Friday, April 20, 2012

Installing Linux on an old laptop for a Friend

I'm sat here with a friends laptop which he asked me to put Linux Mint onto as I have previously rescued another laptop for him and he has found it very easy to use.

Given the transition to Gnome 3 and the controversy over the new interface I was in a quandary about what version of mint to install for him. The other laptop has Mint 9 installed and as he gets on with this I have decided to install this on the other laptop, Why?

Given that Mint 12 is based on Ubuntu 11.10 and security update support runs out in April 2013 it is not worth the hassle of having to teach him a new desktop interface at this time when he is comfortable with Gnome 2.30.

Mint 9 being based on Ubuntu 10.04 is a LTS (long term support) so will also get security updates until April 2013 so no problems there, he is familiar with the layout and how it works. It is as stable as the proverbial Rock. The hardware is quite low spec by modern standards (1.6Gig CPU with 512mb Ram, 64mb used for graphics) so an older less resource hungry OS fits the bill nicely. OK some of the software is not the latest (it still runs Open Office) but as his main use is for e-mail and internet browsing this is not a major issue.

Given that over 40% of Microsoft Windows users are still running XP (much to the annoyance of Microsoft) and older software on it, it proves (to me anyway) that those wanting to sell us the latest and greatest are not always selling (or giving, in the case of FLOSS) something we necessary need or want, and we could quite happily continue to use the software and as a result, the hardware we bought only a couple of years ago. 

In my case I haven’t bought any NEW computer equipment for over 7 years, quite happily using second hand PC's and laptops either given to me or bought off those people/organisations, who always see the need for the latest and greatest they can afford. It's perfectly possible to get Linux running on old pentium 3 hardware with a CPU running at 700mhz and 512mb of ram, OK it will not be lightning fast but it will run and enable you to do the basics. If you look at the specification for Mint 9 on the web then it is possible to run it with:
  • x86 processor
  • 192 MB of system memory (RAM)
  • 3 GB of disk space for installation
  • Graphics card capable of 800×600 resolution
  • CD-ROM drive or USB port
While this might be the minimum (and I have run old pentium 2 systems back in the *buntu 7.04 days using Xubuntu with the XFCE desktop) with similar specs and it has worked. These days I don’t think I would look at anything less than a P3 preferably with a 600+ CPU and 512mb Ram, just to make it a viable system for regular use. Saying that if you were to use one of the very low resource systems such as Puppy, Tiny Core or Slitaz and you are only using the system for web browsing and e-mail, then using lower hardware specifications is possible.     

So if you have some older PC hardware that is not able to run the latest Windows OS, (and given that Windows 8 will move to secure boot shortly, so unless you upgrade your hardware to support this you'll not be running Windows 8) you might like to consider putting the Linux distribution of your choice on it and extending its life by a few more years. Even if the hard ware died after a few months you've lost nothing as the OS will not have cost you a penny.

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