15 votes

Linux Distro for an old PC

I found my grandfathers old PC on the attic and want to revive it for him. He really loved that pc. Sadly that potato barely runs Windows xp so I thought about putting a Linux onto it. My Linux experience is limited to Mimt and Debian, both way to heavy for this old laptop. I need recommendations for a very light weight Linux Distro!

Specs:
256 mb DDR1 Ram
Intel Celeron M 320 @ 1.4GhZ
40gb Hard Drive

It's a small, simple gift and nothing where I want to put money into. Also it won't be my granddads daily driver so please don't recommend me a new one (a lot of people did that on other websites so I am rather careful). Thanks in Advance!

38 comments

  1. [2]
    jgb
    Link
    Those specs are fairly grim I'm afraid. As others have said, the distro is fairly immaterial since this machine simply doesn't have the clout for the modern web. Maybe try Puppy Linux?...

    Those specs are fairly grim I'm afraid. As others have said, the distro is fairly immaterial since this machine simply doesn't have the clout for the modern web.

    Maybe try Puppy Linux? Unfortunately it won't be as slick as most modern distros but this machine won't handle any modern desktop.

    9 votes
    1. GrafHasenzahn
      Link Parent
      Nah, it's fine. An almost 80 year old dude doesn't care about modern slickness or something for a small present out of nostalgia. I think that's a good bet, I will try that one out. Thanks a lot!

      Nah, it's fine. An almost 80 year old dude doesn't care about modern slickness or something for a small present out of nostalgia. I think that's a good bet, I will try that one out. Thanks a lot!

      7 votes
  2. [7]
    gergir
    Link
    I have my mother's old laptop, a Compaq Presario 1200 budget P3 made in 1999, with 64Mb RAM (between 2 and 8 goto video) and a 4Gb drive. It runs Slackware 9 that she trimmed and hardened, and...

    I have my mother's old laptop, a Compaq Presario 1200 budget P3 made in 1999, with 64Mb RAM (between 2 and 8 goto video) and a 4Gb drive. It runs Slackware 9 that she trimmed and hardened, and although I mainly use it in console mode, X works fine and reasonably fast.

    The only hurdle is fancy sitedesigns, but you can spoof browsers' User-Agent IDs to force mobile mode. So if my machine can do it at an acceptable pace, yours will be racing by comparison. You already received good recommendations, but an older Slackware version is ideal in my opinion, because once it's set up and housekeeping automated (all configuration is in self-explanatory textfiles), you can sit back and relax. I received that laptop at 10 and still haven't broken anything! Viel Gl├╝ck.

    4 votes
    1. [6]
      GrafHasenzahn
      Link Parent
      Thanks a lot! If it has worked for you then it will probably work for me as well. I have never heard of Slackware, but I am sure I will be able to use it. Have a great day!

      Thanks a lot! If it has worked for you then it will probably work for me as well. I have never heard of Slackware, but I am sure I will be able to use it. Have a great day!

      2 votes
      1. [5]
        gergir
        Link Parent
        Nice! If you run into any snags you can PM me, no problem.

        Nice! If you run into any snags you can PM me, no problem.

        3 votes
        1. [4]
          GrafHasenzahn
          Link Parent
          it will take me a while since I have a lot of stress with school but I will gladly take that offer

          it will take me a while since I have a lot of stress with school but I will gladly take that offer

          1 vote
          1. [3]
            gergir
            Link Parent
            Certainly; you can PM me here anytime.

            Certainly; you can PM me here anytime.

            1. [2]
              GrafHasenzahn
              Link Parent
              I have started and everything works fine. My choice went to the tiny core linux and I am happy to see that old brick bolting up again! Thanks for offering your help, appreciated. Have a wonderful day!

              I have started and everything works fine. My choice went to the tiny core linux and I am happy to see that old brick bolting up again! Thanks for offering your help, appreciated. Have a wonderful day!

              2 votes
  3. [11]
    knocklessmonster
    Link
    I'd say Void, with a light environment like lxde, or even a light wm session like openbox, fluxbox or i3. Void uses runit, which is far lighter than systemd. You can use musl to save more...

    I'd say Void, with a light environment like lxde, or even a light wm session like openbox, fluxbox or i3. Void uses runit, which is far lighter than systemd. You can use musl to save more resources.

    Devuan would work, too for many of the same reasons.

    3 votes
    1. [9]
      jgb
      Link Parent
      Void and Devuan are horrendous suggestions for someone with limited Linux experience who is building a system for their grandfather. Both are intended for the intermediate-to-advanced Linux user...

      Void and Devuan are horrendous suggestions for someone with limited Linux experience who is building a system for their grandfather. Both are intended for the intermediate-to-advanced Linux user who is not afraid of fiddling around in /etc every now and then to get their machine working right.

      9 votes
      1. [2]
        Eva
        Link Parent
        I use Void on a lot of my devices and have never had to "fiddle" with any directory whatsoever unless I was doing something non-standard (which admittedly, I tend to do with frequency). Using the...

        I use Void on a lot of my devices and have never had to "fiddle" with any directory whatsoever unless I was doing something non-standard (which admittedly, I tend to do with frequency).

        Using the musl spin would be a bad idea, though.

        4 votes
        1. jgb
          Link Parent
          I actually thought that it was an exclusively musl distro. Maybe void wouldn't be so bad. It's still far from a beginner's distro though - as evidenced by the fact that its userbase is virtually...

          I actually thought that it was an exclusively musl distro. Maybe void wouldn't be so bad. It's still far from a beginner's distro though - as evidenced by the fact that its userbase is virtually all Arch refugees!

      2. [6]
        knocklessmonster
        Link Parent
        Probably, but I also can't think of any other distro that would run on 256mb of RAM that will also support 32-bit processors in the future.

        Probably, but I also can't think of any other distro that would run on 256mb of RAM that will also support 32-bit processors in the future.

        1 vote
        1. [5]
          eleventh
          Link Parent
          What about the internet browser? Surf?

          What about the internet browser? Surf?

          1. [3]
            mftrhu
            Link Parent
            Dillo or NetSurf would probably work. Dillo can stay under 100 MB even with a few open tabs. You'd have to give up JS and conformity to modern web standards, but you wouldn't have much luck these...

            Dillo or NetSurf would probably work. Dillo can stay under 100 MB even with a few open tabs.

            You'd have to give up JS and conformity to modern web standards, but you wouldn't have much luck these days, with "proper" browsers, on 256 MB of RAM.

            2 votes
            1. [2]
              Akir
              Link Parent
              I have so much respect for the people who develop NetSurf. It just performs so well! I have this crappy android 'laptop' I exported from china just for the fun of it a few years back. It performs...

              I have so much respect for the people who develop NetSurf. It just performs so well! I have this crappy android 'laptop' I exported from china just for the fun of it a few years back. It performs terribly, but NetSurf still renders any page without JS in a snap.

              3 votes
              1. mftrhu
                Link Parent
                Yeah, it's a cool project. I still have an old netbook (eight years by now) hanging around, and NetSurf/Dillo help in making it still useable - documentation usually doesn't need fancy JS - when...

                Yeah, it's a cool project. I still have an old netbook (eight years by now) hanging around, and NetSurf/Dillo help in making it still useable - documentation usually doesn't need fancy JS - when coupled with a couple of tools like rtv and translate-shell.

                It's not as underpowered as OP's machine - it has a full GB of RAM - and of course today they won't work with many webpages, but they can give old machines new life. IIRC Dillo used to be the default web browser for Puppy Linux, too.

                1 vote
          2. knocklessmonster
            Link Parent
            I actually preferred uzbl back when webkit was the big deal, and if I had to pick one, it would be qutebrowser. For somebody else, I'd probably just give them Firefox. Browsing is just going to...

            I actually preferred uzbl back when webkit was the big deal, and if I had to pick one, it would be qutebrowser.

            For somebody else, I'd probably just give them Firefox. Browsing is just going to suck on OP's specs.

    2. GrafHasenzahn
      Link Parent
      Thanks! I will try that one out. I will try those out.

      Thanks! I will try that one out. I will try those out.

  4. [3]
    Akir
    Link
    That's a really difficult proposition, unfortunately. Most computing tasks today mean running a web browser, and getting a modern web browser on that computer won't happen with that hardware. You...

    That's a really difficult proposition, unfortunately.

    Most computing tasks today mean running a web browser, and getting a modern web browser on that computer won't happen with that hardware. You have half the RAM of the original Raspberry Pi, which struggles with Firefox. Start your quest by maxing out the RAM capacity of that computer.

    If you want to get the most performance out of that computer, your best bet is probably Gentoo, but that's a bit too much to expect the average person to deal with.

    I seem to recall that Debian once had a 'minimum' installer that only installed the basics to get the computer running. If you are reasonably experienced with Linux, you can start from there and simply install the packages you think your grandfather will need.

    3 votes
    1. [2]
      GrafHasenzahn
      Link Parent
      Unfortunately I don't have money left at the moment. He doesn't need any big packages. It's just a fun present. I will try to get that running. I have minimal experience with Linux but I will try...

      Unfortunately I don't have money left at the moment. He doesn't need any big packages. It's just a fun present. I will try to get that running. I have minimal experience with Linux but I will try my best! In the worst case my father has to dust off his old Linux skills and has to help me. But I think I can get that running.

      1. Akir
        Link Parent
        I wouldn't recommend this kind of project to someone who doesn't have much experience, but Debian's packaging system should at least make it a bit easier. You will just have to do some research to...

        I wouldn't recommend this kind of project to someone who doesn't have much experience, but Debian's packaging system should at least make it a bit easier. You will just have to do some research to find out what packages to install. Just be aware this might end up being a long and frustrating experience.

        2 votes
  5. [4]
    space_cowboy
    (edited )
    Link
    My old laptop had 4GB of RAM. With 4GB of RAM, Firefox would periodically eat up all the ram, causing my system to slow to a crawl until I reboot. My solution was to create a cgroup service to...

    My old laptop had 4GB of RAM. With 4GB of RAM, Firefox would periodically eat up all the ram, causing my system to slow to a crawl until I reboot. My solution was to create a cgroup service to kill firefox when it used 1GB of RAM - I tried setting it even lower, to 512MB, but Firefox wouldn't even run.

    At 256 MB, you would only be able to use less than 256 MB of RAM in order to not use too much virtual memory. Reading online, I saw that supposedly Opera has an even lower memory requirement than firefox, so I copied over my cgroups config, ran it, constraining the opera to just 64MB. It opened up, which was surprising, but it refused to open any web page. Same story at 128MB. So, the modern web is out of the picture for this computer.

    Here are some suggestions, of which only one is a linux distro:

    alpine linux - this is the most minimal distro I know of that can still be used as a desktop system. install icewm, dillo, netsurf, abiword, mpv. Have systemd manage the network. Dillo and netsurf are web browsers that only render html, but no javascript and barely any css. This leaves much of the modern web unusable, but it's the best you can do on that computer.

    haikuos - I've never actually used this, but haiku recently passed the beta phase in development. It has a low memory requirement and is pretty responsive, even on low-end systems.It's worth a try, although it might not work at all.

    openbsd - openbsd has come a long way since I first started using it. The installer is relatively friendly, compared to what it was before. The default desktop, fvwm would probably work fine, although I would recommend icewm or fluxbox. Same apps as above, but without the systemd -- but don't install network manager or anything like that.

    You'll have to do all the configuring to get things looking nice and working intuitvely. Don't make your grandpa do that stuff.

    Maybe set up some scripts and icons for playing different radio stations; that would be cool.

    3 votes
    1. [2]
      Akir
      Link Parent
      Haiku would likely work, but it isn't Linux. Though in this case that is probably a good thing. OP's hardware is so old I'm wondering if they can use some of the original BeOS drivers....

      Haiku would likely work, but it isn't Linux. Though in this case that is probably a good thing. OP's hardware is so old I'm wondering if they can use some of the original BeOS drivers....

      1 vote
      1. Crestwave
        Link Parent
        Late, but I don't think Haiku will run well with <512 MB of RAM now (Alpha4 should work).

        Late, but I don't think Haiku will run well with <512 MB of RAM now (Alpha4 should work).

  6. Diff
    Link
    On a similar PC (although twice the RAM) I ran CrunchBang (based on Debian), although that's dead now. I think the official successor is BunsenLabs? Comes with a pre-configured OpenBox-based...

    On a similar PC (although twice the RAM) I ran CrunchBang (based on Debian), although that's dead now. I think the official successor is BunsenLabs? Comes with a pre-configured OpenBox-based desktop with Tint2 and Conky.

    1 vote
  7. Staross
    Link
    Maybe look for an old distro from that time period, it would be more authentic. Although the installation might be a pain. Otherwise go for windows 98.

    Maybe look for an old distro from that time period, it would be more authentic. Although the installation might be a pain. Otherwise go for windows 98.

    1 vote
  8. DonQuixote
    Link
    Sounds like he wants it as a nostalgia piece. For that you'd hardly need internet, not what it was even designed for. Does your grandfather have a smart phone or iPad for the net? If so then just...

    Sounds like he wants it as a nostalgia piece. For that you'd hardly need internet, not what it was even designed for. Does your grandfather have a smart phone or iPad for the net? If so then just put windows 95 on the PC and get him some old CD games like Myst and Bicycle Solitaire.

    1 vote
  9. [2]
    Crestwave
    Link
    Late to this, but in case you're still working on it, Tiny Core, the most minimal distribution I know (that's still in development) doesn't seem to have been mentioned in this thread. The...

    Late to this, but in case you're still working on it, Tiny Core, the most minimal distribution I know (that's still in development) doesn't seem to have been mentioned in this thread. The graphical image is just 16 MB, and it loads into RAM so it's lightning fast. Despite that, it doesn't use much RAM; the base graphical installation used less than 50 MB running, if I remember correctly (<100 I'm sure).

    My other recommendations would be Alpine, Puppy (though everything runs as root there IIRC), Void, Slackware, etc. Also, have you tried the minimal installation of Debian? I've never tried the full installation and I'm surprised to hear it described as way too heavy for it.

    1 vote
    1. GrafHasenzahn
      Link Parent
      Thanks! Looks the most promising so far

      Thanks! Looks the most promising so far

  10. [2]
    moocow1452
    Link
    Lubuntu would be a bit of a squeeze, but maybe Puppy Linux might cut it, or Debian Minimum with a desktop interface? You may want to look into seeing if you can get some cheap RAM for it, since...

    Lubuntu would be a bit of a squeeze, but maybe Puppy Linux might cut it, or Debian Minimum with a desktop interface? You may want to look into seeing if you can get some cheap RAM for it, since that's likely going to be your easiest hardware upgrade.

    1. GrafHasenzahn
      Link Parent
      I will try to get some Ram but I am broke and it's just a fun gift out of nostalgia. I got recommended puppy on various Websites now, I guess that's my best option! Thanks. Have a great day

      I will try to get some Ram but I am broke and it's just a fun gift out of nostalgia. I got recommended puppy on various Websites now, I guess that's my best option! Thanks. Have a great day

  11. [2]
    unknown user
    Link
    It is more about the desktop environment than distro itself IMHO. Anything with LXDE or XFCE4 would be fine-ish, tho some distros like Fedora and Ubuntu have some heavy processes run on schedule...

    It is more about the desktop environment than distro itself IMHO. Anything with LXDE or XFCE4 would be fine-ish, tho some distros like Fedora and Ubuntu have some heavy processes run on schedule or in the background (auto-update, desktop search, etc). If he previously used XP, LXDE would be a good replacement. I'd just install Debian (or Arch) with LXDE desktop and give it a go, disabling auto update and desktop search maybe.

    For the browser, you can try very light traditional/graphical ones like Dillo or NetSurf, both of which don't have JavaScript support but have an easy UI (unlike more recent vim/emacs-style browsers).

    1. GrafHasenzahn
      Link Parent
      This old potato won't run debian. It's so old that debian would kill it!

      This old potato won't run debian. It's so old that debian would kill it!