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Which distro for and old laptop ?

I've got an old Dell 233mhz / 128mb laptop, which happens to meet the minum specs for XP - which runs like a lame dog ...

I've recently read something that said the minimum specs for a lot of linux distros were pretty high.   This laptop is ONLY going to be used for email / internet / word processing.    I wouldn't mind getting something really lightweight, that would run better than XP.  I've been a windows guy for years, but am just getting into linux.

Any advice ?
5 Solutions
try slackware ..


from  http://www.slackware.com/install/sysreq.php

Slackware Linux doesn't require an extremely powerful system to run (though having one is quite nice :). It will run on systems as far back as the 386. Below is a list of minimum system requirements needed to install and run Slackware.

    * 386 processor
    * 16MB RAM
    * 50 megabytes of hard disk space
    * 3.5" floppy drive

Additional hardware may be needed if you want to run the X Window System at a usable speed or if you want network capabilities.
I would go for  mandrake http://www.mandrakesoft.com/ or fedora http://fedora.redhat.com, both of which are user friendly and will run fine on any machine with 128 meg of ram in it.
Hi, a nice versin to run would be SuSE 9.1 personal edition:


here is the requirements:


 Intel: Celeron, Pentium® to Pentium® 4, Xeon®, EMT64®
 AMD: K6/II/III, Duron(tm), Athlon(tm), Athlon(tm) XP/MP, Athlon 64(tm)

Main memory

At least 128 MB are required for the installation with YaST2 in graphical mode; 256 MB recommended

Hard disk

 400 MB to more than 2 GB (Personal Edition) or 6 GB (Professional Edition) for the installation of all packages; 2 GB or more recommended

Graphics cards / Sound cards

Most modern sound and graphics cards are supported.

Digital cameras and memory sticks

 Most modern USB digital cameras and memory sticks are automatically recognized and supported.

ISA plug & play cards

 ISA plug & play cards may have to be configured manually.
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I would recommend one of the more manually configured OSes like debian or slackware.  Redhat/Fedora, Suse, and Mandrake auto-configs many things to make it more user-friendly, however with an older slower laptop you probably want to skip some of those user-friendly features in order to enhance the performance.  If you get in too much of a bind, (ie. unknown drivers) boot up knoppix and check out the settings there.

Don't get me wrong, I like Redhat and Suse (I use Suse at work) however I believe they both have an aggressive default configuration therefore they might not be the best solution for one looking to maximize performance of an older machine.

You can try the new one: http://www.ubuntulinux.org/
It is lightweight and provides the most latest, as well as adequate packages for your home or office needs.

I would recomend Debian... actualy KNOPPIX. I have a few good reasons why.

KNOPPIX is a bootable CD (and a swiss army knife, filled with tools and programs ) It comes whith KDE ( the gui windows part ) that has a excelent web browser ( Konqueror, its fast and cool ! Tabs, split panes ... it makes IE look like a highshool project ) It also has Open office ( similar and compattible with microsoft office )

It's probably the easyst Linux to set up, it auto probes and sets itself up at first boot.

You can but dont have to install it to your hard drive. ( That will leave you with a Debian Linux "sid" or "Woody" and lots of other programs )

I have it running on a old 300 Mhz pc with 128 Meg ram and next to a P4 1.7 Ghz with XP and 256mg ram its faster on surfing the net ( especialy whit cash enabled )

ONLY  downside I can think of is that it has to many apps already with the instalation that you will never use, but there are PLENTY of pages of the net with instructions of how to fix that up in 5 min ( using a "Kicklist" you copy off the net by cutting and paste'n, you can uninstall ALL the stuff you dont want or need in one go ) The pages also have premade "recomended" Kicklists and step by step instructions.

Installing Debian via KNOPPIX install really makes Linux setup easy, and it has brought life to all my old "junk" PC's

My second choice is mandrake 10 .... it's 3 CD's, so more downloading, but it's actualy less cluttered, and rather easy to set up.

Talking about the "one million question" huh?

You just asked a hard one mon ami! For years I've been reading and hearing this question and the answer is the same as here: a lot of opinions, a lot of choices.

I personally agree with TRobertson.

Good luck! :)
Good point, but if you run knoppix from the CD and then doe the knoppix-installer thing, the probe does not happen @ every boot, so you end up with a fully confed ( hopefully ;-) Debian. Run a kicklist and you got a good system.... what do you think ? ( I am a newby too, just wanna hear your thoughts )
personally, I'd consider this question to be a flamebait ;)

google for a list of linux distros, and check where respective focus is; some aim for maximum friendlyness, others for low memory footprint, yet others for low cpu consumption. Achieving any of these goals means something else is being sacrificed, so there is no silver bullet here.
For the uses that are indicated, I think you could very well use the SUSE 9 personal distribution, comes with a lot of useful things but lacks a few tools for the more engaged user. I have run RH8 on such a machine with good results, using StarOffice and Mozilla for like 95% of all activities with no performance or stability problems. RH8 also comes with WindowMaker, which is very good for getting higher speed on older equipment as it doesn't use resources like KDE or GNOME. Of course WindowMaker can be added to any other distro...

If at all possible, see if you can up the RAM to 256 MB as that will give more speed, but IMHO 128 will do quite OK.

Just another voice in the crowd...
I think the biggest question is not which distro to use, but rather how to configure your machine for it.

Let's take a look at window mangers (WM's).  These are the programs that actually handle drawing the cute stuff around each application that let's you do stuff like resize, minimize, maximize or the like.  What you want is a 'lightweight' manager that will handle the windows, but will provide the least 'eye candy'.

KDE              www.kde.org
GNOME            www.gnoem.org
Blackbox         blackboxwm.sourceforge.net
Fluxbox          www.fluxbox.org
FVWM             www.fvwm.org
windowmaker      www.windowmaker.org
xfce             www.xfce.org

Of these, KDE and GNOME offer the most functionality, because they not only handle window managind, but they also provide a desktop that has icons and a built-on file manager.  FVWM is one of the oldest, with FVWM95 giving it a win95 look and feel.  Fluxbox is a modified Blackbox with extras thrown in.  WindowMaker is made to look like NEXTSTEP and the PC clone known as AFTERSTEP.  XFCE reminds me a lot of the window manager being used in Apple's OS X.

Take a look at them and see if they have what you need/want.

Next is background services, you really need to trim things down to just the bare bones.  During install, you will need to customize the install to remove every little thing that you are not sure that you need.  Do not install services that you don't need.  I know, being new to Linux will be confusing and you will be asking what you do and don't need.  With Red Hat, Debian, and other distributions based on the RedHat RPM or Debian DEB packages, you can unselect stuff, then the installer will tell you what items you need for the programs left.

The rest of this is if you choose Slackware:

If you go the slackware route, then choose EXPERT install (don't worry), then choose only the following sets:


With A, choose only the REQUIRED stuff.  AP may have some stuff you like, but since most of it is command-line stuff, they will not hog your system down when you run them (at least not as much as others).  D is included because you may need something from there like MAKE or PMAKE, and especially the Java SDK so you can run Java applets in your browser(s).  N is networking programs/libraries which you will need some of to get on the internet.  TCL is nice because some lightweight interfaces use TCL/TK.  X is necessary for X-Window, without which, you're not going to get a lot of graphical web-surfing done.  XAP is applications, and Y is fun stuff (like FORTUNE for your command line).

From those, the only one that can get you into trouble is N, make sure you turn off everything that is not listed as REQUIRED, and then only add:

DHCPCD (if you are running with DHCP only)
PPP (if you are going to dialup to the internet)
RP-PPPOE (if you are using a CABLE MODEM)

Next is the XAP section, this is where you start getting into the fun stuff, like Window Managers, and applications.  From the first part above, you can choose all of the non-KDE and non-GNOME window managers and try out each one.  Other than that, just choose the stuff that looks good to you.  Remember, Firefox is the lighweight browser, Mozilla can be a little hefty.  You can always install Mozilla long enough to connect to www.mozilla.org and download Firefox or even www.opera.com and download Opera.

Well, I hope this helps.



I've used Mandrake (8-10), RedHat 9, Fedora Core (1 and 2), Slackware (vers 8-10), Knoppix 3.x and a failed to install Debian once and never tried again.

I installed Slackware 8 on a P75 (75MHz !!) Thinkpad (see http://pbhj.alicious.com/index.php?content=slackware) which I think had 128MB and 520MB HDD.

It sucked big time. I never did get X-windows working well, mouse lag was seconds long. It was fine from the command line. Now, I think I'd stand a lot better chance with it but you'd need to be very familiar with your OS (IMHO).

Out of all the OS I've tried Slackware performs fastest. The RH (and FC1/2) and Mandy distros I've tried on my 1.1Gig Athlon have been noticeably slower than Slackware. I still doubt that you'd get anything close to what you'd want with Slack on a 233 with 128MB.

Try Knoppix, see how it feels. You can expect a huge performance increase with a proper install but if you can't stand Knoppix's speed on a trial boot I think you're unlikely to stick a proper distro later.

You're also likely to have problems with your laptop getting any modems, power control and sound to work (drivers). But assuming you have an ethernet/broadband connection this shouldn't be a problem for you.


GitchoAuthor Commented:
Thanks all for the advice.  sorry for the points delay.
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