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(?) Suggestions for *low* end systems?

From tag

Answered By: Thomas Adam, Jay R. Ashworth, Jimmy O'Regan, John Karns

In all the years of installfesting, hackery, hints, and consulting, I get a lot more questions from ordinary folk about how to make last years... or sometimes last decade's... hardware run half decently rather than walk with a limp.

Lots of articles I see about the latest and greatest, or what K and Gnome have improved for everyone this season, just aren't too useful to folks buying a laptop at the local surplus shop though. Low memory is almost always a more painful limit than low CPU oomph, though that too, is a factor.

(!) [Thomas] Well, let's see. My P166, with 32MB RAM ran X11 (version 3 and 4) not too badly. Granted, it wouldn't run KDE or GNOME, but if you were patient, it would run X, and you could get somne usability out of it....
What helped were a number of things:
1. A low resolution colour-depth (8/16 bits) is always a good idea. This frees up quite a lot of memory. Usually a high colour-pallet is only ever needed if you're a gamer -- and that just isn't going to be the case on the sort of hardware you're referring to. Some window managers (fvwm is one such window manger) allow you to set this, aside from the defaults set by the X-server.
2. Using a window manager (hellllo, "fvwm" :)) as opposed to a desktop environment is preferable. This means that interal cruft such as built in file managers are external and hence loaded only when needed. This helps to reduce memory consumption until such application need to be invoked which may be never. And even then, if a GUI file manager is needed I'd recommend 'emelfm'.
3. Using an alternative to X11 pure might be an option for really low-end specs. Such things as: TinyX, mgr (yay, I love mgr, although sadly archived) and even Y-Windows (yes, I have named that right).
(!) [Thomas] There is also the RULE project, which is probably best just for this scenario where low-end hardware is being used. "Run Up to date Linux Everywhere" is excellent.
(!) [Jay] And don't plan on running FireFox unless you're willing to compile it yourself. :-}
(!) [Thomas] That wasn't in existence back then. I was using netscape 4 at a push. I did help with LFS -- it took five days straight to compile XFree86 3 :) I kid you not....
(!) [Jimmy] Software designed for handhelds is probably the best bet. Aside from kdrive/Tiny X, there's
Nano-X/Microwindows: http://www.microwindows.org Twin: http://linuz.sns.it/~max/twin OpenGUI: http://www.tutok.sk/fastgl MiniGUI: http://www.minigui.org PicoGUI: http://picogui.org
Nano-X is somewhat X compatible, Twin is curses based, and PicoGUI will run on Linux on the Palm. Even OPIE will run in 10 megs of RAM.
(!) [Heather] If they're in a networked environment, there's always letting a tougher machine do some of the work (hellloooooo LTSP) but that's cheating.
(!) [John] That was my thought too. One thing I would add is to check out the Knoppix Cluster release / edition. I ran into a real snag with plain LTSP when I trying to implement a diskless cluster network, where the main app of interest was in MM flash. The 3.x version of LTSP didn't support any version of Mozilla, or Netscape later than 4.x via the incorporated busybox pkg. I managed to resolve that issue, but was unable to resolve the problem of having the LAN bw eaten by the flash animation, by getting the browser to run locally in the slave memory rather than on the server.
After about 8 instances, the (100 mbps) LAN came to a crawl. We ended up succombing to adding hd's and running as normal hosts :(. Sometime later I discovered that the Knoppix cfg overcomes the problem by running all apps in the local nodes RAM. I believe that Knoppix uses LTSP, but has it configured to do what I couldn't get it to do. Some day I'll take a look to examine the LTSP cfg that Knoppix uses.

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Published in issue 104 of Linux Gazette July 2004

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