An old HP desktop just came my way for service. Was running XP, but the install is trashed. User would like to switch to Linux, but the box it's only a 950mhz Celeron with 384MB RAM. It does have a decent sized hard drive though (40GB), so something should fit. I tried OpenSuSE 11.3, but it just goes to a black screen part way through the installer. What's the fullest featured distro I can squeeze onto this box?


7 Answers 7


The Debian installer is text-based and is included in the *Ubuntu distriubtion as the "Alternate" CD. There are many lightweight distributions available, such as Puppy Linux, Damn Small Linux and Tiny Core.

More mainstream distributions such as Debian, Ubuntu, Linux Mint and Fedora have lightweight "spins" available, which include either XFCE, LXDE or Fluxbox. Coincidentally I was testing out Lubuntu today (an "unofficial" Ubuntu variant which uses LXDE) and Linux Mint Fluxbox.

It is also worth remembering that the applications which are installed with the distribution or which you install should also be lightweight if possible. It would be counter-productive to install a lightweight distribution on your hardware and then expect it to run Firefox with two dozen tabs open as well as OpenOffice.


I'd have a look at Archlinux for 686, you could install enlightenment 16 or 17, fluxbox or LXDE as a lightweight windows manager and it should run OK on that configuration.

If you can squeeze some more RAM in it it will help greatly, 1Go would be great IMHO.

  • If I had another stick of 256MB PC133 (but I don't) I could get it up to 512MB, but that's about as far as this thing will go. Jan 18, 2011 at 17:47

I'd try Slackware. I've put Slackware 13.1 on a very used laptop and had it work pretty well, but I've also backed off to Slackware 11.0 on a circa 2002 Compaq "EVO". The "EVO" has that ugly, ill-supported "Brookdale" graphics chipset, and the latest and greatest X11 doesn't do Brookdale hardly at all.


Your question reminded me of a distro chooser mentioned in chat a few weeks back. Seems accurate enough, based on a small and completely unscientific trial I ran with friends.

Anyways, according to that widget, you might want to take another crack at OpenSuSE. Of course, I had to guess on some of the questions; your results may differ.

  • Same results apparently. It said OpenSuSE or Fedora... Jan 18, 2011 at 17:46

you can also try Ubuntu LTS 10.04 for this box :)

I have heard about the Fedora 14 LXDE/xfce Spins they are good for low power cpu's


I would say that something with XFCE will probably be your best bet. I had great success with a custom Debian install running XFCE instead of Gnome on a Pentium3 500MHz with 512MB ram; nowadays I would probably use Arch though.


Well, unfortunately, I ended up giving up. I did some testing under VirtualBox on my machine and had no problem installing and working with several distros with 256-384MB of RAM, yet I was unable to get any to install on that Celeron. It's heading out for recycling. The newer Linux kernels really don't seem to be tolerant of older hardware. I had to recycle a couple of my own boxes recently as they just wouldn't take newer Linux versions (despite older ones working fine, and having plenty of hardware). I guess the kernel team must have had to start dumping support for older hardware in order to move forward. :-(

  • Just a further comment. I grabbed a Pentium 4 machine (that runs Solaris just fine, so I KNOW it's pretty standard hardware!) with 1 GiB RAM and am getting the exact same results. Are Celeron and Pentium 4 no longer supported by the current Linux kernel? Jan 28, 2011 at 14:14
  • Interesting. Have you tried just loading an older distro? Or is that not an option in this case?
    – Pops
    Feb 7, 2011 at 20:41
  • I'm able to load older distros on other boxes with the same symptoms. Ended up just scrapping this box as the older distro was unacceptable. Oh well, we tried to keep it going but at some point there's just no helping it anymore I guess. Feb 7, 2011 at 20:53

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