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Linux Lite

I’m looking for a Linux distro which is pretty straightforward to install (I shall be buggered if I’m re-compiling kernels and that malarkey) and use but sits pretty wittin 512Mb of physical RAM. It’s for an old desktop machine I have acquired (Celeron D 345, 3.06GHz). It is mainly to be used for mathematicl programming for fun and frolics (yes, I am that sad) and for me to get a sniff around Linux which I have never used. I did use UNIX many years ago on SG and Sun workstations.

Any help is gratefully appreciated.


  1. knirirr says:

    This one might well suffice, although I’ve not used it much as I prefer all that malarkey.

  2. CountingCats says:



    That’s ok for amateurs I guess, but have you considered something real? Like FreeBSD?

    Run in 512MB? In a trice. Or Solaris is free these days.

  3. lurkingmeggie says:

    I use Peppermint One OS on two 512m machines ( – runs fast and boots up/shuts down really quickly. I notice they have now come out with a new version, Peppermint Two – I haven’t tried that. Dead easy to install and pretty much set itself up.

  4. Peter Risdon says:

    FreeBSD is of course fantastic. But there’s Damned Small Linux and some others in the Linux ecosystem.

    (Your comments thingie is fckd, it took me three tries to post this. And you host on Windows? Windows???

  5. CountingCats says:

    Peter, do you mind? We host on FreeBSD.

    And yes, I need to implement a new server as from at least a year ago.

    Don’t you mean fsckd? y?

  6. Peter Risdon says:

    CC, when the comment system malfunctions I’m pretty sure we get an IIS error message.

    fsck -y always works for me :-)

  7. CountingCats says:

    IIS? Really? I got a Windows IAS server fronting the system, I use it as a level 7 switch. That may be acting up then and redirecting some accesses. I really should rebuild the whole infrastructure, I guess system rust is setting in.

  8. John Galt says:

    I’ve used Ubuntu Desktop Edition for about 2-years as my primary laptop O/S. Whenever I need any of the Microsoft sh1te, I run a separate bootable VM using Oracle’s Virtual Box.

    Never had any problems with Ubuntu, none of the usual ‘please rebind your kernal’ or similar B/S that has been a problem with Unix operating systems in the past (hence the reason for avoiding running Unix on the laptop prior to 2009).

    In terms of usefuless, you still have all of the standard Unix capabilities for developing software. There are a wide number of packages available and the package manager is very easy to use.

    All-in-all, I would heartily recommend it as a powerful distro which is also user friendly.

    Ubuntu Desktop Edition
    •1 GHz x86 processor (Pentium 4 or better) •512 MiB of system memory (RAM)
    •5 GB of hard-drive space •Graphics card and monitor capable of 800×600 •Either a CD/DVD drive or a USB port (or both) •Internet access is helpful

  9. ivan says:

    You have an old machine therefore keep clear of distributions like Ubuntu and its various clones they require too much memory to run on old hardware.

    Just download the live CDs for some of the smaller distributions and run them to see which works best and which one you are comfortable with. I have both Puppy Linux and Linux Mint running in VMs on OS/2.

  10. Dave W says:

    Used Ubuntu for a couple of years. Now got Mint on the family laptop. No bother with either.

  11. NickM says:

    Well knirirr,
    Before I even posted ths I’d started the download of SuSE. I have an ulterior. My next #1 machine might just run SuSE because 11.4 is apparently very good at VMs and I ned a lt of Windows stuff, like it or no. And games, obviously.

    I could set my watch by your plug for BSD. Note I said, “mathematicl programming for fun and frolics” not frigging about in the bloody engine room where things lurk. lurking, Peppermint sounds interesting.

    The whole thing here is FUBAR. I’m working on a new look and feel BTW Cats.

    DSL is interesting – I’d heard of it – but it’s not quite what I’m after here.

  12. Think out of the box: the box from Crucible.

    I bought 1GB of RAM for an old machine last year for £35. Deciding on it was automatic, running the old MS Windows and the Crucible configuration enquiry software direct from their website. Installation took around 30 minutes.

    If you did the same, you would have a 1.5GB machine, much more choice and the ability to do more interesting scientific sniffing. You would also save yourself a lot of time, being able to use the Linux machine for pretty much anything you might expect of a non-specialist-gaming desktop.

    Best regards

  13. Peter Risdon says:

    Nick, you can run FreeBSD without a kernel recompile, GENERIC works fine on most hardware, and the fiddle’s gone out of the wireless stuff. There is in practice a bit of faff with the XWindows system, though. But thanks to the influence of Colin Percival, they’ve gone far more for binary updates than recompiles in recent versions so it’s all much faster than the day-long buildworld stuff you had to go through before.

    I use Ubuntu as a primary workstation because I want a ‘just works’ setup. I spend long enough tuning servers, can’t be arsed doing it with my workstation any more. But Ubuntu is a bit heavy for an old machine.

    On the other hand, ten minutes stripping down the kernel to essentials and letting it recompile while you have a beer, and having *complete* control over the OS build, is the best way to squeeze the most juice from a piece of hardware.

    I suggested DSL because the basic install is tiny yet it seems a well supported system.

  14. Paul Lockett says:

    I’d recommend trying one of the lightweight desktop versions of Linux Mint – either Xfce or LXDE.

  15. Rob Fisher says:

    I use Ubuntu because it’s easy to use, isn’t too philosophical (you can install Flash and proprietary video codecs and graphics drivers easily), and seems to work nicely with any hardware. Xubuntu and Lubuntu are lightweight versions and will probably work fine in 512MB. I’d stick to the 10.04 (long term support) version, though. Ubuntu can be a bit too bleeding edge for its own good at times.

  16. Bod says:

    If you have spare slots for memory in that beastie, Nick, let me know the memory spec. I have a bunch of sticks lying around doing nothing and I’d rather they went to a good home. Most OSes like a bit of elbow room when it comes to RAM and I’d be happy to help out if I can.

    And they call us people selfish.


    OS? Well, if we can up the memory a tad, Ubuntu (cringe) would be fine. As Rob notes, avoid the very latest non-long-term support versions and you should be fine.

  17. Sam Duncan says:

    Mint LXDE. Based on Ubuntu, includes all the tricky stuff like codecs, and I’ve used LXDE (under Arch) on a 600MHz, <512Mb first-gen Celeron with no trouble at all.

    ‘Course, that’s not what I recommended the first time, or the second one, but the Cats server (or my ISP) was playing silly buggers and those didn’t get through. Now I’ve had a chance to think about it though, it fits the bill perfectly.

  18. NickM says:

    That’s mighty kind of you! It’s DDR. FSB is 533 MHz. It’s got two slots. One is holding a 512Mb stick and the other is empty.

  19. CountingCats says:

    Hmph. I might have a 512Gb stick, or even a 1GB one. If you can get to 1GB in total, and given that any variant of UNIX or its children is far less of a memory hog than Bills kiddies, I would recommend that you go for functionality rather than size. Fedora, Ubuntu or Centos, and that only because they are the ones you are most likely to encounter in the big wide wonderful world.

    As to memory demands, the first web server I implemented when I set up Sonnet Internet was Slackware Linux running on a 4MB 486/66. Couldn’t run X in any tenth decent manner, but unload that and performance was fine.

  20. Bod says:

    Nick, not sure if you’re watching your email account closely – so drop me a line at the email address I used to post this, and I can organize delivery.

  21. Andrew Duffin says:

    What a wonderful geek thread. Quite took me back to the 90′s.

    VM’s on OS/2?


    That was sarcasm, right, or something?

  22. ivan says:

    @Andrew Duffin.

    NO! We are an all OS/2 shop here, our server loafs along using WSeB. We have also replaced 3 windows servers with 1 OS/2 server for a client that runs all the POS terminals without the BSOD that they used to have – think hole in the wall cash machines, most of them ran on OS/2 without problems, the win based ones are the ones that are usually out of service.

  23. NickM says:

    I don’t watch it because last I saw (like many things around here) it wasn’t exactly working. By which I mean it isn’t working. I’ve got your email so I shall email back.

    Andrew, as Ivan points out you is wrong on OS/2. A much maligned piece of software.

  24. Kendall says:

    Linux Mint Debian Edition is a great choice for an older PC. It’s lighter and faster than Ubuntu and its derivatives (including the main Mint 11 release), while still being (more or less) hassle free. The XFCE version in particular should run fine with 512Mb RAM.

  25. Bod says:

    Nick – dude – your problem is WordPress. It’s the CP/M of the blogging world.

    And heartily concur on OS/2, although I’m hardly a dispassionate observer. Obviously, the clock is ticking on it regarding hardware support (can it even read SATA disks?) it was and is a great server product. Couldn’t give a monkey’s over the UI wierdness (especially compared with current windowing OSes).

  26. David Gillies says:

    RAM’s so cheap these days you can probably find 2 x 1 GB DDR2 DIMMs on eBay for under twenty quid, and I’m sure your MB would handle that. I’m running a fairly ancient version of Ubuntu on a little Dell with 2GB of RAM and it’s actually my work machine. Runs fine. I’m glad I have 2 GB of RAM though because Firefox and Mathematica can be a bit extravagant.

  27. NickM says:

    Mathematica – never been allowed to use it. I had to use Maple instead. That’s a long story.

    Firefox is a git these days. I use Chrome. Chrome has one big flaw (I discovered this recently – via a blue screen). It doesn’t do download management. Other than that it is my internet weapon of choice. We do not speak of IE here. a pox be upon it! That”s not a hope or a curse, merely an observation.

  28. Bod says:

    Of course, one of the problems with Chrome is that Auntie Google seemingly gets your browsing history (unless someone can confirm otherwise). One alternative I found, recommended by someone I trust, is a recompiled, modified version of Chrome, named “SRWare Iron” at

    I’ve found it to be somewhat faster than Chrome, although I’ve not done any exhaustive benchmarking.

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