Linux(?) on My Old Computer(s)

Trying to find a Suitable Linux environment for an aging desktop and a netbook. …

Part 1

As a long time Windows user (though my introduction to computers was a UNIX box at work) I am considering switching OS to Linux.
Currently running XP SP3 on both machines, each has 1Gb of RAM. The desktop is running very slowly (there is No spyware/malware/virus on the machine) and the netbook runs just fine.
As MS will end support of XP soon I want to upgrade to a more modern OS where updates are still available.
Also I am one of those that does not believe in tossing aside perfectly good hardware. I am going to replace my desktop, but not immediately as I have household repairs to do and other priorities that come before a new(er) computer.

So with some spare time I have been trying versions of Linux that have attracted my interest. My results surprized me as I had come to believe that older computers could be have new life brought to them with Linux. Sadly this is not true for most of the Linux flavours I’ve tried. As Linux makes small inroads into the computing scene, it is also targeting newer more powerful machines.
There are a couple of options, but many just failed to work for me.

– Stable
– Multi-user
– Simple, everyone has to be able to use it and it must do what most families do with PCs (email, shop, research, games, YouTube, etc)
– good variety of available software
– Hopefully the same OS for both the Desktop and Netbook

I have been downloading various lightweight Live versions of Linux distros to test and have limited success. Also I’ve been to my friendly local library to get some material.

Issue Number One:
The Desktop is old enough it will not boot from USB, only CD so I have to create or buy a Live CD for each distro. The video card is the main culprit here. An on board Intel card from the about eight years ago.

Issue Number Two:
The netbook, although working well and pretty quick for an Atom processor, has a Broadcom Wireless card. I am finding that very few Linux Live CD distros support this and just getting the proper firmware is difficult and installing is no easy feat either.

What I’ve tried:

DSL (Damn Small Linux)
+ I love the idea of this
+ it actually works well except for wireless
– simply not practical for family use

+ quick, responsive and quite stable on the desktop
+ recognizes my Trackball!!
– more research indicates it is no longer supported!? very sad 🙁

+ look and feel is what I like
+ lots of available software
– no built in support for the Broadcom
– latest version no longer supports the video card on the desktop

Fedora (LXDE)
+ again look and feel
+ lots of available software
– no built in support for the Broadcom
– latest version no longer supports the video card on the desktop

+ nice looking and quick when working
– no built in support for the Broadcom
– not very stable on the desktop but seems OK on the Netbook

+ nice looking, quick
+ lots of available software
– again, not stable on my desktop
– unsure about this new arrangement with Amazon… so I’m gonna pass

+ nice looking, quick, stable on the netbook
+ one of the few distros I’ve been able to load With Persistence on a USB
+ lots of available software
– I am not a
fan of cloud apps (software)
– took a lot of work to get the wireless working (but it works!!)

+ nice looking, quick, stable on the netbook
+ Unix, much more stable than any Linux I’ve tried
+ plenty of applications out there
+ says it recognizes all my Netbook devices (video card, sound card and network) but I’ve had little luck with the wireless
– the Unix learning curve (there are GUIs to do most things, but the terminal quickest and is most powerful. I will have to re-learn vi or learn ‘Emacs’ as well as other command utilities.
I REALLY LIKE THIS ONE and I’m going to take the extra effort to try to make this one work.
– not a lot comes with the USB distro, not even a browser
– research into the Broadcom wireless card issue is telling that installing the recommended Broadcom drivers may “brick” my system. So it’s not for the netbook.

Having found I really liked the Unix, my next plan is to download FreeBSD. Indications, from the documentation, lead me to believe that it does support the Broadcom wireless card, and the old Intel video card…

More to come…

8 Replies to “Linux(?) on My Old Computer(s)”

  1. Puppy Linux is incredibly fast, runs great on older hardware, has plenty of useful software in a default installation and has available plenty of gadgets which enable compilation of programs, web-servers etc. I do not know about the broadcom issue but I am able to run netgear wpn111 wireless usb using ndiswrapper. FreeBSD is a favorite of mine and I was surprised when wireless was easier to configure on FreeBSD than it was in slackware linux. Puppy Linux can be installed to its own partition, or saved to a windows partition as a .sfs file, and will maintain persistence. I think your games criterion will prove to be a pain, no matter what “nix” you use, especially on older hardware. Depends on what games.. good luck

  2. I agree Puppy is great on older hardware. Its main limitation, to me, was always to be running as root.

    I did not try FreeBSD, but did try PCBSD and was Very impressed with it.

    My old desktop is now running [i]Tickety Boo[/i]:D with PCLinucOS with LXDE / XFCE. One Laptop is now running Mageia3 (KDE) and the last one (a netbook) is still on Windows XP until I can find a way to to program my radio (its interface program is Windows only).
    Games are not too big an issue, mostly solitaire and 3-D Pool.

  3. I used to be a Mandriva user, but the version 3-4 years ago was too demanding on my old hardware. I currently use Mageia, which split off from Mandriva 4 years ago.

    Most of the “Live” distros are designed to run as root … but if you are using a CD or DVD, you can’t do any permanent damge running as root. If you actually install to the hard drive, they will insist you create a normal user account.

    You didn’t say what kind of trackball it was. Logitech trackballs (like the one I use) should work well with most distros.

    One of the nicest live distros is Sabayon.

    Having said all that … Mandriva wrote the hardware detection routines used by about half the versions of Linux.

  4. Everyone always recommends Puppy for older or more limited hardware. However, Puppy runs entirely from ram, so it’s probably a good idea to max out the ram in any machine you want to use it on. (well, for long term use)

  5. I use Crunchbang. Surprisingly, I installed Mageia for a colleague and they’ve begged me to put Crunchbang back as they can’t understand Mageia! 😛
    That surprised me as I’ve always thought that Crunchbang is a little too techie for the ‘normal’ user!

  6. The trackball is an ancient Logitech Marble something… (serial port).
    I should try Sabayon again. I could never get the LiveCD to even load…
    An old version of Mandriva (from the Library’s Linux collection) was what got me moving towards PCLinux and Mageia.

  7. Agreed…

    Tried Crunchbang and liked it, though not too sure my bride would feel the same way. Once I am more comfortable with Linux I may try it again to see how easy I can make it for non-technical users.

  8. Hi had no problems on oldish laptops using Zorin so far, apart from one old desktop machine with only Linux as the OS.

    Not an IT guru but Linux distro’s if installed as dual boot seem to me to not only look at the hardware but might also look at the windows drivers used for the machine in question during install so have left the old XP install intact after resizing the partition and tell them if they need to use there windows software just do it offline.

    Running a nine year old workstation with Zorin OS 9, AMD card, wireless etc working fine, even a cheap and nasty wireless keyboard and mouse detected and working just fine too.

    Regards, Ian.

Leave a Reply