative)

Krast0r (843081) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130759)

Site seems to be down - or at least running slow. Here is the Coral Cache link: []

Old Hardware? (1)

eno2001 (527078) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130764)

Hehehe... I guess it depends on what you define as "old". I have a dual P II 450 with 768 Megs of RAM that I consider to be standard "entry level". I bought it in 1997/98 and it's been serving me well as an application server with Linux for quite a few years. This is the way computing is SUPPOSED to work. None of this stupid disposable crap. I am currently running RH 9 on it with all the latest apps like Firefox, OpenOffice 2.0, VNC4, etc... It performs at least as fast as a P4 1 Ghz system running Windows XP Pro. So much for the argument to run Windows...

Re:Old Hardware? (1)

east coast (590680) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130857)

It performs at least as fast as a P4 1 Ghz system running Windows XP Pro.

P4 was never manufactured as a 1 ghz.

Re:Old Hardware? (1)

NineNine (235196) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130922)

I don't think that what you're describing is an argument for/against either Windows or Linux. That machine is still quite a beast, especially compared to all of my machines at my business (all Pentium 2's of some kind, 256-512MB RAM, running Windows 2000 very happily). Of course, in my experience, any Linux that I've tried on all of those machines all run as slow as mud.

slashdotted (0)

planckscale (579258) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130766)

I think the article was hosted on said machine...but imagine a beowulf cluster of those!

jealous, dammit! (3, Interesting)

Namronorman (901664) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130773)

I'm so jealous! I only have a 486 Laptop with 8mb RAM. Actually, it's quite fun to bring older computers to life so you can experiment with them in ways you'd be afraid to on a newer computer you use constantly.

Most people would just consider this to be garbage and junk it, and if you brought this in for service where I work, I would agree with you.

I think it's kind of lame when people just discard computers, there's a lot you could do with them aside from throwing them in the dumpster. You could take them to a GoodWill/Habitat For Humanity/Whatever, recycle them, or even use them for something trivial. There are still a lot of people out there who don't have a computer.

My former old computer (1)

dave-tx (684169) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130780)

I used to run my personal firewall and internet services on a AMD 5x86, [] AKA a fast 486. I think mine was running at 200MHz, although it may have been 166 - can't remember for sure.

It worked just fine, and would have continued to do so, but I decided to consolidate and move my services and firewall onto my main Linux workstation. It just didn't make enough sense to maintain and power a separate box for tasks that could easily be done with spare CPU cycles.

I still have the old chip and motherboard, though - it's special to me, as it was the first CPU I worked on out of school.

DOS (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130792)

Setup DOS to run on it. Get the networking card to run on it and then install the Citrix DOS client. Then point it at either a Linux box running an RDP server or some sort or point it at a Windows XP box with Remote Desktop turned on. Won't do you a lot of good without a network connection, but with one you will have the full power of your desktop system. X desktop is possible, but it's less secure (requiress SSH hacks) and is slower.

Re:DOS (1)

EnderWiggin99 (84576) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130886)

This would be a GREAT solution for a laptop.

Vector (4, Informative)

RailGunner (554645) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130801)

Based on slackware, optimized for older hardware, and there's also a SOHO edition with KDE (standard edition has IceWM or Fluxbox, but SOHO is heavier...). []

Minimum Requirements: 125 MB Hard Drive, 16 MB RAM.

Any distro is fine, use lightweight window manager (2, Insightful)

aquarian (134728) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130813)

I had a great system about 4 years ago with the Mandrake or Redhat du jour (I can't remember which) on a P133 w/ 64MB. With KDE it was impossibly slow, but it ran great with IceWM -- better than Win98, which was also installed. It was solid as a rock, too.

Re:Any distro is fine, use lightweight window mana (1)

SharpFang (651121) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130874)

Just try installing any of these on 200MB harddrive, with X and networking in working order. And preferably kernel sources + development tools to compile the kernel. Good luck.

IceWM (1)

RevMike (632002) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130933)

I'm running a Cyrix 266 machine with 192M Ram. I'm using fairly stock Debian Sarge on it. IceWM works like a dream. I didn't have room in my office for it so it sits in my basement. I have a windows box I use for work on my desk, and I just use vnc for all my personal work.

Re:Any distro is fine, use lightweight window mana (2, Informative)

raynet (51803) | more than 7 years ago | (#14131008)

WindowMaker also runs very well on slower machines. And you are right, unless you have very small (under 300MB) harddisk and under 32MB of RAM there is no need to use special Linux distros, eg. Debian Linux runs nicely on old 166MHz pentium, though I must admit that Firefox takes awhile to start up.

Older machines can be used with Windows also. For example Windows 98 on 233MHz pentium with 64MB of RAM is rather nice and allows you to play all those old classic games like Master of Magic/Orion, Ultima Underword etc (if you happen to have original Sounb Blaster 16 or Gravis Ultrasound).

Re:Any distro is fine, use lightweight window mana (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#14131026)

In my experience, not all distros are created equal. Slackware performs much better on old hardware than most Debian and RH based distros, even if you are using a light WM on both. You can't just do a "server"/minimal install of something like Ubuntu, add XFCE, and get the same performance you would out of good old Slackware ;)

What about OS/2 (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#14130820)

I have a IBM Model 80 386 16Mhz with 6megs of ram running OS/2 Warp 4, connected to the internet with a 3Com MCA Ethernet card.

I have put two Seagate 9Gb full hieght SCSI drives in it and it weighs about 1000lbs, +-900lbs.

Although it only has a screen resolution of 640 x 480 at 256 colors, I am running Mozilla 1.7 on it.

It doubles as my fax server.

It is slow but it gets the job done.

Try that with Windoze.

M$ yok yok yok (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#14130829)

Windows 98 will run just as well on a 266mmx today as it did when it came out.

What crack are you smoking??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#14130831)

Pentium 266MMX with 64MB is junk and can be tossed???

I regularily use a P166 laptop with 16MB of RAM! Put Win98SE (blah) and a wireless NIC on it, and I can remotely access my main computer from anywhere in the house.

Geez, a P266MMX with 64MB is a great laptop! I'll happily pay for shipping on one of these babies: trhaynes at

Old hardware has certain attractions (1)

kalpol (714519) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130844)

I have an old Acer motherboard, Pentium 166 with 64MB of RAM - and you know, back when that computer was manufactured, that was a crapload of memory, man, you could never use all that up!!!!! oh wait, windows 98 :(

Its main interest to me is that without a hard drive, the only moving part is the power supply fan. The processor just has a big heat sink. So I wonder if there's a way to use it by adding a floppy drive and possibly a USB key for extra storage - what can it do? DNS? web? Will a 1GB USB flash drive provide endless possibilities?

Linux on old hardware, you will be disappointed (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#14130853)

I tried the following :
Pentium-233mhz 64MB
Windows XP vs. RedHat7 Gnome
I was very dissapointed with the sluggish Linux performance. WindowsXP is actually more responsive. Stories like this one are very misleading. All of you who are declaring otherwise must have some sort of tweaks and tricks. I do not see it.

Old laptops (3, Insightful)

jav1231 (539129) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130882)

This would be great if there was considerable WiFi support for Linux. This is especially true for older laptops. It just seems like if you buy an off-the-shelf WiFi card you have a 90% chance of not getting it to work consistently if you own it. It's odd because you'll find thousands of posts about how if you had just bought the v.2.9 of that same card with a S/N ending in an even number you'd have a slew of driver options thanks to a guy named Sven in Sweden who's reversed engineered that card and posted his driver on the net under the Creative Commons License. Look, the only reason to have a laptop is portability. When I had my old Toshiba, Dell, and Thinkpad laptops (MMX266's and such) I ALWAYS had to give up either Wifi, decent Video, or sound. Seems you could pick any 2.
Let the responses regarding Sven's support for every WiFi card on earth (as long as it's Oronoco) follow!

*BSD too... (1)

nuckfuts (690967) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130893)

I have a stack of old boxen in my office doing reliable duty as (respectively) a NAT router / packet filter, an SMTP server, DNS server, SMTP server and SMB fileserver. They are all running OpenBSD [] except the fileserver which runs FreeBSD [] (because my SATA RAID controller shipped with a driver for FreeBSD). They all perform excellently, although Gallery [] is a bit slow on the webserver when doing things like resizing photos. The "fastest" one of the bunch is a Pentium II with 64 Mb RAM.

faulty premise (1)

briancnorton (586947) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130894)

I have to totally disagree with the premise here. Windows 2000 runs *Just fine* on my K62-200

Re:faulty premise (1)

xutopia (469129) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130963)

Were you ever able to get first post with your k62 running window 2000?

I think not!

That is a powerful machine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#14130895)

I Have an old IBM Thinkpad Pentium 100 with 40MB RAM and 800MB Hard Drive. I have this machine in a production environment using Debian 3.1. It works great. I would recommend Debian for ANY older hardware. I installed it from floppy with the Network install.

Not that bad of a computer (1)

Jeffrey Baker (6191) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130901)

Like many readers here, I used to run Linux on machines with much lower specs than these. I ran X (with Netscape), irc, and irc bot, an FTP site, and a web site off a Pentium 60 with 24MB memory and a 540MB hard drive, only a third of which was partitioned for Linux. Nothing has happened in the intervening decade to make this computer run less well than it ever did. You can still do all those things you used to do. Why couldn't you?

Similarly, this computer still works great with Windows NT 3.51, or Windows 95, or even DOS or Windows 3.11. As a matter of fact Windows 3.11 runs like a greased pig even on this old hardware.

As long as you choose your software carefully to match your hardware, there's no need to treat a 266MHz Pentium MMX with 64MB of memory as if it were an ancient relic. It's a perfectly good computer.

the real story (1)

frovingslosh (582462) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130907)

Windows would have a hard time running on this low-spec laptop, but there are many distributions of Linux that will work exceptionally well.

OK, I've used DSL. It is OK, and small (around a 50 meg ISO). But it's based on Knoppix and is intended to be run as a Live CD, not installed onto a system. Plus DSL has not been updated in quite some time, so it's pretty old by Linux standards and is missing a lot of fixes. Still, it's GUI can be a resource hog and it demands at least as much in the way of resources as Windows. The statement Windows would have a hard time running on this low-spec laptop is just dead wrong. Sure, maybe XP would have probblems, but even Win98 would run fine (I still use a much slower 64 meg P150 with Win98 as a FTP server and as a testbed for things I don't want to trust to my main system).

I like bashing Microsoft as much as the next guy, but to suggest that DSL will run better on this system than Win98 is just wrong. And in misrepresenting both Linux and Windows this way we don't really help the Linux community, rather it make Linux advocates look more like zelots than technical experts.

Re:the real story (1)

corrosive_nf (744601) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130932)

Actually it was updated less than a week ago.

Power bills retiring my old machines (2, Informative)

xtal (49134) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130908)

For awhile I had a lot of machines running various flavours of *BSD and *NIX, however I realized I was throwing a lot of money away keeping them on for any length of time. This isn't as much of an issue with a 486 system as it is with the early pentiums, but it's something to think about.

I keep my boxes around for routers. Toss smoothwall or openbsd on, put in some network cards, and away you go. Compactflash-IDE adapters solve the hard drive problem nicely. The linksys boxes are nice, but they don't have the flexibility, and running snort in all it's wonder is pretty cool.

With mini ITX boards down in the sub-$100 territory, requiring only RAM with everything else onboard.. and power consumption way down there.. it's much more economical and environmentally friendly to use one of those.

YMMV, of course.

An extraneous problem!!! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#14130923)

The problem remains, however, that no one uses Linux. No one uses it. No one ever will. Ever. The fact is that nothing on Linux runs on Windows and vice versa. Especially after that little stint with stealing SCO's source code and putting it in the Microsoft Source Engine (MSE). Honestly, the kernel on this laptop must be running at 32 bits of busrate and may be several megabytes large (!)
Do what I do and buy an Apple Computer. They may be based on Linux, but they are better than Linux. The time you would spend setting up a 200 MegaHertz laptop would cost you two Apple Computer's.
  The CHoice is Yours.

If you don't need 'net, ancient is okay (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130926)

I saw a computer a year or so ago running MS-Windows31 with Office4.something in 4MB RAM.

It was fine for what it was being used for.

Here's the kicker:
It felt as fast as a 128MB 500MHz machine running XP and Office 2000.

I wouldn't dare put that box directly onto the interweb. If there are any viruses floating about that target it, it might get sick.

The moral of the story:

Re:If you don't need 'net, ancient is okay (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130956)

Actually I'd wager that such a box would be far safer than damn near any modern system. I'm not even sure that there were many (if any) network-distributable viruses written for Win3x, and if there were, they would long ago have disappeared as the number of such machines dropped so low that no virus writer would even bother.

More RAM (1)

specialkp (922254) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130957)

Last year I picked up 2 old identicle celeron 500MHz machines for free from my University when they upgraded one of their labs. Luckily they both had 256MB of RAM, and I only really needed one of them, so I use the other one for backup parts. I stuck the whole 512MB of RAM in one machine, installed Mandrake 10.1 on it (don't ask why), and the thing actually runs smoothly! I use it as a webserver for a wiki, and various other things with no noticable lag or delay. Even boot up time is decent (within 1 minute). Having a lot of RAM can really help old machines. Especially with old, slow harddrives, you don't want to be using swap space very much. Old PC100 RAM isn't even that expensive if you need to upgrade on the cheap. I imagine Damn Small Linux would work great on my server, but any distro can run decently on old machines (assuming lots of RAM and NOT using KDE. I prefer iceWM.)

File servers (1)

TreeHugger04 (739276) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130959)

Old computers make great file servers. I bought and installed a 300gb hard drive for about $70 and installed linux+simba on an old pentium machine with 64mb RAM and connected it to my LAN. It serves as a file server and is also nice for backups. I disconnected the monitor, keyboard and mouse from it (which I didn't have to spare anyway) and it just sits there quietly working in the background with minimal power consumption.

Re:File servers (1)

masdog (794316) | more than 7 years ago | (#14131017)

Which distribution do you use? I have an old Pentium Pro 200 that I want to use as a file server.

Garbage ? I don't think so (1)

consonant (896763) | more than 7 years ago | (#14130961)

I had a Compaq Presario 4620 from June 1998 till July 2004. Its specs? Pentium II 266 Mhz, 32 megs ram, 3.73 GB HDD, and a CD-ROM drive.

Since then I've started hating company-branded PCs, but that particular piece was quite the star performer. Came preloaded with Win95 OSR2, which I booted out soon enough to replace with Win98, and it ran beautifully.

A few IE windows, Yahoo! messenger, KaZaA, mIRC and Abilon (my newsreader of choice then) running together, with the occasional MS Word/Excel requirement. Heck, I even did Visual Studio 6.0 programmming on that comp!

I'm not trying to troll here - just that Win98 didn't need a shitload of decrapifying software like an AV, firewall and antispyware running like WinXP does, so it was actually pretty neat.

I did get my nose rubbed into the ground at school when I'd describe my PC specs, but my point is - use the system wisely, without weird shit running in the background, and you'll have yourself a good VFM PC.

*gasp* even without Linux *gasp*

Dual Pentium/133 (2, Interesting)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 7 years ago | (#14131006)

    I have an old DEC server with dual P-133s in it, and 96 megs of RAM. Back in the day, it must have been extremely expensive. About six years ago, I picked it up for $40. Right now it's my home router running Linux, but in the past I've installed Windows 2000 on it, and it was pretty usable.

    Seeing that even maxing out my 6 megabit line doesn't get the load on the machine above 0.05, I keep thinking about doing something a bit more demanding with it, but in reality, I'll probably just be lazy and let it sit there. It's nice and quiet, passive heat sinks and everything.


It's not the machine, it's the battery... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#14131015)

... which kills older machines. Laptop's without battery life are way less interesting, and having internal batteries go on cards or motherboards is a bother as well. If it's already heavy, and I've got to carry a plug about, it gets junked.

Oh, and for the "have an old machine crowd", I've got a Kaypro which, at least, worked a few years ago when I tried it for (heavy) sneakernetting. Man, the price I paid for the thing stills burns me :-).

Laptop screens (3, Insightful)

RevMike (632002) | more than 7 years ago | (#14131030)

At least in the laptop world, one problem is that many older laptops have low resolution screens. 640x480 is not comfortable anymore no matter what window manager you use.

I need one of those laptops... (1)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 7 years ago | (#14131032)

    One of these days, I'll put more effort into looking for a cheap laptop - it doesn't even need a battery, as long as it has a working display, power supply, and keyboard. I'm going to rip it apart, mount the LCD in a frame, and build it into my wall. But I see how much people want for something like a Pentium 166 laptop, and I think that they're out of their minds.

    Sticking a nice 19" LCD in the wall would be even nicer, but lots more money as well.

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