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 Friday, June 23 2017 @ 15:40 CEST

Lightweight Linux distros to revive old PCs

   
GNU/LinuxSo, if you want to revive an old PC (desktop or laptop) so it can be used for everyday tasks with Linux, what options do you have?
The following requirements should be met
  • it should be up to date. Stable is good, but up to date is needed for security fixes.
  • it should be possible to install it permanently (preferably from an installer on the live image)
  • it should be easy to install additional programs
  • it should have a large repository of additional programs, covering common, most-used applications
  • it should work out of the box with the hardware in the older machine; you shouldn't need to install additional drivers to get the hardware in the machine to work
A live image is helpful as it makes it easier to test a distro.

Which distributions are listed as suitable?
  • Linux Lite - based on Ubuntu LTS, newest release is based on Ubuntu 16.04.1 LTS
  • Tiny Core Linux - CorePlus is an installation image which allows you to choose window managers, keyboard layout, wireless drivers.
  • Trisquel Mini - it uses LXDE and is well suited to older hardware. Newest release is from 2014.
  • MX Linux - uses XFce, based on Debian "Jessie" (8.6), newest release is from December 2016.
  • VectorLinux - Standard Edition is built for older PCs. Newest release is from 2015.
  • LXLE - based on Lubuntu LTS, latest release is 16.04.1, both in 32-bit and 64-bit versions.
  • Lubuntu - Ubuntu with LXDE desktop. Both "normal" and LTS versions available. Newest release is 16.10.
PIXEL for PC and MAC can't currently be installed permanently, or else it would be on the list too.
Now only the testing remains.

The test machine is an old Dell Latitude D620 laptop. Intel Core 2 (T5500) cpu, 3 GB RAM, 1440x900 display, iwl3945 wireless. I have take out the hard drive (to avoid any accidents), so it only has the usb stick that I insert as storage.

Tests

  1. TinyCore Linux - I booted from the 7.2 CorePlus image. After selecting X/Gui + wireless + firmware from the boot menu, I could get the wireless network going. Display resolution is set to 1024x768. The image itself is very bare - almost no applications installed. The "Apps" tool can be used to install (I selected Download + load) more apps, like a browser (chromium), but you get an old version (23.0.1271.64 - it is from 2012). Based on the unusual interface, I would think that this isn't an ideal start for newcomers.
  2. Linux Lite - I booted from a Linux Lite 3.2 usb live image. Display resolution is correct, wireless works, the image has an updated kernel, installer, applications (Firefox 49.0.2), a system for updating software, installing drivers and so on (only for use after you have installed Linux Lite - not tested). Video and sound works. The live image of Linux Lite works well.
  3. Trisquel - I booted from a Trisquel Mini 7.0 usb live image (it's from 2014). It comes up with correct display resolutiion 1440x900, but it doesn't have free firmware for the iwl3945 wireless network card, so I can't get online. Thus ends this test.
  4. MX Linux - I booted MX-16 386 pae from a usb live image. Display resolution correct, wireless works, I can't seem to get the keyboard layout to change with the provided settings application (it is US both in Firefox and in Terminal). Video and audio works, updates works (they are announced at least).
  5. VectorLinux - ok, this is an install image, not a live image. It boots straight into the installer and wants to know which disk it can install on.I solved that by rebooting and inserting another 8 GB usb stick (SanDisk this time) in addition. I selected automatic install, the Kingston usb stick. It then asks for username and password, plus adminstrator password (root I guess) and starts formatting the usb stick. Next it installs packages, this takes a while. After the install finishes, I try to boot from the installed usb stick. The grub meny comes up with two entries, but none of them boot into a working Linux. Test ends.
  6. LXLE - I booted from a 16.04.1 32 bit version. Display resolution correct, wireless works, sound works. I changed keyboard layout with Lxkeymap from Control Menu, Preferences - ok. I can browse the web, but the included browser is SeaMonkey 2.40, which is very old. For fun, ran the "Updates" (it is a script) to see if it would update SeaMonkey (and other stuff). Not a good idea, there isn't enough space to do that. I tried install on a 8 GB usb stick, but the installer complained that it needs at last 8.2 GB for an install, so I changed to a 16 GB usb stisck (SanDisk). The installer starts, but the the installer window quits, and a while later LXpanel quits too. I restarted the machine from the live usb, and tried the install again. Works much better now. Murphy syndrome? Installation took some time, but worked well.
  7. Lubuntu - I booted Lubuntu 16.10 live image off a usb stick. Display resolution correct, wireless works, video and audio works. It has an installer (not tested) and additional programs can be installed with System Tools/Software (it doesn't work from a live image). Install - I tested by installing to a 8 GB usb stick. After a bit of trouble with existing partitions on that usb stick (I ended up using parted to delete them), the install worked very well.After I had booted from the installed usb stick, it asked me to download software updates, which worked well. Installing software also works well.
 

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