I have some old PCs runnning on my business. And by old I mean PENTIUM-3 800 MHZ and AMD DURON 950 MHZ, with 256MB RAM.

They are running my business software today on Windows XP. I want to run Linux on them.

But today's Linuxes versions require at least 512MB on RAM.

Side note: I know that SWAP and RAM have HUGE speed difference. But with Windows, the performance is already bad. Here goes my question :)

Can I run these new linuxes (Lubntu, for example, which is lightweight) with low RAM but with large SWAP areas? For this consider that I have no disk space problem.

If I do, here comes a general question (for the sake of question, forget about performance here): how low can I go on RAM that the SWAP area will cover the RAM-defficiency? Can I run a Linux only by SWAP?

  • You need some amount of RAM to even boot, let alone load and run a operating system kernel. Remember, SWAP space is disk space that's being used to store RAM pages that aren't needed right this moment. – Michael Kohne Aug 25 '15 at 14:41

You can use lightweight distributions that require less ram. Linux doesn't need 512MB.

SWAP is kind of temporary substitution for RAM. You could use it, but it's much slower than RAM, and could make your experience unpleasant.

Still, you can check out Puppy Linux requirements. It's known for being lightweight.

Also, here you can see list of distributions aiming for speed by using RAM, while remaining lightweight. Moreover, this and this topics can provide some information for you.

  • 3
    The OP's currently running Windows XP on 256 MB, so running Puppy with 256 MB will seem like heaven. :) – PM 2Ring Aug 25 '15 at 13:25
  • thanks for the answer MatthewRock. I'll try PuppyLinux. However, for the purpose of learning, I will leave the question open to know if I can run an OS only on swap, disregarding the performance. – anonimou Aug 25 '15 at 13:32
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    Theoretically it could be possible, practically you don't. First of all, it would be impractical. Secondly, Linux kernel loads itself to RAM at some memory point, so it's not really possible. Also, with today's RAM prices, I can't see why you would want to do that anyway. – MatthewRock Aug 25 '15 at 13:35
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    @anonimou: As MathewRock says, you need some real RAM. I've never tried it but Puppy will (allegedly) function on 32MB, but it wouldn't be fun. Puppy on 256MB is ok - I had a system like that about 10 years ago. But I strongly suggest trying to find some larger RAM sticks that will work on your motherboard. Sure, it's hard to buy old-style RAM new these days, but there's quite a bit floating around second-hand. If you had 1GB your old machines would fly on Puppy, since if you have enough RAM Puppy can load the whole OS into RAM on bootup. – PM 2Ring Aug 25 '15 at 13:47

You can Use Antix Linux which is very lightweight and uses 70mb of startup ram and it also performs well on the old hardware.I reccomend you to use the version of AntiX 17.2 which is very good and it is system-md free. It is also based on Debian which is the also one of the most lightweight and easy to operate.

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