Posted by: gurglin | October 15, 2012

Linux OSs for old PCs (2012)

I own a Compaq Presario 14XL250, bought in year 2000, which back then was on the cutting edge: one of the first laptop having a DVD-Rom (no burner… it was way too early for a burner) instead of a CD-Rom, 2 USB plugs and only EXTERNAL floppy drive, predicting the sunset of floppies. It has a Celeron 600MHz chip, 184M RAM + 8 RAM for the Video (64 original + 128 added), Trident Cyberblade video card, Chipset VIA PLE133… characteristics that today would make it almost unusable. Almost 😉

On the internet it is possible to find some general workarounds with Linux, especially for avoiding problems with the monitor, which in some cases (like with PuppyLinux) must be configured manually: vga=792, SVGA 1024×768 @ 70 Hz ; 50-70 Hz. In other words, if you cannot choose Xvesa at boot when getting the Video Wizard screen, with Xorg at “monitor type” choose option h31.5-48-5v50-70 LCD Panel 1024×768 and then at “select video mode” choose either 1024x768x16 or 1024x768x24. Easy!

My Presario has a lame 6GB HDD, which I decided to divide in three partitions of different sizes, and use it just for hosting the OS (or better, for installing three different OSs), using some external USB flash drives or HDD for documents and stuff. My last OSs were AntiX 11 on a 3.32 GiB partition (the biggest), Puppy Linux 4.3.2. V3 (it is a RC… there never was a final release… it is something like and aborted project) on a 1.80 partition, and GeeXBox 1.4 (it weights only 30,98 MiB!) on a tiny 91 MiB partition, plus 399 MiB dedicated to the Swap.

Given the fact I have so poor CPU and RAM, I followed some hints and increased the SWAP (sda2) from 400 to 700 MiB, hoping it could speed up a bit things. sda1 is now 3.22 GiB (3300 MiB) and sda3 1.60 GiB (1637 MiB). The last partition sda4 remains of 89 MB (and only 29 used with GeeXBox).

Every now and then I like to “taste” different “flavours”, also because I like to get the most updated version of a distribution, and sometimes the upgraded version of what I used is no more compatible with my laptop, or I do not like it, therefore I have to look for something else.

For instance, in the past I have used for a while Mandrake and ArkLinux (yes, spelled with K), but had to give up due to the “steroids” that made them too heavy for both my chipset and RAM.

Anyway, on Distrowatch I found an interesting list of Linux Operating Systems for old PCs, and decided to have a look to some of them.

For avoiding burning OSs into CDs or, even worse, installing them on the Laptop, first I tried following OS with UNetbootin-windows-575, and tried to boot them.

Lets start! Between squared parenthesis I put the weight of the ISO.

* Active VectorLinux (VL7.0-STD-GOLD-LIVE) [699 MB]– I tried this one on another PC, a desktop PC, with UNetbootin, and have to say it is quite complete. I don’t like its Mac-like looking, but it is plenty of applications. I also have its light version (VL7.0-LIGHT.iso) [641 MB], which actually did not start at first attempt with UNetbootin. I therefore had to install it. I installed it twice, the first time choosing the “light” option; the second time the most basic “barebone“. Vector light is ok, even if I don’t like the system manager, the USB “hot plug” system (not integrated with the file manager). Barebone just has the very simple JWM as windows manager, and generally speaking has quite a bad usability. I am sorry, cannot understand how it works, and don’t feel like wasting time on it… Vector linux light gave me a few problems with the external wi-fi card (with Ralink microchip), which was possible to solve just adding wlan0 to Wicd, in preferences Window under wireless interface blank box. But the connection is VERY slow! With “barebone” I could not even find where Wicd was…

* TinyMe-Acorn [230 MB] – also tried just with UNetbootin, it is minimal, very nice, and with very few software. It is a development of the UnityLinux project, currently based on Mandriva. The browser did not work perfectly, and system doesn’t halt properly. But it is still nice. I think it would work even on machines older than my Presario.

* SWIFT Linux [651 MB] – as we can read from the site “Swift Linux combines the superior software, hardware, and codec support of Linux Mint with a lightweight and user-friendly interface inspired by Puppy Linux and antiX Linux. You can have a lightweight distro WITHOUT sacrificing utility”. It is based on a 2.6.39-2-486 kernel. I run with UNetbootin, but fails booting (tried booting options: default, compatibility mode, swift normal Linux). Then I decide to download, burn on a CD and run SWIFT linux diet (it is a live OS, the ISO is of 587 MB), which did boot. It looks very much like AntiX, but slightly better than current AntiX 12. After installation Diet SwiftLinux weights 1.89 GiB. I cannot log-in, though. I installed the distribution twice, then I tried to install the “normal” version (it took me around 90 minutes!), and still had the very same problem: it doesn’t recognise passwords! Neither mine, nor the “demo” and “root” username/passwords. Is it a bug? How can I solve it? I also tried Swiftlinux-0_2_0-taylorswift.iso [651 MB], which tries to boot with unetbootin-windows-575, but doesn’t display anything. Had to burn on disc, but once on, it has an annoying music.

* AntiX-12-486 [698 MB] – I firstly tried to run it with UNetbootin on another PC, but, as for the precedent release, on that PC it “froze” as soon as I opened the screen. Installed on Presario, it seems heavier than previous version, too heavy for my laptop. Moreover, even in the choice of software (such as the standard file browser) it seems worse than the previous (very good!) version M11. Too bad! Have to migrate 😉

* GALPon MiniNo (Minimum-alguadaira_i486) [426 MB] – it does not boot from USB with UNetbootin, but that was already explained on the site… set up and run as live CD is minimal graphically, but with a lot of software. It looks VERY nice. For further software installations it refers to the deb repository, therefore there is almost an endless amount of software available for downloading. Once installed it occupied 1.3G, as to say 74% of my sda3… quite a lot. I thought It could replace Puppy as second OS on my Laptop, if only… worked: I have problems both with the live version and after having installed it, because most software don’t work. Quite a shame…

* Absolute-13,50 (based on Slackware) [700 MB] – This is not a live distro, so I had to install it on my Presario (it took around an hour!), occupying 3.20 GiB out of 3.32! WOW! Quite big! It did not boot due to LILO problems. I reinstalled the ISO, choosing the expert LILO configuration, but did not solve the problem. I therefore rebooted the PC with PuppyLinux WARY in the DVD tray, run it and installed grub from there. I am using it right now (as long as my laptop doesn’t overheat), writing with LibreOffice, one of the several applications available in this distribution. Absolute is just great! It is one of the best OS for old PCs I have ever seen, and would definitely be my choice as “predominant” OS, if only… really were for old PCs: it is in fact too heavy for my old Compaq laptop capabilities. Absolute 14 is very nice too, looks a lot like Vector linux in its light version. It is an almost complete system (Chrome is the main browser, which I don’t like, and there is no LibreOffice) but it weights around 3 GiB. I tried to install LibreOffice (which didn’t appear in the menu) and completely filled my 3.32 GiB partition! I therefore had to increase the partition up to 3.65 GiB (3737 MB), shrinking the other “major” one from 1.80 Gib (1839 MiB) to 1.46 (1500 MiB). Sadly enough, it is way too heavy for my laptop, and cannot use it.

* Connos-0.9.1. [391 MB] – this is not a live distribution. After installation: it is minimal, nice, but “weighs” 1.7 GB while offering very few programs, and gives me a problem with the monitor (I have to push ctrl + alt + f8 and then ctrl + alt + f7 to get an undersized screen) because the video card is not auto-detected. The solution here is to play with the /etc/inittab, uncommenting “id:3:initdefault” and commenting “id:5:initdefault”, changing the runlevel manually (to 3 instead of 5). Then – with nano or mcedit – one should create the file /etc/X11/xorg.conf and edit it to your needs or copy an existing xorg.conf file from another system to ConnochaetOS. As soon as the xorg.conf file exists, it is used by the xserver and no auto-detection of the screen etc. is done. I think it doesn’t worth further investigation or usage.

* PuppyWary 5.3 [137 MB] – once installed, it only weights 453.34 MiB, just a miracle! It seems the usual great “puppylinux” by Barry Kauler, this time based on kernel I seems better than Puppy 4.2.1, but cannot say if it is better than 4.3.2, though. Maybe not, but it probably is at the same level: the fact would be a compliment in any case, considering the high quality standard reached by previous puppy old-pc focussed version… before the strange compabiliy-convergence with Ubuntu that endangered Puppy’s “philosophy”.

* GeeXBoX 2.0 [72 MB] and GeeXBoX 3.0 [136 MB] – they are completely different from previous 1.x versions. On GeexBox 1.x you just had to click on a file, and it played/showed it, no matter what it was (a song, a video or a picture). Just brilliant! GeeXBox 2.0 and 3.0 on the contrary are based on xbmc, and therefore you first have to “enter” the specific management area, choosing beforehand either the “video”, or the “pictures” or the “music” section. I would consider such a change a worsening. It also has some other useless utilities (like weather forecast… who the hell need a weather forecast system on a mediacenter OS?), instead of, for instance, a PDF reader, which would have extended the range of readable images (a PDF document is a picture, in the end). 3.0 seems better than 2.0, though, but it has a HUGE iso, something like 9 times bigger than 1.x! Anyway, they are WAY to heavy for my Presario, because as soon as I installed either of them, I simply could not use the OS. Unbelievable, for a distribution that should target old PCs! Project REJECTED! I was happy to reinstall the tiny (a 18MB ISO!) GeeXBoX 1.2.4

* CrunchBang-10-20120207-i386 [662 MB], available in two releases for 32-bit PCs (and other two for 64-bit), one with the stable 2.6.32 Linux kernel and 7.5, and the less tested BPO, with Linux version 3.2 and 7.6.  CrunchBang freezes as soon as it starts X with unetbootin-windows-575. I had the usual problems with the monitor, which I overcome clicking ctrl + alt + F9. Based on Debian (I like it), it seems quite minimal in the graphics, which is also good; and terribly looks like Mint (a black mint), which is a nice OS. It seems quite a complete distribution, and has a good software selection: Thunar is its nice windows manager, VLC the Media Player. Plus the predisposition of installing other software like LibreOffice.

* Papuglinux-11.1a  [258 MB], already 1 year old, doesn’t start with unetbootin-windows-575, even if it is a live distribution. Burned on CD, it gives me problems with X. I managed to use it clicking ctrl + alt + F9. This is a very minimal OS. It uses Rox as a window manager, which allows to access USB drives. I do prefer systems that directly detect inserted USB drives. Cannot access WI-FI using my external Ralink card. Mouse is fast but not precise at all. Cannot see how to adjust and change settings, such as time, screen, etc. I only found three possible keyboards settings, English, Polish and French, none of them is my mother tongue. Nice, fast and light, but far from being perfect for my purposes.

* Legacy-OS-4-Mini  [475 MB], based on 3 years old Puppy 4.2.1 (why not on the last official 4.3.1 release of the 4 series?), it freezes at boot with unetbootin-windows-575 at the time of starting X. I had the same problem booting using a burned CD. I think it has to do with Xorg, because everything went on smoothly using Xvesa. Strange. What can I say? It is just beautiful! All known advantages of Puppy, the stability of the 4th series plus an outstanding number of applications, mostly based on KDE (I have always preferred Gnome, though). Apart from mentioned problem at booting, everything works perfectly! Legacy OS 4 derives from puppy 4.2.1 (kernel and with KDE 3.5.7, which cannot access ext4 formatted partitions. I hope next releases will be based on the Release Candidate (but very stable) 4.3.2 (with kernel or Barry’s release for old machines Wary 5.3. Once installed, Legacy weights 1309 MB.


“Normal PC” (not very old PC) Linux Operating Systems tested on a desktop PC, booting from USB using UNetbootin

* MythBuntu – I do not understand how it works… I know it is for mediacentres, though

* Linuxmint-13-cinnamon-dvd-32bit – not bad at all … it seems an improved version of Ubuntu


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