Old Computers

At one time I was interested in tinkering with Linux desktops on old computers. By old I mean a 486, a Pentium I, and a Pentium II. I still have the computers and they still function.

At one time this tinkering was doable with many distros and desktop environments. These days? Never mind.

That is, never mind if the goal is to use the computer the same as most people use a computer these days — to surf the web, play videos and listen to music — often concurrently. These computers lack the hardware to perform those tasks in a palatable manner.

Ignore web browsing and streaming videos. Probably best to use a window manager rather than a desktop environment. Use the system the same as people did in the 1990s — as a basic office machine. Thereafter these old computers again become usable.

Sort of. Don’t try to fool yourself. Most of these older computers do not support 1 GB RAM on the main board, so forget about full-fledged office suites such as LibreOffice.

A common suggestion is to use a distro from the same era as the PC.

The Pentium I and II systems I own still run NT4 and MS Office 97 with some speed. While I have some Linux distro ISOs from that same era, I can’t speak highly for them with respect to quality. Not to forget that they would be just as security prone as those older Windows systems. Best not to use them on the web.

The 486? That is little more than a conversation piece in my collection. A long time ago I installed a 20 GB hard drive and installed Slackware 11, but the machine has 16 MB of RAM. The video card is failing and the CMOS battery died years ago. Windows for Workgroups with the Norton Desktop run fine but seldom do I try to run Linux. Yes, I tried distros such as Slitaz.

The long-time claim that Linux extends the desktop life of old computers is not a credible claim anymore — unless the definition of old is limited to, oh, Pentium IV or so. For desktops anything less than a 1 GHz CPU and 1 GB of RAM will result in frustration.

On the other side of the spectrum are people who think a dual core CPU with 2 GB of RAM is aged and ancient, implying useless. Silliness and arrogance.

What to do with these old computers? I don’t know. Surf the web for dozens of ideas, but the reality is these old computers lack hardware muscle and are foot warmers with the energy they consume. Regardless, Linux advocates should stop the claims about reviving old computers.

Posted: Category: Commentary, Usability Tagged: General

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