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Linux on a 166 MHz Pentium I ?

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February 18, 2010 9:10:35 AM

Hello Tom's ppl!

I have this old (and by "old" I mean "OLD") PC with a Pentium I 166 MHz CPU, 32 MB of RAM and - here it comes - one of the fastest 16 MB GPUs in the universe - the :ouch:  Voodoo 3 2k :ouch:  . It has some half-broken Win 2k installation now and takes 20 min to boot. I wanted to know it there are any Windows-like versions of Linux that could be handled by this system?
I've no experience with Linux (apart from using it for browsing and printing a couple of times) but consider myself quite IT-pro-efficient in general. It has a CD-ROM and a Floppy drive, for installation. The CD-ROM works for sure, don't know about the Floppy, though. I tried to install a PCI-USB card as well, but failed for hard to explain reasons.

Thank you for your time!

More about : linux 166 mhz pentium

February 18, 2010 10:38:13 AM

depending on what are you gonna do with that system but in general case, yes.
February 18, 2010 10:42:21 AM

Not much, really - maybe some text processing. It's more of a symbolic thing. There's not much you CAN do with those 166 MHz, really.
Which Linux would be most suitable for this case, then?
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a b 5 Linux
February 18, 2010 10:46:33 AM

You're really pushing the limits there. However you might just be able to do something with DSL:

http://www.damnsmalllinux.org/

You should be able to boot it on a 486DX with 16Mb of RAM but you might find time to make a pot of coffee whilst it does. If you can find some more RAM then get it in there!!

Forget even looking at the mainstream distros. They all need Waaaay more resources than you have.


February 18, 2010 10:59:51 AM

Hehe, OK - will try this one. Let's see how the old lady coups with it.
February 18, 2010 12:20:30 PM

it should to the trick but it isn't gonna be easy, if you need a gui, check lxde
a b 5 Linux
February 18, 2010 5:29:16 PM

It'll run a lot better with 128MB of ram. You'll want to max the ram out if you can.

damnsmalllinux will run on a PI and even on a 486 but you'll need as much ram as you can stuff into it.

It won't be fast but it'll run.

Good luck :) 
a b 5 Linux
February 22, 2010 8:10:19 PM

If there is an IT department at work have an ask - I found a lot of old ram going when we refreshed some HW a while back, drives had to be destroyed but ram was an easy grab.
a b 5 Linux
March 2, 2010 12:37:53 AM

tulx said:
Hello Tom's ppl!

I have this old (and by "old" I mean "OLD") PC with a Pentium I 166 MHz CPU, 32 MB of RAM and - here it comes - one of the fastest 16 MB GPUs in the universe - the :ouch:  Voodoo 3 2k :ouch:  . It has some half-broken Win 2k installation now and takes 20 min to boot. I wanted to know it there are any Windows-like versions of Linux that could be handled by this system?
I've no experience with Linux (apart from using it for browsing and printing a couple of times) but consider myself quite IT-pro-efficient in general. It has a CD-ROM and a Floppy drive, for installation. The CD-ROM works for sure, don't know about the Floppy, though. I tried to install a PCI-USB card as well, but failed for hard to explain reasons.

Thank you for your time!


You can run a modern Linux on a Pentium 166, but you're not going to get much more than a text terminal (similar to a DOS prompt, but much more powerful) with only 32 MB RAM. About the only use for a P166 with 32 MB of RAM running modern Linux would be to serve as a low-throughput file server, network gateway or other similar tast. You will need at least 128 MB RAM to get any window manager that remotely looks like Windows up and running. I'd suggest going and picking up a machine from the trash pile at a local computer place if you want an old machine to run Linux. Ones near me throw out everything 1 GHz and under, and the 1 GHz PIII Coppermine I got a while back from such a place had 256 MB RAM and could handle running modern Linux distributions like Ubuntu okay. If you want something that can easily run a typical Linux distribution for fiddling around purposes, go get one of the bazillion P4 system off eBay for $20-50.
a b 5 Linux
March 2, 2010 9:33:01 PM

I saw someone get Ubuntu with Fluxbox going using less than 50MB of RAM. Custom kernel though, and a large amount of unneeded fluff removed. Of course, opening up other programs is going to make is start swapping hard :) 
a b 5 Linux
March 8, 2010 5:20:16 PM

You can get a Twitter client on a C64, the question still remains as to why the hell you would want to...
March 22, 2010 9:53:55 PM

I put xubuntu 7.10 recently on a pentium 2 266mhz with 256mb ram. Yes, it CAN be done. The better question is WHY? It will run horribly no matter what. Unless you want to use it to confuse guests or something to that effect lol...there is really no real point. Im thinking an early distro of puppy linux might work though?
April 9, 2010 3:20:14 PM

The problem, as hinted at by previous poster, isn't exactly at the processor level - it's more a matter of RAM than anything.

IF you use a custom built kernel; IF you don't load a 'fat' shell (for example, using BusyBox instead of bash); IF you build and load only the required parts of Xorg graphics server; IF you use a very small window manager (FluxBox comes to mind, also LXVM); IF you run only the most BASIC daemons; IF you use a reduced main C library (like uclibc instead of glibc) THEN you may be able to open a single Firefox tab without swapping for half an hour.

Damn Small Linux is like that.

If you can get more RAM (around 256 Mb), then more 'mainstream' distributions like Xubuntu start getting usable (2 minutes boot, 20 seconds browser loading, heavy swap past a couple tabs).
a b 5 Linux
April 10, 2010 1:42:56 AM

He could try twm :D 
April 19, 2012 5:11:28 AM

I know this is an old post but have you check out TinyCore?

tulx said:
Hello Tom's ppl!

I have this old (and by "old" I mean "OLD") PC with a Pentium I 166 MHz CPU, 32 MB of RAM and - here it comes - one of the fastest 16 MB GPUs in the universe - the :ouch:  Voodoo 3 2k :ouch:  . It has some half-broken Win 2k installation now and takes 20 min to boot. I wanted to know it there are any Windows-like versions of Linux that could be handled by this system?
I've no experience with Linux (apart from using it for browsing and printing a couple of times) but consider myself quite IT-pro-efficient in general. It has a CD-ROM and a Floppy drive, for installation. The CD-ROM works for sure, don't know about the Floppy, though. I tried to install a PCI-USB card as well, but failed for hard to explain reasons.

Thank you for your time!
a b 5 Linux
April 19, 2012 6:45:50 AM

I doubt the OP is still here, if he is, he may appreciate your post.
!