I'm trying to use some fairly old hardware (purchased ~2000) to have hooked up to my tv full time and I'm looking for advice on which distro to use.

Hardware Specs:

  • Pentium 4 1.9 GHz
  • 765 mB RAM
  • NV11 [GeForce2 MX/MX 400] Graphics Card
  • more available if needed, not sure what else to list though

Machine Requirements:

  • Capable of streaming music/video (a functional browser)
  • Easy install
  • Able to play out to a large screen (~30 inches)
  • Capable of playing DVD's/music from harddrive.
  • Extras that would be nice: ssh support, able to run as a LAMP, able to run as a File Server.

Based on my machine requirements and hardware specs, is this possible? Which distro would you recommend?

I would ideally use Ubuntu Server+GUI but I've been having trouble with the install and I think it may be due to the aging hardware.

  • That GeForce2 was pretty underpowered for 2002, 2.7GB/sec of maximum data transfer may be too little for your video desires. – msw Sep 9 '10 at 1:50
  • I'd have thought that was OK, although presumably you're using composite out as it predates HDMI? What "trouble with the install" are you having? – pjc50 Feb 15 '11 at 14:13
  • My raspberry pi serves as a pretty good media centre, able to play 1080p movies. It does have a hdmi cable though. That'll probably be your biggest problem. – Steven Walton Aug 28 '14 at 1:06

Rather than start from a standard Linux distro and add what you need on top, this sort of task calls for a specialized distro.

I've heard good things about LinuxMCE. It's a customized version of Kubuntu with many media center and home automation add-on packages, all nicely integrated into a coherent whole.

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The general purpose distros have had a lot of recent improvements that have started to cut out the older hardware. Linux may still technically support 486 CPUs, but you're not going to get anything like graphics support out of it, which is what most users are looking for these days.

Hopefully your TV can take a VGA input, otherwise you'll be stuck with SD. That P4 is still more performant than the previous generation of Atom processors, so that should give you some benchmark to base expectations on. Flash on Linux is still pretty CPU-hungry, so you're probably not going to be able to watch more than 480p video even if you can crank your screen size higher then that.

DVD playback can be done in software, but may be complex enough to push that box to its limit.

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  • You think DVD playback will stress a P4? DVDs have been on computers for a lot longer than that.... I think it should be ok, even in pure software. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Sep 16 '10 at 20:10
  • @Mr.ShinyandNew: maybe what he meant is the decoding of the video from DVDs. – tshepang May 22 '11 at 9:49

My soon-to-be HTPC has similar specs, although I don't have the GeForce card. Until now I've been using my Netbook as an ad-hoc HTPC, with lower specs, and good results. So given your specs and requirements, yes it's more than possible.

Dig around the GeeXboX site and see if you like :-)

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  • What does My to be mean? – tshepang May 22 '11 at 9:50
  • @Tshepang - He means, "My soon to be HTPC", meaning it's not completed yet. – Rob May 22 '11 at 10:49

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