I am looking for a Linux distro that can be used to redirect MIDI message from the network to the soundboard a TurtleBeach Montego from 1997. Currently the computer is running Windows 98 se and I get a total latency of 10 ms when feeding audio back through an analog cable. Since the computer has no display, I cannot do any remote control (other than shutdown, which I have added as ad-hoc messages).

Full hardware list:

  • Sound: TurtleBeach Montego
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 6200 AGP
  • CPU: Pentium II Deschutes 333 MHz
  • RAM: 256 MB
  • IDE controller

The following is a list of requirements for the setup

  • A total latency shorter or equal to 10 ms
  • SSH
  • ALSA
  • Utility programs (ls, cp, ... )

Also, it would be nice to achive digital audio return through "what you hear" port without increased latency (on Windows 98 I cannot come below 40 ms if I do so).

All distros seems to be too demanding for that machine. Do I need to configure my own? I do not need any GUI since it is just a server.

  • 1
    I'd suggest you check our Arch, it seems to meet your requirements.
    – schaiba
    Apr 7, 2013 at 18:01
  • Do you really have to use such an ancient ... uh ... <censored>? Apr 23, 2013 at 2:36

4 Answers 4


Latency is mostly a kernel issue, I'd say that newer kernels (and thus newer distributions) will give better results. Distributions are built on the same base software, so what should make a difference is probably more the familiarity with it (you will have to keep it up to date, and having a half-forgotten system around which is managed in an unfamiliar way is a sure recipe for bit rot). Check a minimal install for what you use day to day.


Planet CCRMA. This is a Fedora-derived distribution optimized for audio. It includes optional realtime/low-latency patches for the kernel (see this part of the docs for details) but notes that recent kernels have a lot of this work integrated already and so you may actually find it good enough for your needs.

Within whichever distro you chose, you probably want to look at JACK for low-latency audio and MIDI.

  • For Fedora: A blank CD or DVD or a blank 1GB+ USB stick. A 400MHz or faster processor <= CPU is too slow 1GB memory (RAM) <= Need more RAM At least 10 GB hard drive space (only required for installation) Is not JACK overkill?
    – user877329
    Apr 8, 2013 at 8:41
  • 1
    The CPU difference is negligible. You're definitely pushing it for RAM; you'll have to use a text-mode install.
    – mattdm
    Apr 15, 2013 at 12:33
  • I looked at gentoo. It seems promising.
    – user877329
    Apr 21, 2013 at 9:21

Gentoo and some patience.

I've run Gentoo on more minimal hardware than that and was able to run a full X11 desktop with minimal WM and Opera Browser on it too. (it was more of an "I wonder if it would work" than a daily use box).

I'd recommend Gentoo and the following performance optimizations to limit CPU usage.

  • Compile your kernel options manually selecting only the hardware you need.
  • Compile specifically for the CPU with appropriate SSE extensions.
  • Use BusyBox instead of the normal userland to further reduce memory & CPU loads
  • compile the absolute minimum of the modular GPU drivers for X11 3 is usually the most you need. The one specifically for your card (ATI open source), the last resort VGA default, and whichever other fallback driver you prefer.
  • Compile your audio kernel drivers to only provide the ones you need.
  • Manually compile your userland software by carefully selecting the use flags, avoid any extraneous software that will touch the audio bus.

That may sound like a complex set of things, but to do all that on Gentoo will take just patience, a little medium level technical documentation reading, and determination to not throw in the towel.


I use Debian (probably buster) on s plll 600 MHz with 256 MB ram as a streaming client. Works like a charm.

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