Best Distro for an old machine

Nicholas Leippe nick at
Wed Dec 5 15:44:39 MST 2007

I have run linux acceptably on much slower hardware.

I have run LFS on a P166, complete with KDE 3.2.  It could be sluggish at 
times. (It ran just fine for a headless firewall though).
Currently, my slowest machine is a dual P233MMX running gentoo (my headless 

Gentoo installs don't take any longer than any other distro if you use the 
packages cd and don't bother to update anything but your kernel. If you do 
want to update, just let it run overnight--and it's not really a big deal 
since no large desktop apps are installed.

I have gentoo on a P3 500 laptop--it actually runs very smoothly. (I did 
upgrade it to a 7200rpm drive though--that's really the killer on a laptop.)

My desktop at home ran LFS w/KDE just fine, starting with a dual P3 450, way 
back in the day. Then up to a dual P3 933, it did run a little snappier for 
some things--though on the same, fast scsi drives it didn't affect load times 
too much--just FPS in quake.

My desktop at home is now a dual 1.4GHz P3, running gentoo, and does so 
perfectly smoothly with KDE 3.5. I can easily sustain 125FPS in quake3 on it 
with an original 64MB ATI radeon, and can usually sustain 80FPS with an even 
older 32MB Matrox G400.

I think the biggest factor is how much memory it has and what software you 
choose to run.  Disk speed is only going to matter for load times for most 

If you really want to keep it slimmed down, I'd suggest being picky about your 
window manager, and skipping any desktop environment all together. DEs tend 
to hog resources.

The newer 2.6 kernel, xorg X11, and distros all set up the MTRRs and such to 
optimize video memory transfers for you--so there isn't much performance 
tweaking to do anymore in that regard.

In the end, I'd say it shouldn't matter what distro you use to get a kernel on 
the box. Just be picky about what is actually running. Ditch the DE and go to 
a slim window manager. Turn off all services you don't use (or don't install 
them in the first place), and it should work well for you.  Generally, a 
kernel is a kernel. It's the workload that is different.

I'd say that any machine 500MHz or more is not a slow box for the average user 
(web browsing, text editing, email, playing video or audio). Gaming can tax a 
box, but except for the newest graphics-card-eating games, any 1GHz box or 
faster can be adequate for many of the best games ever made.

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