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Hey, everyone, I'm using Macs for years,and since I'm fascinated by the terminal and command line, I try to learn the basic linux stuff, so I don't care about gaming or web browsers,the only thing I want is just a basic, simple, stable, Linux distribution. Should I use ubuntu, or are there any better suggestion for me? Thanks.

My old PCs configuration is:

  • Intel Pentium III CPU
  • NVidia GeForce mx-440 GPU
  • 256 megabytes of ram
  • a 30 gigabyte hard drive
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This is just a comment because I haven't researched the validity of it: You can try to see if the amazing Robert Shingledecker's Tiny Core Linux works well on that machine. - I would however agree with the others, try Ubuntu first. – Stefano Palazzo Dec 8 '10 at 12:37
I tried Ubuntu 9.10 on a similar system and it wasn't a pleasure to work with. The CPU might be sufficient, but RAM is really low (and you don't want to use swap space on such an old and slow hard drive). I too suggest you try a distribution made for such old machines. – htorque Dec 8 '10 at 13:26
if you want to try the full Ubuntu, you can install Lubuntu as Karthick mentioned and later add the packages you want to try, or you can install Ubuntu with the alternate installer. I've run Ubuntu on similar hardware before and it was smooth. The main problem will be your RAM. – RolandiXor Dec 8 '10 at 20:54
You could always go with Xubuntu, which uses XFCE and has lower memory requirements. – Nathan Osman Dec 9 '10 at 2:10
thanks for your advice Stefano – mko Dec 9 '10 at 6:15

10 Answers 10

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I have a very similar, almost identical machine in my mother's home and I use it when I stay there. It has a Celeron 400 CPU and 256 RAM and 32 GB hard disk. I've read that "The Intel Pentium III Processor had a clock speed range from 450 MHz to 1.4 Ghz" so under any condition you have a CPU faster than mine.

In the past I used Xubuntu on that machine. (Xubuntu is the official ubuntu release with Xfce desktop environment) I believe it can still handle it. (I haven't ever used Lubuntu so I can't comment on that.) The trick is: tandard installation CD of Ubuntu which serves as a live CD may be very slow because it is not installed on the machine and relies on the RAM to run. It doesn't give you an idea on the speed of the installed system. Especially on a machine with that much small RAM. Keep that in mind. You may even prefer to install from an "alternate CD"; which is an instalation CD with no live CD feature. (That's for Xubuntu; Debian CDs are not live CDs at all.)

Two weeks ago I installed Debian on that machine. (Ubuntu is very closely related with Debian, Ubuntu is a Debian based distribution.) Debian, as default, has much more less services working as default and in my opinion it is superior to Ubuntu for the task to learn GNU/Linux basics on an old machine.

I installed Debian 5.0.6 "stable" release from the iso CDs. (They have 5.0.7 at the moment so prefer that one.) I have no internet connection with that machine. So I created a CD from debian-506-i386-xfce+lxde-CD-1.iso This is the first installation CD of Debian containing Xfce and LXDE environments instead of Debian's default GNOME. The purpose is to be lighter, of course, and is suitable for old old machines.

At the beginning of the installation, you are given a choise to install Xfce or LXDE. Later you may install the other one you didn't opt in at the beginning as well. Rhen you'll have 2 desktop environments and choose one of them while logging in. I installed even GNOME desktop to my old machine and now I have 3 choises. (In fact more than 3; there's also a very plain X window system choise as I remember.) To install GNOME as well, you have to have the 1st CD (not the xfce+lxde one) as well.

Because I have no Internet connection, I created the first 5 CDs and I'm instaling packages from them. (There are 30+ CDs in total.)

As a result: Xfce (both Xubuntu and Debian versions) and LXDE (Debian one) and even GNOME (Debian) works well on the machine. So I see no reason that they won't work for you too.

About the performance: For sure, I installed GNOME just for some testing purposes. Xfce and LXDE are working like a charm on that machine. Starting od the services and applications are a little bit slow but when they start I even don't realize a slowness. That is to mean, machine starts a little bit slow. But when it starts there's no problem. Office package starts a little bit slow but once it starts there's no speed issue when writing... and so on. I have no problem with listening to the music on that system. I even can watch video but video performance is not that good. I don't advice to use [more than 2] relatively heavy programs at the same time.

For the command line, there's absoluıtely no problem. That kind of a machine is ideal to learn the basics of GNU/Linux.

I must admit that I like to work with that machine better than my "modern" laptop! I'm sure that your machine will host one of these choises and it will be a lovely GNU/Linux machine. Good luck.

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wow, Thanks for your comprehensive answer marenostrum, There are so many good guys out there in this site! – mko Dec 9 '10 at 6:28
  • I would recommend you to use Lubuntu.
  • It's a faster, more lightweight and energy saving variant of Ubuntu using LXDE- the Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment.
  • Xubuntu will also be good (Ubuntu + XFCE):

  • Crunchbang(Debian, Ubuntu is also based on Debian, + Openbox) is good and it uses 60MB RAM

  • You can see this thread for more information.

  • System requirements for lubuntu can be found here.

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Another vote for a lighter linux distro, is perfect for an older computer – t3mujin Dec 8 '10 at 13:56
Thanks for your answer and the link your provide, I will definitely check them out. – mko Dec 9 '10 at 6:30
@yozloy you are welcome. – karthick87 Dec 9 '10 at 6:32

Download an Ubuntu ISO file, burn it, boot from CD and test it yourself. You can run Ubuntu without intalling it! It's really simple and there is no risk for you. I think Ubuntu will be the right thing for you. Have fun. :)

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I think the normal Ubuntu desktop ISO will run like a dog on that machine. yozloy is hitting pretty close to the minimum system requirements, especially with only 256mb RAM. – James Dec 8 '10 at 15:26
For that kind of a machine running live CD will not be a fun; believe me. It can be done but keeping in mind that the extraordinary slowness will not be the case when you actually install. And what's more, you may think of installing from an "alternate CD" which has no live CD features. – marenostrum Dec 8 '10 at 23:11
I can confirm @James's comment. I recently install Ubuntu 10.10 on a better laptop than OP and it was sluggish. I guess if the goal is to play with the command line it isn't that bas. – Olivier Lalonde Dec 9 '10 at 2:29
I just brought a very cheap 30G maxtor hd ($4.5) dedicated to linux system, so even I use the hard drive install without a live cd, I still don't need to worry about any risk Thanks for your answer any way. – mko Dec 9 '10 at 6:34

If you are exclusively interested in the command line, then ubuntu server is worth looking at (particularly given the lower specs of your PC, this will work fine)

You will get full compatibility with Ubuntu desktop (and hence support in ubuntu forums will apply to you), but the "Server" CD avoids including desktop packages (packages like X, Gnome or KDE) by default, which it seems you are not interested in. Instead it includes server related packages (Apache, DNS, etc). The desktop-centric packages could be added later on an individual or group basis later if you changed your mind. has a FAQ section for further questions.

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that's a pretty good way to go. Thanks Simon – mko Dec 9 '10 at 6:35

on my parents pc which is a p3 with 1000mhz, geforce 3 and 256mb ram ubuntu runs, but it doesnt work smoothly. everything takes ages and its just very slow. we tried xubuntu but its still not very smooth to use just a little bit better. i havent tried lubuntu yet... so i guess i'd give that a shot if you want to stick to something related to ubuntu.

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I have tested Ubuntu and installed on several clients with the following specs:

PC 1 Pentium 2 400Mhz Memory 128MB HDD 4GB

PC 2 Pentium 3 550Mhz Memory 256MB HDD 6GB

PC3 Pentium 3 866Mhz Memory 128MB HDD 4GB

PC4 Pentium 3 1GHZ Memory 256MB HDD 10GB

I have to say in this cases and many others i have had Ubuntu perform much better than Windows on the same machine. I guarantee it. Clients have been amazed at the change on their old PC to a new speed and overall performance. This is the case with Ubuntu. Of course xubuntu, lubuntu and low performance desktop distros would be better but for your question am giving you real experience for this type of PCs.

In your case:

* Intel Pentium III CPU
* NVidia GeForce mx-440 GPU
* 256 megabytes of ram
* a 30 gigabyte hard drive

You have a good CPU to test with. It worked good on the Pentium 3 550Mhz i tried. 256MB memory is enough to work with ubuntu. Trust me with that. Obviously the Nvidia card will help even more. For the hdd space you have plenty for a computer that can play several games, do work, internet and music.

Hope this info helps.

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Are you talking about the same Ubuntu that I use? – Cody Harlow Dec 8 '10 at 21:10
Am talking about Ubuntu 9.10, 10.04 and 10.10. Tested all of this on old PC. Even though xubuntu and lubuntu are less resource hungry, ubuntu at least in its 3 last versions works on lesser PCs like i mention here and tested already. Am from Venezuela so there are A LOT of old PCs to test with. – Luis Alvarado Dec 9 '10 at 13:24
thank for your information CYREX – mko Dec 10 '10 at 15:39

I would recommend you to try puppy linux. It is very small and lightweight.

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I do totally agree – Pitto Dec 9 '10 at 16:55

You can also give Damn Small Linux a try. It's very small (50 MB) and will run fast on your hardware. It's not as comfortable as Ubuntu, but you can also use it to learn some linux basics.

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I would not recommend DSL to anyone now that its development has stopped – phunehehe Dec 9 '10 at 15:30
50MB!! the linux world is so crazy – mko Dec 10 '10 at 15:41

If you want to learn just do a Ubuntu Server install and fight with the command line :) If you want a gui then I'd choose DEFINITELY (I have a lot of experience with "poor hardware") Linux Mint Fluxbox. Have fun :)

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So many Linux distro I would try Fluxbox thanks Pitto – mko Dec 10 '10 at 15:40

You can:

  • Use Xubuntu
  • Use Lbuntu
  • Use it as a thin client with UbuntuLTSP
  • Install Gentoo, and compile everything with processor-specific and optimized flags. Only exagerate with the flags if you don't mind having an unstable system.
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