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Test Results:
Not good. Even running lightweight desktops, I didn't find any useable OS for my Gateway 200 megahertz laptop. I believe laptop hard drive, ATA speed, and memory speed, and memory amounts, just make running linux on them a fairly pointless task.

I need to qualify this result however: for desktops, I think it's quite different. My guess is that for 200 to 400 megahertz machines with 5400 rpm or greater hard drives, 7200 would be best, and reasonably peppy sdram, pc100 or more, all of the below will run decently.

The test platform
On Gateway Solo 2300
20 gigabyte, 4200 rpm hard drive
196 mB ram, pc66 I believe, maxed out.
Intel 200 megahertz mmx Pentium II I believe.

Damn Small Linux
DSL: installed, but graphic distortions made any action impossible because I simply couldn't read the screen, it was completely faded.

Kanotix based cpx-mini version 3 and 5
Kanotix CPX-mini-3: way way too slow, even running fluxbox.
Kanotix CPX-mini-5 test version: failed to install, got part way, then got stuck on some missing kde libraries. Livecd booted fine. Very very slow loading of all applications.

Despite reports of working very well on very slow older machines, it doesn't. Very slow loading of apps, xfce desktop simly does not do it for me, I'm sorry. Also a very serious lack of packages, it doesn't have nano in the package repositories for example. Opening up netpkg, its package updating system, took forever.

This one was particularly disappointing to me. I really liked the installer, in fact, I think many distros would do very well to use it for their hard drive installs, it's got all the geek factors I want. And it works. Partitioning and formatting in reiserfs and reiser4 worked perfectly. That is quite unusual.

In fact, this would be my first choice for partitioning disks that other installers fail on.

Installing on a slow reading cdrom like I have took forever, it went package by package. When I finally rebooted, it was very disappointing. Nothing worked faster or better than beatrix 2005-1 did. In fact, I immediately regretted wiping my old Beatrix install to do these tests. The package selection through netpkg was pathetic. The worst I've ever seen.

<added 3-25-06>Update: Puppy Linux
I decided to do one more test at a Puppy linux fan's insistence. And he was right. Puppy linux, although it's a pain to setup, actually ran quite decently on the Solo 2300. I had to use the xorg x server to get a useable gui, otherwise it was the same unreadable window as DSL.

Once I figured out that, and found a networking card that worked, that was also neither easy nor intuitive, I simply had to guess, trial and error, the built in network card configurator guessed wrong on every network pcmcia card I put it, but I guessed right after many tries and got a working network connection. No sound, no modem, of course.

However, puppy ran quite well, even though I installed it to the hard drive, which slows it down considerably, on ext2. If you chose the fat32 install that runs from ram you could expect even better results I'd guess.

But if aesthetics are important to you, just stick with old windows, puppy is as barebones as you can get. But it does do the job. Not many packages in its puppy package system, but the ones it had installed fine, and worked.

Test Conclusion
Soundcard was not identified by any of these, maybe with huge tweaking I could get it working, I don't know. No distro I've installed has recognized sound I think, maybe some old redhats, I can't remember, but any full distro basically does not run on this.

I would not consider any of these useable unless self delusion is part of your personality that you value. I assume any one of them would be fine only in one circumstance: running without a desktop, and never using any gui applications. Running it in runlevel 3, that is, in straight console mode. Nothing wrong with that, but that's probably not what you want to do with your laptop in general I'd guess. An old pc box, yes, but not your laptop.

Comparing fluxbox, icewm, or any other lightweight windows manager, to windows 95 or 98 in terms of either performance, available options, or speed, simply does not stand up to real world testing. This really surprised me, I thought pulling kde or gnome off would drastically speed up the desktop, but it didn't, not when compared to windows 98 or 95. Faster and more useable than Gnome or KDE, that was certainly true.

BeatrIX rules the roost of small linux distros
The best Linux distro I've ever put on this, bar none, in terms of speed, is the highly optimized BeatrIX ubuntu based distro. That product beat the pants off all of the above [the ones I installed anyway]. Since it comes with a Gnome desktop, and has access to all the ubuntu apt repositories, this is my hands down winner for any slow, older machine.

The problem is, however, that due to a variety of circumstances, it looks like 2005-1 will be the last release of Beatrix. Which means certain things will be very hard to do: getting sound working on older laptops, and newer ones. Getting wireless working. You can't upgrade the kernel, and you can't upgrade gnome, because the speed was achieved by massively modifying both. So what you get is what you'll always have.

You can upgrade individual packages, but you have to be very careful, always use the -s simulate flag before installing anything. You're probably best off only using the stable repositories at this point if you want to use beatrix for a long time.

Final Conclusion
Objectively, there is a very simple fact that anyone who is not blinded by linux ideology will admit immediately:

The best OS to put on an old laptop like this is the one it came with. I'm sorry to say that. I wish I could say something else. Windows 95 will scream, absolutely scream on this machine. Windows 98 I will do extremely well. Windows 98 II will also do very well. They were designed to run reasonably well on a fraction of the ram we use today.

I have an even older laptop, a very high end corporate NEC, one of the best in its day. It has I believe 8 [that's EIGHT] mB of ram, upgradeable to 40, if you can find it, and if you can justify spending that much money on it. Its processor runs at I believe either 33 or 66 megahertz. It starts fast. It runs Office 97 quite well. It runs opera fine.

Putting Windows 95 on the gateway would result in a machine that would be stunningly fast.

Putting Windows 98 version 1 would yield superb results. That's what it was made for. Windows 98 II would slow the system down, but given the amount of ram, it would run very well.

Putting Windows 2000,. which is what I usually run on it, results in operational speeds a bit faster than Beatrix, except for the startup time. Internet Explorer 5 or 5.5 running on Windows 98 is by far and away the fastest browser you can get on a slow, older machine. Unless you go with an older opera, 5 or 6. But those will give you a lot of problems running many modern websites.

I've never tried XP on it. I'd assume it would run ok, about the same as 2000, except it would be a little faster to start up.

I did install XP on an old, high end HP machine, desktop, 150 megahertz, enough memory, and it worked quite well, a little slow, but it was fine. I think a lot of this linux talk is way too irrational.

Windows 98 requires using older versions of most software, but you can use anything written in 2000 or earlier with little or no problems, that software was written to run on 98 and that type of hardware.

I fail the Linux fanatic test, I'm sorry
Since I've had this laptop for years, maybe 6, I am very familiar with what works at what speed. I used windows 2000 on it for years, I even had windows 2000 server dual booting on it once for a networking class. Nothing works worse than linux on it. I thought for sure that using a lightweight desktop would make the thing scream, but that just didn't happen. Everything ran like molasses, and nothing ever worked better than Windows 2000 in terms of overall useability.

Firefox, for example, is a total pain to use in Beatrix, it's very sluggish. It's slow in windows 2000 too, but MSIE isn't. These are sad fact, which make me kind of wonder about all these linux guys who claim that these lightweight distros will work well on older hardware.

Take off the windows manager, install server daemons, run it runlevel 3, use it as a file/web/ftp server or whatever, then I can see it. But as soon as any desktop at all gets put on this machine, forget it. Again, beatrix is by far and away the best lightweight linux distro I've ever installed on this machine, and it runs gnome.

It's only because it's been several years since I've run windows 98 on this machine that I can even pretend to myself that linux is even a halfway decent choice for old laptops like this.

I'm sorry to have to report this, but there's been a lot of talk about linux on slower pcs lately, and I just can't validate the claims made on this laptop. To repeat, I do believe that many of the performance hangups I experienced here would not be a significant issue on an actual pc with decently fast hard drives and ram. But windows 95 and 98 would I believe in almost all cases outrun and outperform any of the above distros, hands down.

Why? Its' very simple: Microsoft had a specification in place that was locked in, Windows 95 had to run on 4 mB of ram. Windows 98 probably had to run on 32 mB, Windows 98 II I'd guess probably had to run reasonably well on 64 mB. And once you get over 128, 98 is very happy.

Final Conclusion? Nothing has changed
Comparing windows xp and 2000 speed on older machines to linux is not the correct comparison, the real comparison is between the os that was designed to run on the hardware in the first place, and if you do that comparison, windows wins, by a huge amount. No, it's not a modern os, but who needs that on an old machine? We just do this to see if it works.

Once you get past I think about 300 megahertz processors, I'd guess many of the above distros will start to work quite well, but anything below 300 you should expect very bad performance, except maybe from DSL, if you can get it to run properly, or Featherlinux. But these distros are so stripped down that you're in my opinion really better off just dusting off your old windows 95 or 98 install disks, digging up the drivers, and leaving it at that.

Sorry Linux world, I respect you, but I can't validate any of your claims, linux works best on reasonably new hardware, > 400 megahertz, > 256 mB ram, ATA >= 66. I'm not doing any more of these tests, I'm just going to use linux for what it's good for.

Time, in other words, for a new laptop. This was my final test for this old trooper. Sorry Solo 2300, it's Windows 2000 for you.
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Well, I'm impressed from several angles:

1. The sheer amount of testing you did; I'm sure it took quite a bit of time, and I sincerely appreciate your guinea-pigness on this.

2. The fact that you're fully honest about not being a total linux-hardhead, when it's apparent that trying to promote linux for this would be silly, given your results.

3. The fact that you're willing to state than Windows is still the best option in cases like this.

So, back to Win98 SE I go with it. It can remain what it's mostly always been: a backup option to haul with me when I'll have power but no internet (it doesn't have a wireless card, and firefox isn't thrilled with running on it, and I don't surf with IE EVER....)

Thanks a million for your time on this!
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The bottom line is this: It is true that linux will run very well on slower older machines. IF, and only IF, you run them in console mode.

In fact, with enough memory, and a decently fast hard drive, you can make console mode servers to your heart's content.

So why the difference in performance between linux systems and windows 9x systems?
All the desktops simply reveal one of gnu/linuxes major weaknesses: the modularity that makes unix such a powerful and stable system causes a serious performance hit when it's asked to run a desktop, or any other gui thing, on slower older machines.

Windows, on the other hand, if you use the right version, was written to run really well on that slower older hardware. That's because windows major weakness in terms of stability and security is its major strength when it comes to running on slow old hardware: The gui talks directly to the kernel. The OS is a single user system. There are no runlevels worth speaking about. It's a unified whole. Graphics drivers talk directly to the kernel, there is essentially no hardware abstraction at all. Windowing is built directly onto the kernel.

Nothing unix does can change this fact, because unix is always running a kernel that gui's talk to only indirectly. This is why if you run Linux from BASH in Console mode, it will scream too. BASH talks directly to the kernel, it's the same as Windows gui in some ways.

I'd estimate that application for application, if I don't use anything newer than 1999 in terms of software, my 66 megahertz, 8 mB ram laptop OUTPERFORMS all of the above distros running on a 200 megahertz, 196 mB ram gateway laptop.

That's what it is, it's sad, but it's true. Now, since trying to use a very old, very small linux, on this hardware would mean that the gui would be totally useless, the kernel wouldn't recognize any of the hardware, the fair comparison is not what most reviewers say: it's windows 95 against the 1.x kernel, running kde 1, or a very raw fluxbox or whatever. For a desktop gui, windows 95 is at least 10 times better I'd say.

What MS did well was to make essentially an insecure OS
Give microsoft credit where they earn credit, it's only with Windows NT systems that Windows started requiring more horsepower, these early machines ran best on early windows, or in console mode with linux.

Verifiably false claims do not equal fact; ideology is not a good test device
This is one game I'm not going to play anymore, I'm going to use linux for what it's good at. Most Linux hackers use great hardware. And the distros that do work well on slower hardware, the kiosk type ones, with almost no desktop functionality, run best on > 400 megahertz systems.

To say I'm somewhat disappointed with our linux promoters is a fact, nothing is gained by making false claims that can easily be proved to be false or misleading. Stick to the strengths, not the weaknesses. Kanotix runs fantastically on good hardware, for example. Once the system is fast enough to handle the built in inefficiencies of *nix windowing systems, the underlying strengths become much stronger arguments for switching.

Best expectations from these tests:
This old hardware thing is fine, but there's a lower limit where linux simply stops performing. That leaves a lot of reasonably older hardware, > 300 megahertz systems, that will run lean linuxes fine. This was the target for beatrix. It's unfortunate that reality made that not happen for Beatrix, but at some point reason has to prevail. I would like to test some of these on a middle aged pc desktop system, I think some will perform quite well, and will do much better on the hardware, especiall DSL.

One thing is clear: for a useable linux desktop, for average users, forget these stripped down ones, they are fine for advanced users who don't need more, but they just don't do it for average users unless the desktop requirements are totally reduced to a bare minimum, a single browser, maybe OOo if you can wait for it to open. For example this library kiosk desktop switch, read the libray journal report, or just check out a sample distro, there's many out there.

In Summary
It's better to test claims for yourself than to just believe what fans say.

If security on the OS is required, for example, with kiosk type systems, and if you want to recycle older hardware, look into running the thin clients, or ultra stripped down kernels and desktops put out by some specialized distros. But for average users, forget it.

Apologies to Linux fans
Look, I'm sorry, but stop making claims that are easily disproved. Test using the real OSes that should be compared.

Linux in init 3 or less running in console mode will do really well, stop discrediting the argument by making easily disproved claims about the linux guis. Windows 9x is better at running guis on lowend slow hardware than Linux desktops are. The kernel + BASH or SH or whatever you prefer is the actual fair comparison, and when compared in that way, you are talking about getting serious performance out of old boxes.

I'm sure running w3m, links, links2, elinks, or whatever, and using nano, vim, vi, etc, will give a great experience. Forget sound, forget modems, use the strengths of the product, don't try to highlight the weaknesses, which is all such claims accomplish.

A 150 megahertz console mode laptop can run apache, php, mysql, whatever you want, and it will run it great. You can surf great on w3m. You can edit well in nano. This is a serious os that beats the pants off of Windows 9x systems in terms of serious computing functionality. But windows 9x beats the pants of of any linux distro in terms of low end hardware desktop os functionality, there is no comparison.

My guess? debian all the way, no desktop installed. Raw debian. Forget desktops, go all the way, make a killer server application. Impress your friends by running the command line. Point to your 97 box, or 98, and say, that's my webserver, or whatever.
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BeatrIX is back, sorta
Status: New User - Welcome
Joined: 03 Jun 2008
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I've been through a lot of hell -- read it on the update on our new site -- but I'm trying to generate enough interest in BeatrIX to scare up a programmer to advance it to today.

Find out much more at

Thanks and cheers,

oskarku (Steven Watsky)
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Steve, it's great to hear from you again! I'm really glad you're back with us, I thought you were gone for good, this is great news.

I hope you have good luck with Beatrix again, I'm using and a member of sidux, based on Debian Sid, but Beatrix was my first distro I actually ran and used for real, so it still holds a fond spot in my heart.
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Bea led to my downfall but it holds a place in my heart that is impossible to describe. In short, my father died in 2003, I went to the funeral and then I was to go to Maine to get with my girlfriend's relatives. Her uncle was a computer programmer at MIT, and we got to talking about operating systems. He posited that Windows was too balky for the average joe for no good reason.

(This was taking place on a lake over very good Bourbon, btw...) So, I said, what's the answer?

He said, "Try Linux, but make it small. The problem is that operating systems use up all the real estate for no good reason. Think small." He died a couple of months later. I went home to Prague and hired a programmer and poof! BeatrIX. My part in all of that was developing the first flash-drive OS and the first silent computer, but that's blood under the bridge nowadays. Go figure.

Thanks, many, for yer response and watch this space. As soon as i can scare up a programmer, poof!

Many thanks and cheers,

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