Jump to content

Suggestions for a light distro for old hardware


Recommended Posts

Just last weekend I put together some ol' parts of abandoned PCs and managed to get this together (I feel like dr. Frankenstein and MacGyver all in one... :D ).


I would like to hear your suggestions for a lean (and mean) distro for the following PC hw-set and use.



PII 400 MHz processor

Motherboard (something from last millennium; 1999)

2 x 128 MB (DIMM) of RAM

ATI PCI 9xxx (something) w/ 256 MB

Planet WL-8310 PCI card for WiFi/WLAN

HP DVD Player (don't remember the model)

HD space of massive 160 GB!

TV set (100 Hz TV; CRT) as a screen (VGA capable) with max resolution of 640x480.


I need this PC to access my Wireless LAN and to mainly act as a video player for my PVR files. The PVR is located downstairs and hooked with a USB cable to one of my network PCs (running MDV 2007.1 Free) and it can be accessed with ftp. So I can run the videos from my upstairs PC (this old pc) and play them in the TV set I have connected to it (as the PC Screen).


I would need to have the following features

1) Easy to use and install sw (I really like urpmi and MCC)

2) I should be able to install atleast the following SW components

- Madwifi/ndiswrapper for my wlan card,

- VLC videoplayer for my files

- ssh and ftp

- perhaps some other video and audio codecs and sw

- Firefox

- NO Open Office, NO e-mail, NO 3D gaming (OK, perhaps something easy and simple for my 4-year-old son :D )


I'm now running MDV 2007.1, but with that poor resolution some parts of the software pop-ups don't even fit on the screen that size! One good example is the "Configure your desktop" where I can set my screen resolution. I cannot see the OK or Cancel buttons as they are below the screen...


My main pain with Mandriva together with this HW is the screen resolution and the general slowness in some cases.


I'm familiar with Mandriva and KDE, but am not afraid to try some other distros or window managers. I don't need any eye-candy for this PC, but need to make it operate smoothly (with mainly vid's downloaded from my PVR or play them directly from the PVR through the wlan w/ ftp).


All your comments and advice is greatly appreciated. :thumbs:


EDIT: I did search the forum and read e.g. this thread: https://mandrivausers.org/index.php?showtopic=39430

Edited by dude67
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Arch has all the software you want available in it's package repositories and would run a treat on that hardware - though it'd be a learning experience if you've only used Mandriva.


Other than that, there's lots of suggestions in the other thread.


Play around, i'm sure you'll find a distro you like.




Disclaimer: I'm an Arch developer, so I've got an inherent bias.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

KDE is great for use on a PC with enough power. Take a look at Fluxbox or WindowMaker for lighter weight desktops too. Make sure your graphics card drivers are up to speed too. If you let the hardware take the load (sounds like you've got a good video card), then your CPU may not work quite as hard.


Something else to consider is the amount of services that Mandriva (or any distro) uses from installation. If you don't need alot of the services running (and they're not necessary) disable them. For instance, I have no bluetooth devices on my computer, but a bluetooth daemon is enabled by default. Disable those services.


Good luck!



Link to comment
Share on other sites

OK guys, thanks! I'll give Arch a go first...


Is there anything special I should know; keeping in mind that Mandriva is the only Linux distro I've used. That and PCLOS in 2006 for a short period of time.


OK, one last question before I start to burn the CD: How do I install the different programmes in Arch? I found e.g. the VLC in the Arch repos (http://www.archlinux.org/packages/583/) - so how does one go about installing new stuff in Arch (like urpmi or MCC in Mandriva)? Is it the pacman I read something about in Arch wiki?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

if you like mandriva, and dont we all?


try MCNL




I JUST installed it on that EXACT same pc, w/o using the TV as the CRT, and it works GREAT


now I will admit, I just spent $10 and added 256MB sick of ram, bringing it to a whopping 384MB, but your HD out does mine by a factor of about 10.


plus you get all the joys of MCC and urmpi

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I kinda like the idea of not having to give up Mandriva, but I would like something that is not a "live" version (or One as Mandriva calls it). There will be no other OS running in the background or as a dual boot.


And I'm definitely looking for something more on the smaller side for the window manager (from KDE) as I need to be able to operate the system with a VGA screen of 640x480. Well - I guess MCNLive comes with a bunch of options to KDE as does Mandriva.


Anyway, thanks for the tip mindwave - I'll look into MCNLive even though I think I'm trying this Arch first.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For installing stuff in Arch, we use a package manager named pacman.

"pacman -Sy foo" syncs repos and installs package foo, "pacman -R foo" removes it, pacman -Q foo queries for it...

For packages that are not directly accessible via the core, extra and community repos, there's the AUR build system, which is (IMHO) the simplest you can find in any distro (excluding Slackware, but in Slack packages do not hold any dependencies information, so its really easy to screw your system if you install stuff randomly).

Everything you will possibly need to know is online on a comprehensive wiki.


Most things are done via console, but the configuration files and initscripts are really few and very simple- so its not easy to go very wrong.

The installation from the base ISO is extremely fast (less than ten minutes for me), while your first configuration will take some time, but after that it will be easier every time. Just check the above wiki, and pay some visits to the Archlinux forums... there are a few snobs there (but this happens everywhere), but the big majority of users are very friendly and eager to help.

I would also use XFCE4 over such a rig- its a complete desktop environment, unlike IceWM, Fluxbox and such, and very light on resources. E17 is another option, but its too flashy for my taste and slightly buggy as well.

Edited by scarecrow
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks again guys for your ideas. And for the short tutorial by scarecrow.



I have thought of Xubuntu and haven't ruled that out yet. BTW how easy is the package installation in *ubuntu systems? I guess they are as plentyful as Mandriva's repos?


But for now, I will first try out Arch.


As for the choice of desktops, I think that xfce4 and E17 both look nice and lean.


One thing though: Has anyone (recently, not years ago :P ) tried any of these WMs with VGA 640x480 resolution? As I stated, KDE in Mandriva is definitely not designed to work on that low resolution.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have thought of Xubuntu and haven't ruled that out yet. BTW how easy is the package installation in *ubuntu systems? I guess they are as plentyful as Mandriva's repos?


Quite easy. You have Synaptic Package Manager for gui, and you have apt-get/aptitude for commandline. If you setup the sourcelist correct you'll have over 22000 applications/libs available. Also there's alot of unofficial sources you can set up if you like. A good place to start to setup the sourcelist is; http://www.ubuntu-nl.org/source-o-matic/

You can set it up by gui, but easier by command if you know how (or I can help you if needed).


Linux game companies have started to make their games available so you can put them into your sourcelist (but usually these games require more horsepower than your system.



Astromenace and other viewizard games; http://www.viewizard.com/astromenace/index_linux.php

Defcon and other introversion games;

echo 'deb http://download.introversion.co.uk/defcon/linux/contrib/ubuntu-feisty/ feisty main' | sudo tee -a /etc/apt/sources.list

sudo wget http://download.introversion.co.uk/defcon/linux/contrib/ubuntu-feisty/introversion-packages-slimg-key.gpg -P /tmp
sudo apt-key add /tmp/introversion-packages-slimg-key.gpg
sudo aptitude update
sudo aptitude install defcon

(can also be done by gui).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Actually you can install almost any distro on that hardware. You only have to customize the setup and read the basic FAQs/Wikis for the distros, so you won't feel lost in case you are dropped to a command line environment for the installation (like in arch or gentoo).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

(or I can help you if needed).

Thanks for the offer - I'll hold you to that if I deside to install Xubuntu and need advice. :thumbs:


Astromenace and other viewizard games; http://www.viewizard.com/astromenace/index_linux.php

Does that install also on Mandriva? My main gaming HW runs MDV 2007.1. :o

Link to comment
Share on other sites

OK, I did some installing yesterday. Unfortunately my time with this was a bit limited, but I managed to do the following (w/ the following errors...).


I had burned two CDs: Arch linux and Xubuntu Feisty Fawn.


First I wondered if I would be able to keep the /home partition where I had already DL'ed a bunch of vids from my PVR, but then desided I would not even try to do that as I feared it would mess things up or at least make it more complicated.


The Arch experience


I booted with the Arch CD. The first parts seemed OK, but I really cannot remember all the choices I made. The first thing I did was to choose the Finnish keybord set and the partition went well as far as I could tell (I partitioned the whole HD anew).


I chose all the base packages (as suggested in the installation guide) and chose a few packages from the network packages (I could not find any madwifi packages).


I made no changes to the config files (I chose vim editor), except at one point I alredy typed in my IP Gateway (, but I was ahead of myself as I didn't have Madwifi installed and the only way this PC can communicate with outside world is the Atheros chipset WLAN PCI module. I do have Madwifi on my USB flash and I'm planning to install it after the system would be installed.


OK I rebooted (with and without the CD inside) and every time got Kernel panic! It said something like it not find some partition, but cannot remember what it was exactly.


I re-installed the whole thing, but I got the same Kernel panic.


As I said I had limited time and had to pop out for awhile. When I got back, I decided to try Xubuntu.


The Xubuntu experience


I put the Xubuntu CD into the slot and booted.


I saw some choices in the welcome screen where I chose e.g. the VGA screen and Finnish kb settings. Then I chose 1. for the installation.


It went fine. I had some chores to do (yes, my wife makes me do work around the house... ;) ) at that time and went back in 20 mins Xubuntu was running! OK, I thought this goes nicely.


The desktop however had no menus (no panels on top or bottom of screen) nor was it the resolution my TV set would have been happy with. There was a desktop, but none of the text-labels of the icons on the desktop were legible... I tried to find my way into the screen resolution menu with my RMB menu, but as I am not familiar with *ubuntu or xfce desktop, I felt like someone who had just lost his contact lenses...


I had to bring in my flat panel from my main PC... Not a good sign as this was something I was hoping to avoid...


Well, I got to the screen resolution menu, but there were only the following choises: Default (the one currently on with a far higher resolution than 640x480), 640x480 and 800x600. OK, I thought this is great, so I chose 640x480. But the screen was totally screwed. The best way to describe it is to say that it had vertical lines, but they were mixed and the all the lines were not in line with the next... I could see something changing when I moved my mouse or pressed tab to change the active selection in that window...


Aahh, I thought, this is the TFT acting up for very low res. source. I changed to my TV set, but no help. It then returned (or I pressed cancel - don't remember which came first) to that higher resolution. I also tried the other res. of 800x600, but no help. It was the same...


I rebooted and re-installed the system (remember, it was easy, it fired up the live version itself).


Now I got better screen choises! There was even the possibility to choose 320x200 resolution! OK, I chose 640x480 and it worked fine!


I started the installation with the shortcut on the desktop. Nice, but... Now I got the same problem I was running away from in Mandriva/KDE environment: With this resolution the whole installation dialog could not fit in my screen!!! Aaargh...! :wall:


I changed back to a higher resolution (don't remember what it was now) and finished the installation process. That was all the time I had left yesterday for this project and shut down the system. I told Xubuntu to shut down (from exit) and took my TFT back downstrairs. When I returned one hour later, the PC had not turned itself off, but instead I had to press the power button and it shut down immediately...


I'll do some more testing tonight, but I'm thinking of trying the Arch installation once more. I really was disapointed that the xfce didn't work well with 640x480 resolution screen. I'm hoping to try out the E17 wm that scarecrow was talking about. If that would work...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...