Looking for a Linux distribution with support for old hardware as the main focus

Can you recommend a distribution that would take being lighter, less resource hungry as a primary focus?

Lubuntu used to be one (and that is the exact reason why I used it), but according to https://lubuntu.me/taking-a-new-direction/ this is officially no longer considered as one of main goals.

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What actually is a light desktop? or an old machine?

I’m replying to you on a decade old x86_64 desktop, that is running Lubuntu 20.04 perfectly fine. Lubuntu is my choice on my intel c2q-q9400 cpu.

I also tested Lubuntu 18.10, and 19.04 using 14-16 year old x86 laptops that were incapable of booting a x86_64 image due to the pentium M processors in them (1gb, 1.5gb of ram), plus a slightly newer 13 year old pentium IV desktop. To me those qualify as very old hardware.

my pentium IV box also has 19.10 on it and still runs it perfectly fine; though with x86 kernels & many packages no longer being built I wouldn’t suggest anyone use it as their primary box (it’s only test for me); Lubuntu 18.04 LTS making far more sense for x86 only hardware.

One of my x86 test laptops; an ibm thinkpad t43 (pentium m, 1.5gb ram, radeon x300) I use with Lubuntu 18.04 LTS. It’s not a primary box for me, being setup permanently for reading web sites, listening to podcasts & other stuff as I walk on my treadmill. Another t43p I …

To be more specific:

“What actually is a light desktop?” - Something that treats performance as serious feature, not something that is to be considered and tweaked a bit after one adds pile of features (mostly unnecessary ones). Something developed with serious concern toward performance, without “well, people can just buy a new computer” approach.

I am running Lenovo G550*, and it works well. I prefer to keep using this hardware. Yes, it is quite old, but I decided on using Lubuntu as my OS exactly because it was supposed to be working well on older machines and I hoped that it will keep this focus. Especially as something that works on old machines works really well on more modern ones.

And I would expect that 18.10, 19.04 and so on to still perform well. After all, performance is no longer considered as truly important, but it is probably still considered as one of desirable things. I am not expecting sabotage, just that performance will be slowly sacrificed in preference to new priorities like modularity. At least, that is how I understand “taking a new direction” (note that this is my sole contact with Lubuntu development strategy).

*went through two fan replacements and HDD -> SSD upgrade after HDD died

LXDE was very light yes, but it was built on GTK+2 technology, which meant the moment users started using GTK+3 apps which most people would have done, some of it’s lightness was gone as both GTK+2 libs (used by desktop) and GTK+3 libs (used by modern GTK apps) were both in memory; memory was wasted having two libs that did the same thing in memory.

LXDE is dead, developers mostly jumped to RazorQt and it became LXQt. LXQt uses the Qt5, modern toolkit (found in KDE, android phones and more including apps found on windows).

The desktop LXDE wasn’t always light for end-users, as to remain light meant they had to consider their choice of apps carefully, especially where ram is limited (less than 4gb in my opinion, though this figure is subjective and depends on what you’re running).

(I personally found Lubuntu 18.10 & 19.04 faster (or lighter) on my single core pentium m dell latitude 610 & ibm thinkpad t43 than Lubuntu 18.04 LTS; on my dual core pentium iv hp dx6120 though I couldn’t decide)

Personally I’ve found LXQt to be equally light as LXDE, often better than LXDE in 18.04. The biggest hurdle to me was the switch from older GTK+2 to Qt; which in order to remain light requires you to switch to Qt apps (but GTK+2 apps were few anyway; and Qt apps will be mostly better than using GTK+3 apps on LXDE anyway).

This is opinion. My experiences will differ from yours because we will be using different apps. To me the amount of RAM a box has is very significant, as more libraries in memory can cause page-faults and thus paging to disk which really hits performance. Its application choices that keep this down, making the desktop choice a somewhat insignificant part of the ‘light’ equation (it’s a starting places yes! a significant one, but not the key point).

There will be end-use cases where Xubuntu may in fact be lighter; it’s now fully using GTK+3, so if you only used apps for GNOME it will very possibly perform better than a LXDE or LXQt desktop. Modern Lubuntu (with LXQt) is light when used with Qt based apps; but even that’s not everything. Pull in some KDE (and thus Qt) apps and you may discover lots of stuff gets pulled in, why? because some KDE apps are written expecting Plasma (not just Qt) making application choice messy again. When you install an app though, and you see what gets pulled in - this provides a huge clue as to how performance will be in my opinion.

My point is desktop choice is only the starting point. A light desktop with the wrong apps will use more resources than another [less-light] desktop using native, or apps using the same resources as the installed desktop.

The desktop developers, and Lubuntu packagers have and do consider this; thus leafpad was replaced by featherpad, my beloved gpicview replaced by lximage-qtetc. However if users don’t want to make the switch and continue to use apps they are used to, the ‘lightness’ of the desktop is gone.

Lubuntu is light in my opinion, but keeping a desktop light requires more knowledge from users, than they possess or want to know about - thus is wasted effort I fear.

I am an end-user, and I love my gpicview, so for me I’ll often take the performance/lightness hit to use the picture viewer my fingers know. It’s my choice, and the efficient or light choice made by Lubuntu devs gets wasted on me. I do tend to decide when I use gpicview, for if I’m using apps that are memory hungry I’ll use lximage-qt instead.

Distribution/desktop choice is only a starting point.

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@matkoniecz As a Lubuntu developer who didn’t write but gave his blessing to that blog post, I’d like to elaborate a bit on things. In the LXDE days we made some decisions with broad effect that were based solely on the need to limit the footprint of Lubuntu almost to the exclusion of function. There were certainly some cases of major user-unfriendliness because of this. There were cases where we were missing rather basic functionality that many users would come to expect. In some cases this was only because we were trying not to disservice some particularly old, archiac system.

This was the impetus for the change of direction. The total overhaul of the OS allowed us to rethink things. We asked ourselves questions not unlike the ones @guiverc mentioned, i.e. what is an old computer? We recognized that even though we wanted to still keep things light (that’s what the “L” in both LXDE and LXQt stand for), we shouldn’t do things that limit Lubuntu’s functionality for the majority of users.

Interestingly, it wasn’t long after that Ubuntu started talking about removing 32 bit packages from the archive. So we would have been forced to exclude exclusively 32 bit computers anyways. We cannot ever say we’re going to generally support “old machines” forever. At some point, “old” becomes “dead” and there’s no use bothering with that.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t support old computers or that we don’t see installations on a lot of old computers. In fact, it’s incredibly common, so it’s certainly an area of focus. I know of school systems that have saved tons of money reusing old computers with Lubuntu. I, myself, came to Lubuntu looking to keep an old machine going. This is always going to be a part of what we do.

To summarize, we support old computers as much as is reasonable and we certainly will always have lightweight as a priority, but will not let it limit us from making decisions that will ensure Lubuntu remains usable and functional.

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Thanks for the GTK+3/GTK+2/Qt/Plasma hint. I was completely unaware about consequences here.

I need to figure out how to get into about what is used by given apps.

Difference between “dead hardware” and “old but has its use” is tricky, and probably mostly function of “oldest computer that I use”.

I am not going to lament doing support for 32, and “LXDE is dead” is certainly a good reason for replacing it.

I am happy to hear that performance is still treated seriously, though I am over is users that was happy about features missing due to performance impact. Some flustrating/missing things were present, but none was limited by the performance.

If you have time for that - what kind of things were added/changed after no longer following that? I am quite curious, as at least for me as the user most of noticeable problems were UI issues that seems to not be limited at all by performance/hardware/etc. But rather by conflicting expectations and limited time of developers.

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The big example: LibreOffice. It was too big for our ridiculously obsessive desire to keep the image CD sized (a computer without DVD or USB is not just old or dead, it’s ancient history), so instead we suffered through numerous bugs with Abiword and Gnumeric that seemed like there was no hope of ever getting fixed. Now we have more stability and better functionality plus additional features and the only thing we really sacrifice is a little disk space.

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I used Lubuntu for 4-5 years (I don’t recall how long). I switched to MX Linux about a year ago and have been happy with it. I tested a dozen distros (some not lightweight at all, just to compare them to lighter-weight distros). I came down to Peppermint and MX. They both fell in what seemed like the goldilocks zone of lightweight, simple, but not excessively barebones and geeky. I.e., I liked Anti-X & Puppy too. But, they were a little too barebones for me.

Peppermint reminded me a lot of the previous Lubuntu LXDE envirnment. I went with MX Linux because the next version of Peppermint was soon to be released. I didn’t want to install it then upgrade. My plan was to use MX for awhile, then replace it with Peppermint so I could have experience with both. But… I ended up staying with MX because it works fine for me.

You could look at those and see if they accomodate the amount of lightweight and older that you’re seeking. If you really need super-old support, Puppy’s probably the right choice. There may be other distros that are in that category, I forget now. I didn’t need that much minimalism. Just more emphasis on it than Lubuntu was committing to. Peppermint & MX are Xfce desktops. I looked at Xubuntu & Mint Xfce. They didn’t seem to use Xfce for minimalism. Just for people who like X, I think. They both seemed like the new Lubuntu, being lighterweight than the more mainstream distros. But, not really focused on that goal either. Like I said, Peppermint & MX fell more in the goldilocks zone for me. And, Peppermint’s desktop’s look/feel felt more like the previous Lubuntu’s LXDE. It felt like it would be the easiest to get used to.

Both Peppermint & MX have nice forum communities. I spent some time on the Peppermint forum and liked all the people. (I’m feeling guilty writing this as I realize I never did follow through with my plan to switch to it after a few months of MX).

I think the strong point of *ubuntu flavors is the large support community. Ununtu flavors seem to have more of the technical, smart people. (I.e., on Mint’s foum, I’ve seen dead-in-the-water posts go unanswered, whereas you get fast help on the *Ubuntu forums). But, IMO, that cuts both ways. The smart guys are less inclined to “dumb down” the distros to appeal to newbies. Mint’s more inclined to do that. So, it’s a tradeoff that way. Again the two distros I mentioned seemed to fit well in the middle in this regard. A lot of smart, experienced users. And, some pragmatisim toward viewing their distro from the newbie perspective.

I’m not sure why I gravitate toward smaller distros. I’m not running older hardware. I came close to choosing Plasma KDE. It’s look/feel reminded me of OS/2 (which I will never forgive IBM for abandoning – as I make a fist and shake it skyward!). But, I know a lot of people who are cost conscious, cut corners, use hand-me-down hardware. So, I like to support that direction with my own use. I don’t need much eye candy, bells/whistles.

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Most importantly, I’m delighted to see you here after a year and appreciate the outside perspective, but I’m curious: why are you still bothering with the Lubuntu forum if you’re not even using it?

I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster of a distro.

I don’t think that for either of them, or for Xfce itself, lightweight is a goal. The “L” in LXDE, LXQt, and Lubuntu, is the same: lightweight. Xfce’s not heavy, but it would say that’s probably circumstantial more than intentional.

Again, out of curiosity, what is it about those two that makes them “just right?” More to the point as a Lubuntu Developer, what does Lubuntu need to fulfill your criteria?

Well, there is that. Have you tried Lubuntu since the switch to LXQt?

I agree with this completely and is the primary reason I have never bothered to distro-hop since first joining Lubuntu IRC.

I admit to having no experience with Mint support but I have found Ubuntu folks to be incredibly friendly and work hard to meet people at their own level of experience. That said, I can certainly say that sometimes the most efficient way to do things is with the command line, for better or for worse. There is always room for improvement, though. That said, any further explanation or examples of how we could do so would be most appreciated!

Thanks again for supporting Lubuntu, regardless of whether or not you’re using it :fist:t3:

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I can’t speak to Mint, but I ran many QA-tests on Xubuntu 18.10, 19.04 and Lubuntu 18.10 & 19.04 using old x86 hardware (various laptops I’ve mentioned some before), I found Lubuntu the better of those two in most cases.

I’m still of the opinion that the wrong software choices will slow down a lean desktop, and that because I still use a

  • ibm thinkpad t43 1.5gb,
  • ibm thinkpad r50p 1gb,
  • ibm thinkpad t43p 1gb
    … or what I’m sure would qualify as old hardware with limited resources.

The purpose of Quality Assurance testing is to look for bugs & problems, and speed (unless it is so slow as to constitute a problem) doesn’t enter my testing so I don’t use a stopwatch. But subjectively I found Lubuntu 18.10 & 19.04 faster on my old single core pentium M & limited ram laptops.

Myself, I felt the XFCE move from GTK+2 to GTK+3 actually slowed XFCE down; and since I noticed this first in XFCE (~17.10) I expected to feel something along those lines when Lubuntu moved from LXDE to LXQt, however I did not. On the pentium M laptops LXQt was nicer and at least as fast as LXDE (if not faster).

On the old dual-core pentium IV (x86) I really couldn’t detect a difference with XFCE as it switched from GTK+2 to GTK+3 (maybe related to the dual-core versus single-core; or the comparison was flawed as I increased that boxes ram from 1.5GB ot 3GB about that time and the extra ram would help; I don’t know though these observations are highly subjective anyway)

(Note: the XFCE slow-down effect may not be as noticable if you’re using GTK+3 apps, but I kept using the same apps I always had; which isn’t GTK+3 on those old boxes. It also wasn’t as obvious on my x86_64 boxes which are c2d & 4gb+ of ram)

Anyway - I don’t believe XFCE is lighter, at least it doesn’t fit with my testing & use anyway. Yes XFCE is a very good desktop, but LXQt is too.

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And indeed this is consistent with the findings of PCMan himself, whose initial attempts at porting GTK2 (they dropped the plus BTW) to GTK3 resulted in more resource usage and so he tried Qt and found it mitigated the problem. And that’s how LXQt came into existence.

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So, I’m assuming 32-bit support, which has been an issue for my old hardware and ‘auxiliary’ or experimental systems, even though I now have a 64-bit laptop.

Tiny Core and Tiny Core Plus continue to interest me, and seem useful on much old hardware. I consider this to be the most ‘classic’ lightweight distribution - there is a book on it - ‘Corebook’

I concur with Walter that I cannot recommend Puppy (too disorganized and fragmented into multiple tracks after Barry Kauler moved on to other projects) - even though I like some of its aspects. Barry K’s latest experiments, including Quirky and Easy, are interesting and fun to play with - but Easy has basically left 32-bit behind.

But the most current distribution that looks good to me, for 32-bit hardware, is AntiX -
see https://antixlinux.com. Maybe Walter will consider that crazy too, but it seems to have an active community. Available in both 64 and 32 bit versions.

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I would normally recommend Debian for 32 bit, so antiX seems reasonable, but I’ve never used it. Kind of silly that its’ called antiX, too, since it runs X, but whatever. :rofl:

I concur with this. If you want an experience that is close to Lubuntu, I think it is worthwhile to investigate Debian Buster. They use the Calamares installer too. Apart from theming, default installed applications and a different window manager, the LXQt version is very similar.

Kind of silly that its’ called antiX

I think the “anti” in antiX refers to it being “anti SystemD”.

I would consider antiX a good choice for the Really Old machines. As mentioned in the about page above it even runs on an old Pentium III. It also has an active community. It should be noted that antiX does not use LXDE or LXQt if you are looking for that experience.

I still do use x86 hardware, and often mention a ibm thinkpad t43 that has Lubuntu 18.04 LTS installed & used on it.

What I usually leave out is my other t43p, also still used contains Debian on it, as does my asus eeepc (it though is rarely used).

On this site I’ll likely always focus on Lubuntu, but I do also use Debian (Ubuntu didn’t yet exist when I started with Debian), and it’s where I land if not on Lubuntu.

So they’re anti(systemd) but (pro)X?? :rofl:

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FWIW, MX Linux is based upon AntiX (or, affiliated in some way). When I felt the desire to try a different distro (after 3-4 years of Lubuntu, and reached the point that I had to use LXQT about a year ago, and felt like it was a good time to “play the field” for awhile), I installed AntiX and had the intention of making it my distro.

I sampled about a dozen distros, and I ended up doing MX because it felt a little more polished, less bleeding edge/hobbiest than AntiX. MX felt closer to Lubuntu in terms of look/feel/polish/pre-installed apps. AntiX seemed more like Puppy (a bit rough around the edges. But, if you like to tinker, it’s very nice.).

As far as I can tell, Antix & MX are the same thing, essentially. MX has curated repos with backports of popular/requested apps. So, it’s supposedly more stable, less prone to third-party apps breaking things. MX makes a big thing out of “don’t use PPAs.” They stress installing from their backports (they call it), requesting apps to be added to those backports.

I’m probably using the wrong teminology. But, it seems like Antix- & MX carry on the old MEPIS community/inspiration. Antix is more barebones. MX adds curated apps/tools onto Antix to make it more user friendly. There are 32-bit MX Linux downloads. https://mxlinux.org/download-links/

I’ve been very happy with MX. I’m beginning to think about buying a new laptop before mine dies (it’s a year past what I expected). When I do that, I’ll install Peppermint and run it for a year. They have a 32-bit too. I was really wanting to go with Peppermint when I chose to go with MX. It was just a matter of timing (Peppermint 9 was a month way, and I was itching to install something. I decided then to do MX for awhile, then do Peppermint. So, I’ll give Peppermint 10 a shot when the new laptop forces a reinstalled OS. I liked Peppermint because something about it felt like LXDE’s desktop, the old/original Lubuntu I was used to. Peppermint felt the most comfortable to me. But, now that I’ve used MX for a year, that might not stand out to me as much.).

You may be right. I just installed Peppermint 10. It uses about 430mb memory. When I compared distros last April (Peppermint 9), it used about 250mb. (It used 4.8gb disk, now it’s 6.8gb).

Peppermint uses Xfce to some extent (and some things from LXDE). I know that the latest release of Xfce added support for GTK3. Maybe that’s what did it.

Last April I installed to VirtualBox or QEMU. This time I’m installing to a brand-spanking new laptop.[1] I don’t guess that would make a difference in the results. I’m assuming it has something to do with Xfce implementing GTK3 support.

I’m going to install all the distros I did last April and see how they compare again. (I should do that again after April when the 20.4 distros are released.).

[1] Acer Aspire 5 model: A515-43-R19L.

  • AMD Ryzen 3 3200u CPU.
  • 4 gig of single-channel ram. Expandable to 32g dual-channel. For $20 I could buy another 4g and have 8g dual channel.
  • 128g SSD drive.
  • AMD Radeon Vega 3 graphics.

It’s really pretty impressive for $320 USD on Amazon. It couldn’t install Linux until I pressed F2 before the Acer splash screen appeared. Go into the bios and:

  • Arrow-right to “Main”
    Enable “F12 Boot Menu”
    Disable “Fast Boot” (I re-enabled this after install and it worked fine. Not sure to what extent disabling this is required/desirable. I gathered from googling that being enabled is a common install problem.).

  • Arrow-right to “Security”
    Set “Supervisor Password” to something you’ll remember. You have to do this for the “Secure Boot” to be editable. (I didn’t set the “User Password.”). Note: after install, I cleared the password in the bios (enter existing password ; then past the “new” and “confirm” fields. That clears the password.). It seems to boot ok. Secure boot remains disabled.

  • Arrow-right to “Boot”
    Disable “Secure Boot” (you can’t edit this field without first setting the Supervisor password. It appears that you can remove that password after disabling secure boot. Secure boot remains disabled.).

Lubuntu installed fine. Very fast compared to the budget Toshiba Satellite C55-B I had. I think I spent $200 USD on that one. So, this one’s fairly “budget” too. But, massively faster. It just needs another 4g ram for dual-channel performance. I’m going to wait and buy two 8g.

Sorry, I’m going off-topic. I just wanted to document this stuff in case someone googles about that particular Acer model, wondering if it will run Linux.

FWIW: I just installed the MX 19 linux distro (but, it’s an experimental “ahs” respin to support newer hardware. MX emphasizes stability and takes awhile to support newer hardware like this Ryzen 3. Their new “ahs” repository is supposed to give more support to new hardware. When MX 19.1 is released it will have a real “ahs” iso.). After install, MX 19 uses about 590mb memory. Last April when I tested MX 18.1, it was about 300mb. (It uses 5.2g disk. Last April was 4.7g).

I’m thinking the substantial difference in mem usage (April vs now) is due to using QEMU/VirtualBox then, and a real machine now. There must be differences in driver sizes(?).

EDIT: I was able to install Lubuntu 19.10 (on this new laptop[1]). Initially I couldn’t couldn’t get wifi to work. It seems to connect, then drop. I started a new topic or that. EDIT AGAIN: I found that it was a combination of user error & Lubuntu’s taskbar network icon saved a failed connection. I thought it was connecting and disconnecting. (I didn’t realize it had a bad password. Deleting the connection and doing it again worked.).

The mem usage is around 490mb. When I looked at Lubuntu 19.4 (last April), it was about 274mb.

To summarize (today / last April):

  • Peppermint: 430 / 250
  • Lubuntu: 490 / 274
  • MX: 590 / 300

That seems to be following a pattern suggesting the growth in mem use is a difference between testing on a virtual machine (last April) & real machine (today). Real drivers vs virtual?

I’ll install some more distros and post to another thread showing how they compare (like I did last April). [EDIT: distro comparison was posted here.]

[1] Acer Aspire 5 (A515-43-R19L), Ryzen 3 3200u, Radeon Vega 3 graphics. 128g ssd, 4g DDR4 ram. See immediately prior post for BIOS changes to make. It might not install without making those…

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