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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Tue, 13 Nov 2012

On 13-year-old hardware, Debian Squeeze with Xfce performs better than Wary Puppy 5.3

I periodically check up on my Compaq Armada 7770dmt, the 1999 machine running a Pentium II MMX processor at 233 MHz with 144 MB of RAM and a 3 GB hard drive.

While I'm still partial to Puppy 2.13 -- a very, very, very old release, I wanted to see how this old Compaq performed on a new Puppy. I do have a 20 GB laptop drive floating around, and if I find it, I could either use it entirely for storage with Puppy, or install something like Debian without the constraints of a mere 3 GB of hard drive space.

Today I did an update/upgrade of the Debian Squeeze installation on the Compaq. Then I burned a Wary Puppy 5.3 CD on another machine and proceeded to try it out on the 233 MHz laptop.

In the unlikely event that you have this exact same ancient laptop and want to run a modern Puppy live system, know that when configuring video, Xorg doesn't work. Choose Xvesa instead.

Anyhow, I don't know if it was the nature of modern Linux, a growing "heaviness" for the Seamonkey web browser, or something else. But Wary Puppy 5.3 was slower than Debian Squeeze with Xfce. Using the web browser at all made the rest of the 144 MB system pretty much unusable.

About a half-hour into my Wary Puppy session, no apps at all would start. I could've rebooted and tried again, but I didn't. I know that using a Mozilla-made browser on hardware this old is painful.

In Debian I use Chromium, which is a quite a bit lighter than Firefox/Seamonkey, and that makes this old machine much more pleasant to use.

And Xfce is a very usable desktop on hardware this ancient. It's all about which applications you use. If you avoid heavy browsers like Firefox/Iceweasel, stick to text editors like Mousepad and Geany (OpenOffice/LibreOffice is not something I'd recommend at all) and keep things simple, even a 13-year-old computer can have some utility. This is a great machine for writing (as I'm doing now with Mousepad).

You can't go wrong with Xfce staples like the Thunar file manager, Mousepad text editor, Ristretto image viewer and Xfce Terminal. To that I add selected extras like the gFTP client, mtPaint image editor (thanks to Puppy for introducing me to it), Geany IDE/editor (thanks again to Puppy) and Ted word processor (introduced to me in Damn Small Linux and no longer in Debian but available as a .deb from the developer).

There's a lot you can't do with a 13-year-old computer, but there's a lot you can do, too.