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Linux OS On a Really Old Laptop for Fun and Experience


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11 replies to this topic

#1 aw9018

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Posted 07 December 2008 - 09:25 PM

I found in my house an IBM Thinkpad 560E with windows 98, pentium MMX 166mhz, 2GB HD and 48 MB RAM. I'm curious to see if it can be of some use to view web pages and send and receive email over a cable broadband connection better than it can with windows if I install a Linux OS on it. Does anyone have any suggestions as to whether it is worth trying, which version of Linux to try and how to do it? The easiest way to get anything on this machine is from a floppy disk, because I have the original separate floppydrive that came with it.

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#2 buddy215

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Posted 07 December 2008 - 09:57 PM

Here is a list of linux on floppies that you can look through.
http://www.linuxlinks.com/Distributions/Floppy/

“Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded and the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics...you are all stardust.”Lawrence M. Krauss

A 1792 U.S. penny, designed in part by Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, reads “Liberty Parent of Science & Industry.”


#3 Shinto

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Posted 08 December 2008 - 02:15 PM

A few months ago, I needed an outbound mail server, and all I had laying around was a Pentium 166MMX laptop with 32MB of RAM, so pretty similar to your Thinkpad. It had no internal network interface or CD-ROM drive, so I used the Debian (Sarge, the oldstable release) netinstall off floppies. It detected the PCMCIA network card, and an hour or two later, I had a fully-functional Sendmail server. No GUI, though; my 32MB of RAM was pretty much used up, so I would have been hitting swap heavily.

I've also had luck with installing Damn Small Linux on hardware like this, GUI and everything, using the TOMSRTBT floppy. See this link for a guide. As long as your network interface is supported, this option should work nicely.

#4 aw9018

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Posted 08 December 2008 - 08:24 PM

Thanks Shinto. Your post and the linked page sound like that will get me the exact result I'm looking for. Unfortunately what needs to be done appears to be a little beyond my experience level.

#5 JacksonT

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Posted 09 December 2008 - 12:34 AM

Thanks Shinto. Your post and the linked page sound like that will get me the exact result I'm looking for. Unfortunately what needs to be done appears to be a little beyond my experience level.


The best way to gain experience is to try. Given the specs I would suggest: FreeDos, BasicLinux, Damn Small Linux, Puppy Linux. There is also Arch or Debian, But they may be more work the the first three.

#6 MilesAhead

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 04:04 PM

I found in my house an IBM Thinkpad 560E with windows 98, pentium MMX 166mhz, 2GB HD and 48 MB RAM. I'm curious to see if it can be of some use to view web pages and send and receive email over a cable broadband connection better than it can with windows if I install a Linux OS on it. Does anyone have any suggestions as to whether it is worth trying, which version of Linux to try and how to do it? The easiest way to get anything on this machine is from a floppy disk, because I have the original separate floppydrive that came with it.


If you can load off a CD something around Redhat 6 might work for you. I had Slackware 3.0 running on a 486 with 16 MB ram with XWindows and the whole shootin' match. But with Slackware you will need to get a book or 2 or 3 on Linux administration and learn where the scripts are in the /etc directories. For something a little easier to work with where you have the broadband, the install CD of Mandrake 9 would install enough to get your network and basic Linux going, then pull more stuff off the network. With broadband it would be ideal, if the network places it looks for are still there that is.

Also on these old versions you can boot up to a console instead of a desktop. It's like a super fast Dos with mutlitasking. Depends on what you want to do. If you want graphics then it may be a good idea to do one where the installer automatically creates a user account and you boot right into XWindows.

If you want to do script programming and trouble shooting you have to learn lots to keep Slackware running. The old saying was if you got another distro you learned that distro but if you got Slackware you learned Linux! Can lead to hair pulling at times though. :thumbsup:

The first thing to do before trying to install a distro is go to the home site of that distro and look for a hardware compatibility list. If you go too old your hardware won't be supported in that distro yet. If you go too new your hardware has ceased to be supported anymore. Life is a lot easier if it supports most of your hardware "out of the box" without rebuilding kernels and all that jazz.

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- Groucho Marx


#7 Andrew

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 07:25 PM

A nice light-weight distro I've used is Fluxbuntu.

#8 aw9018

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Posted 16 January 2009 - 01:18 AM

Thanks for your thoughts Milesahead, but this machine has no cost effective way of connecting to a CD. It only has 2 PCMCIA slots and I have a network card. The cost of any hardware to get a CD connected would exceed the value of the PC. The only means of transferring files onto it is from floppy or from the internet. Complicating matters further, it has now lost its network connection, which is now the subject of a topic I posted in the Networking forum. In any event what I was looking for was the most windows like experience I could find in the Linux universe to get me started and your suggestions seem to be going in the opposite direction. That is why I was looking at DSL and Puppy, since what I had read led me to believe I would have a better chance of figuring those out. And thanks Amazing Andrew, I'll check out Fluxbuntu also.

#9 Trio3b

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Posted 16 January 2009 - 03:09 AM

If you just like a puzzle...give it a go...., but I think you have come to the correct decision that there is a point of diminishing returns and you might be better off with newer hdwr. Having loaded lightweight distros on a variety of ancient lappys, I have come to the conclusion that in spite of all the rhetoric of Linux running well on older hdwr, it does not provide a FAMILIAR or (what the average person would describe as ) a comfortable productive desktop experience. Lest you think I am a MS fan, let me assure that I migrated my business to Mandriva 5 yrs ago and have no need for MS product any more, but I just don't think it's responsible to lure prospective Windows users with the promise of a kick'n *ss desktop Linux system on MMX/64mbRAM technology.

Now, remember we're talking about a desktop experience here. As a file/print/media server, router/firewall, network storage or a way to learn linux, older hdwr is fine.


If you are a visual person and a Windows user, then the interface you are used to will be that of Windows. So far, there are really no interfaces capable of running on older hdwr that will be familiar to the ex Windows user. This is not a diss on Linux, just an observation.

KDE desktop envirnment is the most visually similar to Windows but really wants at least 256 mbRAM. GNOME is somewhat Mac-ish and also wants a similar amount of RAM.

The distributions most recommended for older hdwr are usually Puppy, DSL Fluxbuntu and a few others but be prepared for some "culture shock" as these interfaces can be quite different from the look and feel of W9x, Me, W2k and XP and are really window managers and not desktop environments.

Sam Linux (based on PCLOS) is good on 128mbRAM and uses the Xfce DE which really is tolerable if look and feel are important to you. VectorLinux just smokes on older hdwr and also uses the Xfce interface but also requires 128mb RAM. There are some WM such as JDE ( I think) that are similar to the W95 interface ( which I actually like) but the applications just aren't there.

Wish I had better news for you but I have yet to find something that will be similar in feel and layout to Windows that will run on anything less than 128mbRAM. and if you want a full fledged desktop environment like KDE, you're just not going to get it on 48mb RAM. If someone knows of something out there I would certainly be interested.

Hope this helps

Edited by Trio3b, 16 January 2009 - 03:29 AM.


#10 aw9018

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Posted 16 January 2009 - 11:15 AM

Thank you, Trio3B for a good dose of reality. When I found this old machine in my attic, I thought would be nice if I can make it capable of surfing the internet more nimbly than it could on win98, and possibly read and write some email, while benefiting from a learning experience at the same time. With 98 it gets to the net over the cable connection but for obvious reasons it moves very slowly, which is compounded by the eternity it took to boot up largely due to the drain of the antispyware software( 15 min for spybot s&d to load). I did not intend to take it so far as to completely redefine the focus of my educational background, which is decidedly liberal arts. I don't have an arsenal of DOS type commands committed to memory and I don't really want to spend hours and hours reading books to do this. Some recent newspaper articles and online literature seem to indicate that some distros are becoming more and more user friendly for the uninitiated, and I count myself among them. The ones mentioned as being part of this current trend also seem to those which are conducive to use in old hardware. This is what prompted me to give it a try. I do have alot of patience and I have surprised myself with my ability deal with technical issues arising from my and my family's use of PCs, largely due to to the cost of running for professional help every time something goes wrong. There are limitations, though. I would like to keep trying if there was a reasonable expectation for success. You referred to JDE, but did you mean KDE. I visited KDE's site and it looks like they are trying to reach people like me. Is there a distro that uses that WM that is usable with this limited hardware? This machine is upgradable to 80mb of RAM, but I don't want to do that until I get something up and working. I am also concerned with my ability to navigate the installation, setup and configuration process. Thanks again.

#11 Trio3b

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Posted 16 January 2009 - 06:43 PM

Sorry meant JWM. Stands for Joes Window Manager, and even tho I use KDE, I like Joe's. If you don't need all the fancy browser plugins, you can use the 'Dillo Browser which is a stripped web browser but works well on older hdwr (you can also learn to use text based browsing which really speeds things up.)

I probably scared you by saying that the interface will be different than what you're used to. That fact is that you will RARELY IF EVER need to execute any DOS-like commands. Linux has progeressed well beyond that point. It's just that the visual and physical layouts of menus/buttons/controls are different than what you may be used to. If I may suggest, you can pickup a Pll or Plll from your local thrift shop for about $30 US. Take that home, get yourself a LiveCD and just poke around Linux for a few weeks.

Hope this helps

Edited by Trio3b, 16 January 2009 - 06:56 PM.


#12 kendallcschm

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Posted 25 January 2009 - 07:50 AM

i tried installing Ubuntu on an old laptop but it didn't really work... comp was too weak.. pentium II with very little memory.. just enough to run XP...




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