How old is too old?

A while back I was helping my brother move some old equipment out of a place he use to live. One of the items that I saw there was an old laptop laying on top of some boxes that were stacked up on the floor. It looked kind of old, but I am a perpetual tinkerer, so I asked him what
he was planning to do with it, and he said I could have it!

What I didn’t realize, however, was quite how old it was. I found a review online where you could buy it for just under $1200 back in 2001! That’s 15 years old! In computer years that might as well be archaic! But I thought, well, I could probably use it for something. So I started to tinker.

I decided to try a couple of different opperating systems on it and see what would work the best. I was hoping to use it with Odin, a tool made by Samsung to flash images onto your cell phone, which happens to only run on Windows. While I am a Linux guy, this thing was designed for Windows 98, and said that it was Windows 2000 compatible, so I thought I would start there. I have some old CD’s for both, so I gave them each a try.

Wanting to keep it as modern as possible, I started with Windows 2000. After a lengthy loading process, it finaly booted up. Unfortunately, it was so slow, that I would click on an icon, go get something from the fridge, come back and it just barely started moving. It was so slow that it was reminisc of my old Kleikovision tape drive computer, only prettier. Turns out it couldn’t run Odin anyways, so it really wasn’t worth holding onto Windows 2000.

So I ditched Windows 2000 and installed 98. That loaded up a bit faster, and presented me with a somewhat usable tool. Unfortunately, the built in browser (IE 6) was so outdated that you couldn’t use it to surf the web. When I tried to download newer browsers, or any program made in the last 5 years, it simply wouldn’t do it. Most (if not all) browsers like Opera, Chrome, and the like, have moved on from supporting Windows 98 computers a long, long time ago. With no useful qualities, I decided to ditch the Windows idea all together.

Stepping back into my domain, the Linux world, I tried a few variations of Linux. However, with only 128 MB of ram, I was limited in my choices. I also was limited to i386 versions, as newer versions would not load (of course). So I settled on two old favorites, #! and DSL. I thought I would give both a try and see which one made the computer the most “usable” and hence useful.

I started with #! (pronounced “Chrunch-bang”), but I had to go back to 10.1 to get an i386 variant that was based on Debian 6.0, which would be old enough to run on 128 MB of ram. I actually tried Debian 7, but it took all 128 MB of ram to run, so there was none left to use for any programs. In either event #! 10.1 loaded up without a hitch, and worked pretty well. If you are looking for that version as well, here is the link, because it took me a while to find it:

mirror.vinnymac.org/Linux/Operating_Systems/Crunchbang/

After getting it set up, it actually wasn’t half bad. It took 80 MB of ram to run the system, idling at the desktop. As soon as you opened up any program, it ate the last 48 MB pretty fast. Overall, if you have a Dell Inspiron 2500, or similarly old computer, I’d recommend #!. It worked, but it was really, really slow. Without upgrading, I could apt-get chromium-browser (Chrome’s open source alternate) and Opera browsers, which seemed to work okay, as long as there were no embedded videos in the pages you were viewing. Technically it “could” watch a youtube video, but it ate so much rame and swap space, I couldn’t ever actually get anything to play.

#! did do well for generic browsing, word processing, ssh sessions, and any non-heavy-graphical stuff. I did use it to make a boot animation for Omni-rom, the one in my posts a while back (Omni-amped boot animation). So Gimp and other programs worked well. Overall, it was functional, but seriously slow, which was too much for me to put up with.

Rather than give up, I went all out and installed DSL on the laptop. If you don’t know, DSL is one of the smallest “functional” Linux solutions out there. It was by far the best user experience I had on that laptop. WIth a built in Firefox and Dillo, I was able to do basic web browsing. In fact, it really had everything I “needed” built in, but not everything I wanted.

You can open it up, through the very well done menu options and enable apt-get from the Debian repository. As it was, it used only 20 MB of ram, idling at the desktop. Ted, the word processor only brought it up to 24 MB, and having browsers open only bumped it up another 10 MB or so. I use JWM (the window manager) on my daily computer, so I was already in tune with the interface. Like I said, it ran really smooth.

The downside of a system like that is the lack of any bells and whistles. Mostly one has to use low end programs and you certainly cannot watch youtube videos. Something like this would be better used as some sort of print server. An idea that I am toying with is using the built in modem on a standard phone line for my sound modem cell phone projects.

While I would still recommend #! as a daily driver and more functions, DSL was a lot smoother. Either way this laptop wouldn’t be winning any awards, unless there was an award for “oldest functional laptop”! With that in mind, it might just be a little too old for use as a personal computer. Although I did just use it to post this article.

Linux – Keep it simple.

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