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I need some general tips about switching to Linux


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I've been considering to start using a Linux OS for quite some time, and I have a rather old PC that would probably benefit from such a change. Since I'm new to the Linux operating system altogether, I've got a couple of questions hopefully you guys will help me to find answers for.

1. First off, what distribution would you recommend? My primary considerations are a smooth learning curve and, more importantly perhaps, that it will work on my very low-spec PC (256 Mb RAM). So far, Debian and Mageia have caught my attention as potential candidates but I'm not sure yet.

Perhaps I should seek an older build of a distribution to ensure that it works on my PC?

2. Once I make my pick, there's one more thing, namely, I want to remove the currently installed Windows version I have on that PC, but formatting the HD is something I'd like to avoid altogether. Is it possible to just "uninstall" Windows after another OS is set up in the system?

All and any suggestions, hints and information on these issues will be deeply appreciated.

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Lubuntu is good for old computers. Part of the ubuntu lineup. But it says needs 512mb ram.
 

Damn Small Linux (DSL) is meant for really old computers. It should work well for your computer. I've used it before and it was pretty good for such a small os. Not sure what you are expectign from an os for an old computer, but I'd expect that web browsing speed would be #1 concern.

 

With 256mb ram you are kinda screwed though (DSL should work fine though, and you can maybe run the entire os/program in ram which would make it extremely fast!). 512mb is better. Can you find any old ram to stick in your computer?

 

There is no way to uninstall windows that I know of. I'm not exactly sure why you want that specifically. I assume you want your files/documents to be preserved, without having to backup? you should backup anything important before doing anything with linux though.

You can dual boot linux and windows (computer starts and you choose which to boot into). Or you can format and install just linux.

 

If your hdd is really old (I assume it is with your 256mb ram), you might be better off running the OS from a usb stick. Does your computer have usb2.0? Or is it 1.1? If 2.0 a good quality usb stick would be much faster than your old hdd.

 

You can use unetbootin to install linux os to a usb stick (it will usually format the usb stick so make sure nothing important o usb stick).

Make sure in your BIOS to allow usb boot first, or there could be a boot menu button to press when computer starts up (F11 or one of the F keys at top of keyboard, it will usually say alongside the bios key).

 

 

I suggest DSL os on a usb stick. If you like the features/speed and it works that is great.

Definitely try any os from a liveusb. livecd possible, but they are slow, but your computer might not support liveusb. Maybe try a cd-rw so you can overwrite cd while trying different OS instead of wasting CDs.

 

Sadly it looks like DSL is not maintained that much. I'd try the Current Release Candidate: 4.11RC2 version.

 

EDIT:

Try http://puppylinux.org/main/Overview%20and%20Getting%20Started.htm'>Puppy Linux and http://crunchbang.org/'>CrunchBang

instead of DSL

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Andrew, thanks a lot for the useful tips!

I'm considering many options at this moment, including the possibility to upgrade the RAM. I'll also check what version of USB I have there, but since I remember that that PC couldn't read one of the newer flash drives I tried to copy something from to it I assume the USB system is outdated there.

Regarding formatting, I've got two partitions on that PC's HD, I'm not sure if I can format one partition while keeping intact the other (I know it's doable theoretically), if yes then a clean installation would probably not be a problem (I hope). It's not purely for the back-up reasons though, more for nostalgic reasons and therefore actually not of utmost importance.

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Do you want to use it as a desktop machine? If you don't have that need it doesn't matter as much what your choice is as most of your resource intensive applications are going to come from the desktop.

 

My personal choice is usually something relating to Ubuntu and on an older computer Xubuntu as it is recognized by Canonical. And yes if you have two partitions already setup it should be fine to install an OS on each of them. The recommended approach is to install Linux second as it will properly handle being able to boot to either OS.

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Try Puppy Linux and CrunchBang

instead of DSL

I've Googled a bit and found a discussion of Linux builds that work on slow machines in a Linux themed forum. They also mention Puppy Linux as a favourable solution, and in addition there's a Russian version of this build as well (I don't mind an English-language interface of course, but it woldn't do if the OS lacked support for file or directory names that contain Cyrillic letters).

Another source also suggested Linux Mint Xfce as a good solution for old PCs. It listes 256 Mb RAM as the minimum system requirements.

And yes if you have two partitions already setup it should be fine to install an OS on each of them. The recommended approach is to install Linux second as it will properly handle being able to boot to either OS.
While I am familiar with the dual/multi-boot concept, my intention is to replace Windows with Linux entirely. So my question is whether it'll be fine to format the first partition and install Linux there while keeping the second partition unchanged. Can a Linux installer handle that, or do I need to format the partition using some other tools (a boot disk perhaps)?

Another question is that I've got an nVidia card there, will the drivers be a problem? I've read in the Mageia documentation that there might be some problems with proprietary video card drivers, but I have no idea if this applies to other distros.

[Edit] ALT Linux Lite is yet another distro tailored for low-spec PCs.

[Edit2] Debian manual suggests 128 Mb as minimum RAM for the desktop enviroment, 512 Mb as the recommended amount of RAM.

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Most linux installers would have no problem formatting windows partition and leaving the other partition alone (you have to specify depending on installer, otherwise it could just wipe entire hdd). Or install linux on the other partition and leave windows partition alone (so you could dual boot).

 

Linux mint is supposed to be a good OS, it is based off of ubuntu.

 

Lubuntu would still run faster (less ram) than xubuntu or most xfce desktop interfaces I think. I have lubuntu running on an old nettop (single core 1.6ghz, 1gb ram) from a usb stick (removed the hdd and put in external enclosure). No problems.

 

I'd try the liveusb of whatever distro you choose to try (assuming they can work on your computer). If not if you have a cd-rw to try each OS, and just overwrite the cd-rw with each os as you try them.

 

Definitely try OS before you install.

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One more question, what if I take an old version of a distro (e.g. a Debian version from mid-2000s)? How much am I going to miss? I do not intend to have that PC connected to the Internet so security is not much of an issue.

More importantly, how probable is it that new Linux software will not work with an old version of the OS?

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I'd think you'd miss a lot software wise using something from 2005. bugs etc.

 

I doubt newly released software would work with 8 year old linux os. You'd run into a lot of problems by choosing a really old OS.

 

If not connected to the internet, what exactly do you plan on using it for? That would be the main question. A firewall? server? print server? old games?

 

The only benefit of using an old OS is if your desktop is really really old and newer OS don't support old hardware that good. But you should try new version distro first before going back in time.

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Thanks, you're right about that of course. I kind of got used to "downgrading" lately, i.e. having to use old versions of software because newer ones simply won't run on a PC with Win98 (the one I'm talking about). I really should consider upgrading it instead now.

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  • 2 weeks later...
If your hdd is really old (I assume it is with your 256mb ram), you might be better off running the OS from a usb stick. Does your computer have usb2.0? Or is it 1.1? If 2.0 a good quality usb stick would be much faster than your old hdd.

 

You can use unetbootin to install linux os to a usb stick (it will usually format the usb stick so make sure nothing important o usb stick).

Make sure in your BIOS to allow usb boot first, or there could be a boot menu button to press when computer starts up (F11 or one of the F keys at top of keyboard, it will usually say alongside the bios key).

I've checked and it turns out there is a USB 2.0 there after all. One question though, I've read somewhere in a Russian Linux forum thread that was exactly about distros suitable for low-spec machines, that running a LiveCD actually will use up more RAM compared to an HDD install. Is that true?

Another thing, I Googled a bit the software that can make a bootable USB, and have come along several mentions of Rufus as a near-universal tool to create bootable USBs provided you have a bootable ISO. How does it compare to the unetbootin tool you've mentioned?

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I think a livecd and livusb should use the same amount of ram. But running an OS off livecd longterm would be extremely slow and noisy. Livecd only good for testing to make sure everything works and installing (assuming liveusb doesn't work). Possible for livecd to use more ram than hdd install, but I'd think they were designed similar, it would mostly depend on what you do. I don't suggest using livecd as your daily os (use liveusb or install livecd to hdd).

 

If your computer has usb2.0 I'd definitely try liveusb for everything as it would be really fast. How big is your hdd? If 80gb or less they were extremely slow. I did some benchmarks in my nettop and ssd thread comparing hdd/usb/ssd speeds.

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