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I am trying to convert a old desktop into ubuntu (or Debian) machine. I have already looked up the supported hardware list but still have following questions. In order to provide details, here is all the info I have collected on the current hardware on this machine:

  • Dell Dimension 3100/E310 with BIOS version A03
  • CPU : Processor 80547 Pentium 4 Prescott DT 2.8GHz 800 MHz bus, Hyperthreading capable Intel EM64T (Processor ID 0F49)
  • RAM : 1.25GB 533MHz DDR2. I have found reports of others successfully running 4GB, and according to 915G specs at http://ark.intel.com/products/27733/Intel-915G-Graphics-and-Memory-Controller this can take upto 8GB RAM. But, I am not sure if 915G refers to what i find in BIOS as Intel 82915G/GV/910GL Express chipset. Would like confirmation from someone knowledgable about intel chipsets.
  • The above link also shows couple of things that I do not understand. It says Supported FSBs:: 533/800MHz, but also says Memory Types:: DDR 333/400, DDR2 400/533. Since I am planning to upgrade RAM, can i buy DDR2 800MHz ? I see DDR3 is selling for even lower prices now a days, but I am not sure if i can use a DDR3 on this.
  • The above intel link also says under memory specs, Physical Address Extensions:: 32-bit and I was wondering if this means that I CAN NOT run ubuntu/debian 64 bit versions. I need the 64 bit version of one of these OS installed because I plan to run mongoDB server on this machine, and mongoDB supports only 64 bit versions of these two OS. My understanding of PAE makes me guess that "32-bit" means that it supports more than 4GB memory space and 64 bit architectures.
  • Hard Drive: Currently Hitachi 7200rpm SATA 80GB. Under Windows 7 control panel I see that SATA Controller is Intel 82801FB Ultra ATA 2652(and Ultra ATA 266F). Come thanksgiving, I want to get a SSD, but since I do not see AHCI listed anywhere in BIOS, i wonder if this hardware will support SSD.
  • Wireless: I currently have 2 wireless N adapters, but not sure if either of them will work under Ubuntu or Debian. First is a Zonet ZEW1642D model PCI card that has RaLink chip RT3062F. Second is a Linksys N300 USB adapter that has been certified for Windows 7, but i do not see linux listed on the box. Do i need to buy a wireless card for this machine and if so, where can i find compatible cards for this hardware ?
  • Ubuntu version: I have already looked up the supported hardware list but it says only older versions of Ubuntu were tested on this hardware. Will i be ok with installation of latest Ubuntu/Debian ?
  • Goal is to run this machine as a learning machine at home and run simple apps. MongoDB server would be installed but only for learning purposes. Which flavour of linux is recommended - Ubuntu or Debian ? I am mentioning Debian because i read a webpage that said Debian is more suited for server machines. But this is not a industry server, but home machine.
  • Video upgrade : Will i get better performance on this, if i upgrade to a PCI video card ? No gaming on this machine, but potentially internet streaming maybe done for Netflix or Hulu movies. Currently my plan is to upgrade to 8GB RAM and SSD as the basics. In today's market prices, this is going to cost me about $150. I am guessing that if Wireless card is needed that would cost another $25 for Ubuntu. So, if i add $50 for a video card, that would bring upgrade costs to about $225. But a newer laptop with SSD+4GB ram is about $350, here in bay area (Toshiba Satellite Radius 11 L15W-B1120, Pentium N3540, 11.6" Convertible Laptop With 4GB, Memory, 128GB SSD, Windows 8.1). I only have to add a wireless card and reformat it for Ubuntu. The only sacrifice here would be the lower 4GB RAM on the laptop. As i finish writing the question, i am starting to wonder if this machine is worth upgrading, but would like to find answers to my questions anyways. This would become the 5th PC i have at home, and wife would object if she saw me getting yet another new laptop :-)

Thanks a bunch for reading my long post.

marked as duplicate by David Foerster, Pilot6, Fabby, user68186, Eric Carvalho Apr 2 '17 at 13:08

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • Regarding of this being a machine with a 32 bit processor, no you can't install a 64 bit OS. And about everything else you basically want to upgrade everything...why don't get a new computer? – xangua Aug 23 '15 at 19:04
  • Older machines are better of with Xubuntu, as Ubuntu might be too much for them. – mikewhatever Aug 23 '15 at 19:47
  • Xangua - I have searched around the net, and could not find a clear answer if this version of Pentium Prescott is 64 bit capable. But note that in the BIOS i did find Intel EM64T and according to hardwaresecrets.com/intel-em64t-technology-explained EM64T can support 64 bit. In addition, note that the Intel link I gave above shows 915G can access 8GB RAM, which subtley but not surely implies that CPU can access more than 32bit address space. In any case, the questions stand, because I found that there is a older 32bit version of mongoDB that i can run on this. – nsamuel Aug 23 '15 at 21:20
  • UPDATE: I took a second look at BIOS. I have verified that the hardware supports 64 bit because the BIOS clearly says 63 bit architecture support : YES (Intel EM64T). So, I guess i will install the 64 bit OS and mongoDB on this. – nsamuel Aug 23 '15 at 21:48
  • @mikewhatever: No, current versions of XFCE will perform badly on a Pentium 4. MATE, maybe. – Erkin Alp Güney Jul 12 '16 at 14:40

Here is my $0.02....

RAM: According to Kingston.com you have a max of 2GB with 2 sockets. If someone has been able to have 4GB installed, and usable, then there may have been a BIOS upgrade that enabled this. I do not think 8GB would be possible. DDR2 800MHz is the top for you. DDR3 will not work. 915GV is the chipset. If BIOS is reporting 82915G/GV/910GL, 82915G is you.

32-Bit vs 64-Bit: If the board is 32-Bit, that is what you have to install. You CANNOT install a 64-Bit operating system on a 32-bit board. You can install a 32-bit operating system on a 64-bit board though. Short of buying a 64-bit board, there is nothing that can be done to upgrade the board to 64-bit.

HARD DRIVE: Off the top of my head, I do not see any reason why you should not be able to run a SSD. As long as it is a SATA drive, you should not have a problem there.

WIRELESS: I am not familiar with the other 3 adapters but, the Linksys should work. I would suggest booting the system off of the DVD and just run a live session. If the adapter works there, it will be just fine.

UBUNTU VERSION: You should be good there. If it has been tested with a recently older version, you should be fine.

GOAL: My recommendation, use what you are familiar with. Since this is a learning PC, why not duel boot both Ubuntu and Debian? I would also suggest, make sure you can make several images of the drive as you play. I have found myself with dead installs by playing with seemingly harmless settings and programs. Ghost was a very close friend.

VIDEO CARD: You have PCI Express. You can always upgrade there. Being that this will be a learning PC and you will not be doing any gaming, I don't see a need to upgrade there. Steaming video could be a concern. Even then, a decent $50 card can go far.

  • Please see my update above regarding 64 bit capability. Thanks for the suggestion on dual boot - will install couple of different flavours. The built in video has 128MB with BIOS adding additional 8MB of system memory. I guess if netflix streaming is flaky, i could try a video card with more memory. – nsamuel Aug 23 '15 at 21:51
  • 128MB of video RAM should be enough unless you are running a rather high resolution. I would see if it stutters any and if it does, go ahead and throw in a card. As far as the 64bit goes, that only allows you to have more than 4Gb of usable RAM. There are other capabilities that are opened up but, for the most part, having more than 4Gb is the game changer, so to speak. – KC5SDY Aug 24 '15 at 14:55

I would suggest that if your old computer can boot from a cd/dvd or USB memory stick, to try a few different live-cds.

I have tried many many different distros on older (and newer) machines. My prefered distro is: Puppy Linux Lucid v5.28 http://puppylinux.org/wikka/Puppy528, which is semi-compatible with Ubuntu 12.04. (You can find newer versions of PL that work well with newer Ubuntu versions.) I find that Puppy Linux is very stable and supports very old hardware as well as the very newest. I run PL on a 15 year old laptop, and I also have installed the newest version of Puppy Linux Tahr (TahrPup) on my new server (with a SSD). Puppy Linux is well supported through lots of help tutorials and a many forums -- so if something doesn't work with your hardware, join a forum and ask them, you will get help.

  • Thanks, I will try boot from CD/DVD or USB stick for two flavours. Leaning towards Ubuntu or Debian because those are the only two distros available for mongoDB 3.0 (latest version). – nsamuel Aug 23 '15 at 21:55
  • After doing some research on MongoDB v.3, I believe you need a 64-bit OS and processor (at least to use SSL). And a simple Google search shows that your processor 80547 pentium prescott 630 is 64-bit... but it is a very low end CPU. So, even if you add more RAM or a SSD your box will still be show. I think that you'll have a tough time running a newer 64bit version of Ubuntu or Debian. Go ahead and try, but if you find it too slow I would suggest a 64-bit version of Puppy Linux. The best option: a 64-bit Tahr version -- currently it's still in alpha/beta testing... – TJK Aug 24 '15 at 6:04
  • TJK (and others), thanks for the feedback. MongoDB is supported and binaries are available only for Ubuntu & Debian. So, i am not sure if it will run without trouble on Puppy Linux. So, my plan is to try one of these supported OS since this is not a production machine, but a play machine to learn at home. As far as the CPU performance goes...the old CPU has higher clock frequency and Hyperthreading (2 logical cores) available. So, i am hoping that the performance would be tolerable for a home machine setup, especially when combined with a SSD (from current old HD). – nsamuel Aug 24 '15 at 16:57

To answer your question regarding the Toshiba Satellite Radius 11 L15W-B1120, I have the exact machine, and there seems to be an incompatibility somewhere in the kernels from 14.04lts, 14.10, 15.04lts, 15.10, and 16.04lts.

Good news the wireless card works out of the box, but it will cut in and out until you disable power management on the wireless adapter. But the bigger issue is the "toshiba-wmi" "toshiba_acpi" kernel modules either is incompatible with this particular laptop (bios flashed to the latest version did not seem to help). The package toshset complains the kernel is not set up to support 'toshiba_acpi', even with the module loaded successfully according to dmesg.. The issue seems to be in the kernels in ability to detect the CPU fan in the device, and no way to force it to locate it, so CPU throttling software would have be setup (sensor, tlp, tlp-stat, and thermald). The 4 core processor supports throttling from its normal operating speed of 2.1ghz up to a max-"turbo" 2.6ghz, all the way down to 500mhz, and when it hits 55 deg C, I throttle it down to its lowest clock speed until it starts to cool down to 40 deg C before the system re-clocks to 2.1ghz-2.6ghz.

Its not a great solution, but its a work around until the issue is resolved in the kernel (if it ever is resolved in a future update, currently tracking the bug). It runs Ubuntu so much faster than the default installed OS, Windows 10.

I'm sure you could find another 2 in 1 laptop quad-core, 4gb and 128gb SSD for roughly the same price that is a bit more compatible out of the box with Ubuntu (Linux in general, being its a kernel issue).

A portable Linux machine would probably suit your "learning" project more than an at home desktop because of the portability of being able to turn it on anywhere and poke around and "learn" the OS, and being newer hardware than this old machine you have, it should perform far better. (I have an old quad-core dell desktop, and everything runs extremely slow on it, except Gentoo. The Toshiba laptop easily out performs it in Ubuntu).

Edit: its a 64bit processor, so you would be able to run the 64bit versions of it...the 32bit version only of Ubuntu would work on the machine you have. Considering its only DDR, 800mhz in the old machine, the performance difference from DDR3 is night and day, but your old motherboard will not take it. And being a proprietary system, normally they are extremely picky about the exact memory you toss in there, so you would have to pay attention if it supports ECC or Non-ECC, because it will not even recognize if you get the wrong memory upgrade.

so cost analysis, I'd personally go with the newer hardware of one of those 2 in 1 laptops you mentioned for roughly the same price as your intended upgrade on the older machine... (just choose something different than the L15W-B1120 Toshiba, unless you have some experience in recompiling kernels, reloading grub, reconfiguring just about everything in linux, fixing UEFI issues and the like)

Ubuntu 16.04 screams on my AMD 8-core FX-8350 32gb Desktop/Radeon R9-380x though.. but I still seem to use the L15W-B1120 Toshiba laptop with Ubuntu 16.04 far more because of the portability, even with the slight frustration I'm having with the system.

But that's IMO.

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