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Seven Linux distros fight over one old ThinkPad
by Rick Lehrbaum (Oct. 4, 2006)

Like most companies, my employer has a stash of old, "obsolete" PCs and laptops that won't run the latest versions of Windows worth a darn. Naturally, this represents a great source of systems for testing the latest Linux distributions.

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I thought it would be interesting to find out which modern Linux distro made the best OS for a supposedly "obsolete" old laptop. With this in mind, I requisitioned an oldie but goodie: an IBM ThinkPad 2662-35U (pictured here), with a Pentium III 600MHz processor, 192MB of SDRAM, and a 20GB hard drive.

Next, I set about collecting as many suitable 1-CD Linux distros as possible. These included copies of the latest Xandros and Linspire that had been provided to me for evaluation, plus free web-downloads of the latest Freespire, Kubuntu, Mandriva One, PCLinuxOS, and SimplyMEPIS distros.

After that, I compiled a list of basic requirements. My plan was to do a quick run-through of each distro -- not spend a week of tweaking and fine-tuning each one -- so I needed a check-list that would allow me to rapidly narrow my search down to the one or two that are most likely to work well over the long haul.

Here's my check-list:
  • Installs and runs usably on the old ThinkPad
  • Provides KDE window manager
  • Customizable to suit my tastes
  • Plays audio CDs
  • Streams Real media (tested using hourly news)
  • Installs/runs my old LinkSys Wireless-B PCMCIA card
  • GUI tool for easy software download/install/update
  • Timely and long-term OS/apps update scenario
As part of my tests of each distro, I planned to install the following apps (if they didn't come preinstalled): Firefox 2, latest Thunderbird, RealPlayer 10, Acroread 7, K3b, Amarok, Xine, Kaffeine, KsCD, OO.o, Kate, Bluefish, Gimp, Opera, Konqueror, Gaim, Skype, Ksnapshot, and the Macromedia Flash Firefox plugin.

For my final step of preparation, I created a scorecard template that would help me quantify my findings:

Installation0-5 points
Customizable0-5 points
Hardware/multimedia support0-5 points
Apps included/available0-5 points
Total:0-20 points

After preparing the check-list and scorecard, I set about installing each of the collected distros, one after another, to see what worked and what didn't in each case.

My observations on each distro appear below (alphabetically arranged), along with the scorecards and a few screenshots of each. Some overall conclusions from this project appear at the end. Bear in mind that this data represents the results of a couple of hours spent on each, not days and days of tweaking and fine tuning.

Click each of these screenshots to read the distro's results:









After clicking on the above screenshots to see how each distro fared, read the conclusion of this article here. The results may surprise you!

(Click here for further information)

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