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I'm going to host an event where we have ~15 computers with low-end hardware. I think the computers got 256 MBs of RAM, 5 GB of storage and a 300 MHz Intel CPU.

We've been running DSL on the machines, but since we are only going to use them to browse the web (possibly using Chrome), we'd like to look into as many options as possible.

Does anyone have experience with something like this?

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I know you are looking for a linux... but have you considered a BSD? OpenBSD runs quite nicely (a full install) on a machine like the one you have just described. You can do a full install in ~1GB of space including X. Chromium and firefox are available as packages. –  gabe. Sep 15 '10 at 13:19
    
@gabe: I've read that the BSDs tend not to support as much varied hardware as Linux, which may make it impractical with existing computers. –  David Thornley Sep 16 '10 at 2:12
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@David Thornley - Can't say I've ever had the problem on the 10 boxes we have. FreeBSD supports older hardware just fine. Newer hardware may take longer but it gets there. –  Rob Jul 9 '11 at 12:33
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6 Answers

DSL would be your best bet, but you might try out a minimal Arch installation. Since with arch you build up the system from base.

Arch provides a minimal environment upon installation, (no GUI), compiled for i686/x86-64 architectures. Arch is lightweight, flexible, simple and aims to be very UNIX-like. Its design philosophy and implementation make it easy to extend and mold into whatever kind of system you're building- from a minimalist console machine to the most grandiose and feature rich desktop environments available. Rather than tearing out unneeded and unwanted packages, Arch offers the power user the ability to build up from a minimal foundation without any defaults chosen for them. It is the user who decides what Arch Linux will be
- Arch Linux Wiki

I have arch installed on a 500MB RAM, 2GB Storage and 500 MHZ Intel CPU. A bith tight on storage, but otherwise perfect.

EDIT: Note that arch only works on i686 and x86-64 base systems

Otherwise, I have heard good things about SLAX

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I have had great success using Puppy Linux on older hardware, and as Stefan mentioned SLAX is another good one. The last box I ran Puppy 5.1 on had a:

  • Pentium 3 450Mhz processor
  • 256 MB of Ram
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OpenBSD, small install and the most secure OS availible. The only issue is that it DOES NOT come with a GUI to start out with, you have to add this.

I would say this is more of a good thing than an issue personally, it means you can strip out unnecessary parts of gnome or kde that would come pre-installed otherwise. This is, assuming you want either of those two GUIs in the first place, enlightenment and other lightweights work faster and load faster.

If the purpose is power and stability, OpenBSD. If you want eye candy, get newer machines.

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I would suggest a Gentoo installation with distributed compilation, X11, Firefox (or chrome), and E17.

Should be really fast once installed and compiled. Also, you could pre-compile things in a chrooted environment on faster hardware, and the redeploy the binaries.

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I've had a good experience running Lubuntu on resource-poor machines. I currently run it on several machines that have 512MB RAM.

Having installed Lubuntu on three old machines recently, I have been surprised at how smoothly the process went, particularly given that I am not an experienced or sophisticated Linux user.

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Take a look at CrunchBang. To quote a few lines from the official website:

CrunchBang uses the Openbox window manager. Openbox is lightweight and speedy, and as a result, CrunchBang is fast. Also, whilst CrunchBang is not primarily designed for older systems, it has been reported to operate very well where system resources are limited. Once installed, CrunchBang should boot-up and operate faster than a regular Debian GNOME/KDE installation.

I just threw it at an old Thinkpad TP40 with an Belkin Wi-Fi card and everything just worked, even in live mode!

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