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First post, by songo

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My old Celeron M laptop from 2008 do wonders as modern machine thanks to Linux Mint and IceWM even to today so I'm curious - how low can you go with system specs to use Linux as modern machine?

By Linux I mean:
- user-friendly distro, possibly Debian or Arch based, as easy to use as Ubuntu/Mint/Manjaro etc.
- can have full Desktop Enviroment but no necesary, cool Windows Manager just like IceWM will be enough - just need to be a platform for Windows refugees, no Terminal dwellers playground.

I guess modern shit start with high-end Pentium 3 / 1 GB RAM? More? Less?

If you are using something weaker than my 1,73 Celeron / 2GB RAN as Linux based daily driver, please decribe your specs, distro and DE/WM.

Reply 1 of 19, by mr.cat

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I guess ELKS would be a tad too low then 😁

There have been previous threads about OSes for low-spec machines before, for example in this thread: Which operating systems work on i586?
CMOV support can be worked around, but RAM requirements will heavily depend on the actual usage. For modern browsing, even 4GB is sometimes insufficient.

Reply 2 of 19, by dionb

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There are two very different aspects here:
1) what will the software actually run on and
2) what will run acceptably?

1 is simply answered. Originally Linux would run on any 386 or above, but particularly glibc has been a limiting factor. Support for anything prior to 486 was dropped a long time ago. More recently 486 and 586 have been dropped too. Debian is one of the few distros that will still run on a 'naked' P6, so Pentium Pro or P2. Most newer distributions now demand at least SSE2, and many have dropped 32b entirely - even 'lightweight' Lubuntu and Arch. Of course, this is Linux, so somebody has gone and forked the latter to ArchLinux32. It offers most(ly) non-graphical i486 packages, but with graphics i686 is the lowest you can go. So with Debian or Arch(Linux32) a PPro is the lowest you could theoretically go.

Then 2. That's a matter of personal taste and in no small part decided by what you're doing on a system. For coding, office work and the like, you can go very low if you take it easy on the eye candy, although something like LibreOffice is a huge RAM hog, so you want at least 512MB. But web browsing is another matter. Pages have become so script-heavy and resource-intensive that in the low end web browsing is actually the most demanding application, and one that keeps upping the ante. In 2010 I bought an AMD Ontario C-50 based netbook that I ran various Linux distros on. With 1GB RAM it was more than adequate for my purposes (web browsing and writing on the go). By 2013, it had become almost unusable for the same purposes. I was recently shocked to find that a late Core2Quad (Q8200) also felt incredibly sluggish browsing the web. Adding uBlock Origin helped quite a bit, but I'd be very, very wary of recommending anything older than a Core i3 or Phenom II for web browsing these days, and I'd want to equip it with at least 8GB of RAM. Whatever else the system is doing is almost irrelevant - on Puppy Linux or Lubuntu it's as bad as under Windows 10 or Linux Mint.

Drop the web browsing requirement and I'd be happy with any dual CPU (or dual core) machine over 1GHz with at least 1GB RAM for most purposes.

Reply 3 of 19, by Caluser2000

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This EeeBox from 2008 with 2gigs of ram and Atom N370 cpu runs Linux Mint Debian Edition just fine and dandy. It's my daily use sysetem.

There's a glitch in the matrix.

Apparently 32-bit is dead and nobody likes P4s.

Reply 4 of 19, by megatron-uk

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I started with Linux on a 4MB, 40MHz 386SX. That was very, very early days - kernel 0.99 if I remember right. But I spent a lot of the early period (kernel 1.0 - 1.2 ~ish) running it on a 486 DX2-50 (16MB, IIRC). That was X11, TWM/FVWM, Mosaic and very early Netscape Navigator.

These days the slowest bit of 'daily' kit that I run it on is a 3.06GHz Northwood P4 with 2GB and a GT6800. It's liveable, but you really wouldn't want to do much on the modern web. Command line it is absolutely fine, and I use it quite a bit in that context for kernel/C development (it's the newest box I have with fully functioning ISA slots - so the best place for me to do work on kernel drivers for my ISA Transputer interfaces).

I've run a few other flavours of unix (small 'u') over the years, and NetBSD seemed to have the smallest footprint of the non-specialist distributions; it's currently on a Motorola 68060 VME board, sharing a backplane with a VME version of a Sparc 5.

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Reply 6 of 19, by ragefury32

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songo wrote on 2021-04-26, 16:33:
My old Celeron M laptop from 2008 do wonders as modern machine thanks to Linux Mint and IceWM even to today so I'm curious - how […]
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My old Celeron M laptop from 2008 do wonders as modern machine thanks to Linux Mint and IceWM even to today so I'm curious - how low can you go with system specs to use Linux as modern machine?

By Linux I mean:
- user-friendly distro, possibly Debian or Arch based, as easy to use as Ubuntu/Mint/Manjaro etc.
- can have full Desktop Enviroment but no necesary, cool Windows Manager just like IceWM will be enough - just need to be a platform for Windows refugees, no Terminal dwellers playground.

I guess modern shit start with high-end Pentium 3 / 1 GB RAM? More? Less?

If you are using something weaker than my 1,73 Celeron / 2GB RAN as Linux based daily driver, please decribe your specs, distro and DE/WM.

Uh, no. You won’t run modern Linux (i.e anything that has at least Kernel 4.15 or above) with a P3 - your average P3 is either a 440 or ICH0/2 based machine, and those are limited to either 512 or 1GB of RAM...which is less RAM than any raspberry pi under 4b. Anything you plan to run with a modern-ish web browser with multiple tabs (assuming a modern site with all sorts of scripts and HTML5 in the background) will eat up RAM like crazy, so unless you make it impossible to run Firefox/Chromium/whatever in your Linux desktop, you want something that can have at least 2 GB of RAM. You can’t also do much useful with a modern windowing environment (even a slim one like Windowmaker or icewm) with less RAM than, say, 256MB of RAM.

Many distros will also mandate NX/PAE support in the CPU, so that tosses out any CPU before Banias Pentium-M (Banias support PAE but it’s not exposed on CPU capability flags - NX is not supported until the Dothan-533s, so keep that in mind). Realistically you’ll want something around the vintage of a Penryn Core 2 and with as much RAM as you can squeeze into the hardware. For any serious work replacing a Windows machine you probably want something packing at least a Haswell.

In terms of a slower daily driver- not really, but I do use my ThinkPad X31 as a utility machine under partedMagic (some custom distro based on MATE) which is used for doing HDD imaging or troubleshooting. That one is a 1.4GHz Banias Pentium-M with 2GB of RAM, USB2 ports and an mSATA-to-IDE SSD drive. It runs fine for most sysadmin tasks and can even open up a few (less than 5) tabs with Firefox.

Last edited by ragefury32 on 2021-04-27, 12:16. Edited 2 times in total.

Reply 7 of 19, by CwF

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ragefury32 wrote on 2021-04-27, 05:29:

Uh, no. You won’t run modern Linux with a P3 - your average P3

Really. Bummer. I have to say I haven't tried it yet, but I think I have some P3's that would do well. Awhile ago I started to get the itch to try when I started converting virtual machines to i386/i686. They do run better on tighter memory.
And so I got familiar. In current debian there are non-PAE kernels and I've looked for other snags... I need to try it just to see, but the only point would be hardware questions I've seen on some parts I have, so a test bench. I have a 7 slot PCI-e x16 test bench, now nothing for PCI since my real Q35 died, another bad PS.

So what better for testing PCI compatibility than 66MHz PCI! It does make a difference! So maybe I should block of a few weeks of time for fun! I have 4-5 dual tualatins, a few that quit after many years. I know 2 worked 5-6 years ago. I may no longer have a suitable PS since that could be the issue in the dead ones. The all take 4GB.

As far as Linux, my newer versions run things like zram which might not work out without a host E5. Really all compression and encryption stuff should likely be skipped? I can give vm's more than 4GB, but I don't. It's most certainly not the number of tabs that matters, it's what's in the tabs. 4GB is good for dozens and dozens of tabs which actually have useful content. With hot allocation of ram I've rescued hundreds of sessions where the system appears locked, it never is. Actually the primary purpose of my 386 vm's are browsers, bare metal machines don't have browsers.

I'm curious about PCI cards with bridge chips, they seem to cause issues. So a few storage controllers and a few gpu's. For the gpu's, how good are some of the later models at HD. I'm mildly curious about sound card support. And finally could a P3 saturate Gb ethernet? They had PCI-X eth and sata but I can't remember...But dual P3's with all those rare extras might do alright. Without browsing needs, I'd think a lower end P3 would do fine.

I used to know what I was doing...

Reply 8 of 19, by megatron-uk

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A P3 can saturate gig-e, BUT, it depends on what you are feeding it with: if you have a fast disk sub-system or enough RAM to buffer what you are doing, yes. If you have a single IDE disk on a motherboard header and not enough RAM to cache the entire file... Well, your disk read/write speed is going to be the limiting factor.

The issue with gig-e on a P3, if you're not using PCI-X is that it will use virtually the whole bandwidth available on the PCI bus; if you have anything else hanging off it, well, it's not going to be very happy during large/sustained network transfers.

My collection database and technical wiki:
https://www.target-earth.net

Reply 9 of 19, by megatron-uk

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Also, in my experience, one of those dual Tualatins would probably give a better overall experience than a P4, as long as you are not running anything cpu bound (games, video or, again, modern browsing).

My collection database and technical wiki:
https://www.target-earth.net

Reply 10 of 19, by gerry

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these things depend on what you will do but as you specified user friendly and gui i would add, for a 'normal user', that it would also need to able to go online and use common websites with acceptable performance

I can add comparable experience here with a core duo e1200 machine (the lowest dual core celeron of Allendale architecture, a 2008 budget cpu basically) with 4gb ram and 775 board supporting gma950 graphics)

it was fine for normal browsing with Firefox on peppermint OS ( a light and friendly enough linux, not unlike mint) and could run youtube fine at 480, but not really above that

my estimate is that you could just about get acceptable performance from 2gb ram and a pentium D , intel atom with 2 cores or maybe even a single core 64bit system like late athlon 64 (acceptable meaning you don't mind a few more stutters and pauses now and then online)

in summary lots of machines from the era 2008, with a few from before and a lot after, will be useable with linux

further down in spec i have tested puppy linux before, its possible to get an old 32 bit system going with a borderline useable, but otherwise friendly enough linux - but i think average users would get frustrated with some online experiences

The raspberry pi 4 gives a better account of itself online than the above example, so it would make sense to get that in place of a borderline desktop for serious use

Reply 11 of 19, by mrfrakes

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Actually, I am running the latest version of Debian on a PII 400MHz with 192MB of RAM. I am using the Q4OS distro with the Trinity Desktop (https://q4os.org/index.html). They claim it can go as low as 300 MHz and 128MB which seems plausible.
The system is surprisingly responsive, even the integrated web browser is usable. But forget about firefox etc.
It was a fight to get the video drivers going since they dont ship with the newest version of Debian and the install took an eternity, but other than that it was a pretty easy experience.
I do recommend a big swap partition and fast hard drive or SSD with IDE adapter

Reply 12 of 19, by ahurst

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The lowest I've gone recently was Lubuntu LTS on an Dell Optiplex GX260 with an early P4. That just needed to serve as a GUI for transferring files off of the machine to USB (it collects scientific data using a DOS program on one partition so a dual-boot setup is needed). The biggest pain was the graphics drivers: it had a Rage Pro card and refused to work at 1280x1024 (the LCD's native resolution), so after an hour or so of wrestling with X.org I scavenged an early Radeon card from a graveyard machine in the lab and used that instead. Still felt pretty sluggish even with the lightweight WM.

As for good lightweight GUI-based distros for old hardware, I'm a big fan of Crunchbang++ & Bunsen Labs! They're both basically just Debian Stable + OpenBox + Tint2, but they both have a really nice default configuration that's highly usable out of the box. I'm currently running CrunchBang++ on a Dell D420, which has a 32-bit ultra-low-voltage Core Duo CPU and 1.5GB RAM, and it's incredibly smooth/snappy for such weak hardware.

Reply 13 of 19, by songo

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dionb wrote on 2021-04-26, 17:36:

But web browsing is another matter. Pages have become so script-heavy and resource-intensive that in the low end web browsing is actually the most demanding application, and one that keeps upping the ante.

I use lightweight web-browsers like Qupzilla or K-Meleon, kill Javascripts, use add-blockers etc. - without that, I wouldn't be able to surf net on my single-core laptop.

Surfing present internet without 'condom' would propably choke even my desktop Core 2 Duo.

Now I'm tempted to buy Thinkpad T23 and try how much can I squeeze from that hardware.

Reply 14 of 19, by RandomStranger

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About a year or so ago I tried my universal AGP test bench (Pentium 4 1.60A; 512MB DDR333; Abit SA7; X1050) with Debian 9 Xface.
It was too slow to reasonably use. Maybe as a strictly offline machine for basic word processing it would work, but even basic browsing on moderately outdated sites were a challenge.
Pentium Dual Core E2000 series and newer however do fairly well.

sreq.png

Reply 15 of 19, by gerry

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RandomStranger wrote on 2021-04-30, 08:00:

About a year or so ago I tried my universal AGP test bench (Pentium 4 1.60A; 512MB DDR333; Abit SA7; X1050) with Debian 9 Xface.
It was too slow to reasonably use. Maybe as a strictly offline machine for basic word processing it would work, but even basic browsing on moderately outdated sites were a challenge.
Pentium Dual Core E2000 series and newer however do fairly well.

"basic word processing", that phrase always reminds me of how many people describe low end machines, usually "basic word processing and web surfing"

the irony that with a very lightweight OS basic word processing is available way before (modern) web surfing in specification terms, for which as you say an early core duo +2gb ram is roughly the minimum

anyway it always struck me that all low end computers through time are good for "basic word processing" but a low end computer so described now is immensely more powerful than one 25 years ago and yet both could handle word processing just fine

if a person actually only wanted to do word processing or less intensive things like that then a 25 year old PC set up with suitable software would find a good role

an aside, spending more time on peppermint os and upgrading from e1200 celeron to e4600 has made a difference online for things like youtube

Reply 16 of 19, by RandomStranger

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gerry wrote on 2021-04-30, 08:17:
"basic word processing", that phrase always reminds me of how many people describe low end machines, usually "basic word process […]
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RandomStranger wrote on 2021-04-30, 08:00:

About a year or so ago I tried my universal AGP test bench (Pentium 4 1.60A; 512MB DDR333; Abit SA7; X1050) with Debian 9 Xface.
It was too slow to reasonably use. Maybe as a strictly offline machine for basic word processing it would work, but even basic browsing on moderately outdated sites were a challenge.
Pentium Dual Core E2000 series and newer however do fairly well.

"basic word processing", that phrase always reminds me of how many people describe low end machines, usually "basic word processing and web surfing"

the irony that with a very lightweight OS basic word processing is available way before (modern) web surfing in specification terms, for which as you say an early core duo +2gb ram is roughly the minimum

anyway it always struck me that all low end computers through time are good for "basic word processing" but a low end computer so described now is immensely more powerful than one 25 years ago and yet both could handle word processing just fine

if a person actually only wanted to do word processing or less intensive things like that then a 25 year old PC set up with suitable software would find a good role

an aside, spending more time on peppermint os and upgrading from e1200 celeron to e4600 has made a difference online for things like youtube

The question was about modern, user-friendly Linux (though one could argue that Debian is not the most user friendly of all). Even basic word processing can be a struggle when the OS itself wastes all the hardware resources. Back in 2009 when I first installed the pre-release version of Windows 7 on my daily driver I was just about to sell (ECS P4VXAD+; Celeron 2.4GHz; 768MB DDR-400; Radeon 9600 Pro), it barely could open MS Word. And I played Crysis on that PC on XP. True, only with 11fps, but I could beat the first chapter.

sreq.png

Reply 17 of 19, by ragefury32

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RandomStranger wrote on 2021-04-30, 09:04:
gerry wrote on 2021-04-30, 08:17:
"basic word processing", that phrase always reminds me of how many people describe low end machines, usually "basic word process […]
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RandomStranger wrote on 2021-04-30, 08:00:

About a year or so ago I tried my universal AGP test bench (Pentium 4 1.60A; 512MB DDR333; Abit SA7; X1050) with Debian 9 Xface.
It was too slow to reasonably use. Maybe as a strictly offline machine for basic word processing it would work, but even basic browsing on moderately outdated sites were a challenge.
Pentium Dual Core E2000 series and newer however do fairly well.

"basic word processing", that phrase always reminds me of how many people describe low end machines, usually "basic word processing and web surfing"

the irony that with a very lightweight OS basic word processing is available way before (modern) web surfing in specification terms, for which as you say an early core duo +2gb ram is roughly the minimum

anyway it always struck me that all low end computers through time are good for "basic word processing" but a low end computer so described now is immensely more powerful than one 25 years ago and yet both could handle word processing just fine

if a person actually only wanted to do word processing or less intensive things like that then a 25 year old PC set up with suitable software would find a good role

an aside, spending more time on peppermint os and upgrading from e1200 celeron to e4600 has made a difference online for things like youtube

The question was about modern, user-friendly Linux (though one could argue that Debian is not the most user friendly of all). Even basic word processing can be a struggle when the OS itself wastes all the hardware resources. Back in 2009 when I first installed the pre-release version of Windows 7 on my daily driver I was just about to sell (ECS P4VXAD+; Celeron 2.4GHz; 768MB DDR-400; Radeon 9600 Pro), it barely could open MS Word. And I played Crysis on that PC on XP. True, only with 11fps, but I could beat the first chapter.

Modern Linux, lightweight linux and user friendly Linux are not really the same thing. Modern Linux implies userland compiled with support for hardware features like CMOV (at least P6), NX/PAE (at least a Prescott-2M P4 or a Dothan-533 Pentium-M) and at least a relatively recent kernel with libc. For many of the Linux distros meant for usage on very old machines (like DSLinux) I cannot even tell you if anyone backported all of the security fixes meant to deal with all the bugs that was found in the Kernel 3+ era.

Slap on a GUI (which even for something like fluxbox requires a solid amount of RAM), a usable set of applications (not CLI but GUI based) and you are talking at least 256 to 512MB of RAM. Add a modern-ish web browser (which requires SSE2 nowadays so it’s at least an Intel Banias or an AMD K8/Hammer series) and your RAM demand goes up even more.

Quite a number of people here seem to have forgotten that even the lowly first Diamondville Atom (N270) came out 12+ years ago, has practically the same eflags as a Prescott Pentium 4, is attached to a 945GC (which supports 2GB of RAM) and an ICH7m from 2006, and that’s already much more capable than a Tualatin P3. And in 2007 you already have a Merom Core 2 that can do so much more than even that Atom. Or look at what modernity buys you in 2021 (minus the impact of the current microchip shortage) - 350 dollars for a laptop with a Ryzen 3200U that will run rings around most things made in the past 5 years.

For me, unless you run OpenWRT or stay away from modern UIs but insists on modern Linux for daily driving you need a newer CPU (at least a mid-P4, or better yet, a Merom C2D) and more RAM. If you run 20 year old P6 machines, you are pretty much looking at older Linux distros that is based on kernel 2.6 or 3.x, and most won’t boot with less than 32-64MB of RAM. I mean, part of it is code bloat but it’s still the result of years of progress that has left your old hardware waaaaaay behind.

Last edited by ragefury32 on 2021-04-30, 16:41. Edited 1 time in total.

Reply 18 of 19, by pentiumspeed

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PAE appeared in Pentium Pro onwards. Athlon onwards as well.

Pentium M PAE support is Dothan which is all 2MB cache Pentium M only. The Banias did not have PAE.

Cheers,

Great Northern aka Canada.

Reply 19 of 19, by ragefury32

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pentiumspeed wrote on 2021-04-30, 14:21:

PAE appeared in Pentium Pro onwards. Athlon onwards as well.

Pentium M PAE support is Dothan which is all 2MB cache Pentium M only. The Banias did not have PAE.

Cheers,

Eh.
Actually, Banias does have PAE - it's just not published on eflags/cpuid capability bits. If you include forcepae as a boot argument (which is what I do on my X31), it'll load just fine. However, the reason why PAE is required in those kernels is not merely to allow the CPU to address more than 4GB of physical RAM (the 855 chipset used by the Banias have a max RAM limit of 2GB due to northbridge RAM controller limitations, and you'll need to wait until the 3-series chipsets to come out in 2007 to permit 8GB on Intel machines) - it's because the NX/XD (no execute) bit for a given memory page is only honored if the CPU Is running in protected mode AND either running on 64 bit (long) mode or if it's on PAE mode.
It's supposed to be a cheap-and-easy way to prevent buffer overflow exploits, but methods of defeating it (return-to-libc being an example) is not difficult either.

The NX bit did not come to the Banias, or the Dothan- 400s - you will need a Dothan-533 or newer.