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    Laptop Question
    Contributed by synik on Monday, October 22 @ 19:17:33 BST

    Ask Debianplanet
    I was just given a laptop, and was wondering whether it is worth trying to run Debian with X on it.
    It's specs are: P100, 32MB RAM, 1.2 gig HDD, and a 3com 10baseT ethernet card.
    Is it powerful enough for web browsing and irc'ing under X? am I likely to run into problems configuring devices such as the LCD display?
    What other issues may people run into using Debian on laptops?

    rob: If it uses brand name components, like my nice Dell, then you will have a good chance of success. Look at this awesome site for details.

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  • "Laptop Question" | Login/Create Account | 23 comments

    The comments are owned by the poster. We aren't responsible for their content.

    Re: Laptop Question (Score: 2, Interesting)
    by ironstorm on Monday, October 22 @ 19:27:24 BST
    (User Info)

    It's proably not powerful enough to run Mozilla, but IRC (bitchX) should work fine, and NS4 will prolly work ok (depending on your video).

    I ran Potato (back when it was testing) on a IBM P75 Laptop w/ 40 MB of RAM and a 1.2 GB hdd for a while and it was quite decent (especially considering it my network connection was PLIP), got a 10 MB 3com after and it was good too... Think I used to get about 35 KB/s going through Cable Modem->Linux Firewall->PLIP->Laptop... and 2x that with the 3com. Only bad thing about the set-up was the screen was only 640x480 🙁


    [ Reply ]

    Re: Laptop Question (Score: 0)
    by Anonymous on Tuesday, October 23 @ 11:48:44 BST

    Opera should work fine... But I wouldn't dare touching Mozilla 🙂

    [ Reply ]

    Re: Laptop Question (Score: 0)
    by Anonymous on Tuesday, October 23 @ 17:25:11 BST

    Well, I am constantly changing browsers (right now I'm using galeon), but my preferred choice nowadays seems to be Opera.

    The fact is that I find myself using it more than the other browsers (Mozilla, Skipstone, Galeon, Konqueror and Netscape are the ones I'm trying) and I'm quite satisfied with its memory and CPU requirements. BTW, I may not be the best person to give this kind of advice, since I tend to like minimalist programs (and have a public, declared love with Dan Bernstein programs for that reason).

    For the reason stated above, I use it on my (also old) laptop, together with blackbox as the window manager (although I use Window Maker on my desktop machine).

    Back to browsers, I had some problems at first with Opera when I was just trying to use it the first time, since I was already "conditioned" to think of the Netscape way as being the "right way". For instance, I found that the tabbed mode of browsing was weird and not intuitive, but after some months of using this mode, I now am sure to tell you that I prefer it over the usual, windowed browsing mode.

    Opera is also great because it can use Anti-aliasing provided by QT out-of-the-box (and few people seem to mention that). I actually like anti-aliasing for browsing the web, but not on my terminals and this is one reason why I like to have fine control over what gets and what doesn't get anti-aliasing.

    To achieve it with Opera, just set the environment variable QT_XFT=1 and call Opera. To disable for other (QT) programs set QT_XFT=0.

    Another thing that makes Opera shine in relation to other browsers, especially for an older computer with limited resources like the notebook of the original poster, and again on the topic of minimalism and flexibility is that it does not come with an HTML editor, which leaves you free to choose whatever editor you prefer (and also keeps your computer memory free and swap partition free of unused pages). The same applies to the e-mail client.

    All in all, I think that I will buy a copy of Opera, which, BTW, comes packaged for Debian (another plus).

    [ Reply ]

    Re: Laptop Question (Score: 1)
    by synik on Wednesday, October 24 @ 00:16:29 BST
    (User Info)

    I tried Mozilla under 9x on a P90 yesterday....I gave up when it hadn't loaded after 5 minutes.

    [ Reply ]

    Re: Laptop Question (Score: 2, Informative)
    by Zibby on Monday, October 22 @ 19:58:48 BST
    (User Info)

    I have a P266 with 32MB RAM. I installed Progeny on in. X is a beast anyway you look at it. 3.3.6 might be a bit better, but XFree4 has nice features. Really depends on your dist I guess. 😉

    But you can get away with it. I would suggest a very lightweight WM like Blackbox, FVWM2, IceWM, Window Maker, After Step, etc...

    Second, investing in Opera 5 was the third best investment I made in the laptop. It's only shadowed by a new battery in second and a 64mb RAM upgrade on top.

    Even Netscape 4.77 was rather painful on m laptop. And it's not so much a CPU issue as it is a memory issue. Look into a memory upgrade. To max my laptop's memory set me back $25. I got it from

    Even though Progeny's dist is no more, it would be a good starting place. Nothing some dpkg magic won't fix when you upgrade to Woody. 😉

    [ Reply ]

    Re: Laptop Question (Score: 0)
    by Anonymous on Monday, October 22 @ 22:44:42 BST

    I'll second that vote - I use Blackbox and Opera on my old 486 (66mhz, 24MB), and it's acceptably peppy.

    [ Reply ]

    Re: Laptop Question (Score: 1)
    by njennings on Monday, October 22 @ 23:09:51 BST
    (User Info)

    Try running Ion or PWM, they are extremely

    lightweight window managers, and really shine

    with < 64mb RAM. There should be some deb packages for them.

    [ Reply ]

    Re: Laptop Question (Score: 1, Interesting)
    by Anonymous on Monday, October 22 @ 23:38:20 BST

    Standalone might be shaky, but it would probably be an OK X terminal if you've got another machine to boot from. Take a look at, I've had good luck with it.

    IIRC there were some instructions floating around the net that described how to set up an xterm distribution using Debian, too.

    If it works then you'll be able to unplug the hard drive and enjoy the quiet!

    [ Reply ]

    Re: Laptop Question (Score: 1)
    by synik on Wednesday, October 24 @ 00:18:27 BST
    (User Info)

    I hadn't thought of that! I have an underutilised Debian box sitting under my desk too...

    [ Reply ]

    Re: Laptop Question (Score: 0)
    by Anonymous on Monday, October 22 @ 23:43:29 BST

    This should not be a problem. I'd suggest adding little more RAM, as this is much more influental on overall perfomance than a high Mhz-number. xchat and netscape 4 should work quite well and maybe even galeon.

    [ Reply ]

    Re: Laptop Question (Score: 0)
    by Anonymous on Tuesday, October 23 @ 17:32:29 BST

    Yes, adding more memory definitely helps. I'd suggest that if you have enough money, buy as much memory as the laptop can.

    This can also have good side-effects: when you have more memory, you need less swapping, which increases the speed of your program. That's what everybody will tell you.

    But a nice side-effect of that is that if you swap less, then your HD will operate less and then, the battery of your laptop will be drained more slowly, meaning that you'll also get more autonomy with the same laptop.

    So, adding more memory is good for two reasons in a laptop.

    Operating with your filesystems mounted with the noatime option also helps a lot.

    Using Opera and taking these small measures of care will garantee you a lot of happiness with your new laptop.

    P.S.: You can purchase memory for it from -- you can just use the forms they provide and they'll tell you what memory your laptop uses, which is cool.

    [ Reply ]

    Re: Laptop Question (Score: 0)
    by Anonymous on Tuesday, October 23 @ 00:57:43 BST

    I just installed "unstable" on a 486/100 with 24MB ram. I used the potato base floppies and then upgraded to sid using the local mirror of all the debs installed on my server machine using a xircom 10/100 pcmcia netcard. The only major trouble I found was that Xfree4 has no support for the WesternDigital chipset that runs my display (IBM 755CE). Downgrading to an XF3.3.6 server (xserver-svga?)fixed that problem after a bit of tweaking with mode lines. I am currently using icewm which seems to run fine, I haven't tried a web browser other than lynx yet but think that that might be pushing this machine a little too far.

    [ Reply ]

    Re: Laptop Question (Score: 0)
    by Anonymous on Tuesday, October 23 @ 10:39:34 BST

    Yeah, you can't beat the speed of lynx. It has a great UI too. Even other
    textbased browsers like links and w3m are a lot slower than
    lynx on my 486/66 with 16 MB of RAM.

    However, keeping Opera around is probably a good idea.
    When you run into a webpage which relies on graphic or Javascript,
    start up Opera and you can at least view them. Of course,
    you should use a minimal WM, like lwm 😉 Memory is
    a much bigger problem on my 486 than CPU-speed.

    [ Reply ]

    Re: Laptop Question (Score: -1, Troll)
    by Anonymous on Tuesday, October 23 @ 05:06:38 BST

    Honestly, I'd recommend Windows 98(SE). Installing (any) Linux (distro) on a laptop is P A I N. X will (if you run applications like XEmacs, Mozilla etc.) be slow.

    Of course, only using the console will be fine and go fast.

    I've had RH/Debian installed on four different laptops, and the only really simple was an old RH on an old IBM 486 Thinkpad. All the others (Compaq, Dell) required a lot of tinkering with PCMCIA (which IMHO is hard to configure on linux) and X (which is even uglier to configure).

    [ Reply ]

    Re: Laptop Question (Score: -1, Troll)
    by Anonymous on Tuesday, October 23 @ 08:32:57 BST

    What you're saying here is absolutely not true. It might be true for you personally because you're not able to install linux easily but installing linux on any laptop is the easiest thing you can do. At least it is MUCH easier than installing any Windows.

    I am using linux on laptops since about 5 years and never had a problem installing it. I used models from Compaq, IBM, Toshiba and Asus and all those machines just ran fine and were all easy to install (incl. X11 and network).

    If you are saying it is a pain to install linux on laptop can you please exactly specify what this pain should be?

    My latest (easy) install was Debian Unstable on Asus laptop using the potato CDs to boot from and install the base system, then upgrade to Unstable. No problem at all!

    To answer the question from the original poster: Yes, you can run Linux (and X11) on a laptop with such specs but please do not expect miracles. I'd recommend to use a lightweight windowmanager and not any GNOME or KDE desktop. Although I had once KDE-1.1.2 running on a P120/48MB laptop, but it was quite slow. In addition I would try using Opera Browser as it is also known to be small and fast. Maybe it is worth for you to buy an official Opera license, otherwise you have to live with the free version which shows ads all the time.

    If there is a possibility to expand RAM then do it. More memory will be very valuable in your situation. If you have problems/questions you can subscribe/search the Debian Laptop mailing list and also look on

    Have Fun :^)


    [ Reply ]

    You are definitely a Troll. (Score: -1, Troll)
    by Anonymous on Tuesday, October 23 @ 11:50:39 BST


    [ Reply ]

    Re: Laptop Question (Score: 2, Informative)
    by thumb on Tuesday, October 23 @ 10:38:34 BST
    (User Info)

    I am writing this on my Pentium 90 Laptop w/ 24 MB of ram. The hardest part in getting Debian to run well on this machine was conserving memory. Here are some things that helped:

    - edited /etc/inittab to remove excess getty's

    - custom kernel

    - removed the packages sysklogd, gpm and exim (use ssmtp instead).

    - use a small window manager (I use aewm)

    - use the opera browser (unfortunately it is closed source)

    - i start X with 'exec xinit' - saves a little memory over startx

    - use rxvt instead of xterm

    after those steps, running Opera and Mutt makes this a great internet machine.
    I welcome any other suggestions for saving memory.


    [ Reply ]

    Re: Laptop Question (Score: 0)
    by Anonymous on Tuesday, October 23 @ 15:19:45 BST

    I'm running Debian testing/unstable on a Dell Latitude XPi P133ST with 24MB. It doesn't have a CD, so I made my six floppies, booted and it found my 3Com TX574 pc card, which is hooked into my company lan. Got the rest from ftp and have updated it every day since. Very solid, uptimes of over a month.

    The NeoMagic video has been a problem. I can run X, but with crappy video. I know it can be fixed, just haven't had the time. But of course X is slow, but usable. But I'm using it to test an intranet, so I'm running Zope, Apache and webmin on it and it's pretty quick.



    [ Reply ]

    Re: Laptop Question (Score: 1)
    by gwolf (gwolf at gwolf dot cx) on Tuesday, October 23 @ 19:01:32 BST
    (User Info)

    I have a very similar laptop - Compaq. P120, 32MB RAM, 2GB hard disk. I am quite happy with this machine - I use it with X, use Opera as my main browser (Mozilla takes about one minute to load... Once loaded it works decently), and... Well, can't complain. Would be great to have another 32MB, but the machine works quite nice the way it is.

    [ Reply ]

    Minimal Debian Laptop (Score: 1)
    by rwa2 on Tuesday, October 23 @ 19:35:01 BST
    (User Info)

    Hmm, I seem to have the dubious distinction of running Debian on the crappiest machine so far... Toshiba 486/40 16MB RAM, 512MB HD. It was my primary machine, even for my last year of college up until this May.

    My advice, use potato... it seems to have more optimizations for older boxen, and there are more minimalist programs there which haven't seemed to be ported up to woody/sid. dselect will also run much faster. I've updated to sid on mine, and it's pretty miserable... dselect takes forever to run, and sometimes I run out of swap and dpkg dies if I don't kill off enough services.

    I tended to stay in console mode, but I did pop into X to use LyX and gnuplot for my engineering papers. XF4.0 wouldn't work with my old video card, but XF3.3 did nicely. Try icewm, it's small, fast, yet still has the neat CPU/Mem/ppp/eth0 monitors that I've come to crave these days. Mozilla 0.8something just barely fit into RAM+20MB swap, and was unusable :> Opera worked great(!), as others have mentioned. Also try the console web browser "links", it's much nicer than lynx and in an xterm it's almost like using Netscape4 with graphics turned off, frames, tables and all!

    A few years before, I managed to cram Slackware onto a Compaq Aero 486/20Mhz 4MB RAM, 80MB HD. That was something, since I didn't even have a floppy drive for it... but it just goes to show that you could install Linux through a serial port if you're desperate/bored enough! Alas, it wasn't really useful for anything other than running emacs and connecting via ppp to remote systems. My wife seems to have disposed of it when I wasn't paying attention 🙁

    In short, you shouldn't have any trouble whatsoever with that P100 of yours 😛

    [ Reply ]

    Re: Laptop Question (Score: 1)
    by rubicon7 ( on Tuesday, October 23 @ 19:43:56 BST
    (User Info)

    I recently installed potato on a Tecra 8100 - P3 700, 256MB, 12GB; everything worked a-ok (base install, no X or other fooferaw yet), until I upgraded the pcmcia-cs package while moving to sid. I'm uncertain exactly what happened, but when stopping the pcmcia service to upgrade it, the kernel seemed to have gone nuts. Long story short, I'm running woody, and everything's terrific. I think I'll try the upgrade again this week.

    Anybody else have an issue like this with pcmcia-cs?

    [ Reply ]

    Sid pcmcia-cs (Score: 0)
    by Anonymous on Tuesday, October 23 @ 21:55:05 BST

    um, yess... my kernel crashes too when it tries to disable pcmcia for the upgrade. I'm sure you could find something about it on debian-laptop, but I simply told dpkg "no" when it asked if it should stop pcmcia-cs.

    I also compiled my own 2.4 kernel... I haven't been able to get Debian's kernel-image-2.4.12 package to boot, probably due to reiserfs and their use of initrd.

    [ Reply ]

    problems with apt memory usage (Score: 0)
    by Anonymous on Wednesday, October 24 @ 10:23:12 BST

    When I tried installing Debian on a 32M laptop about a year ago, I was getting into problems with apt. Apparently, apt loads lots of information into memory, and 32M just wasn't enough. The system would start paging like crazy and installation took hours. Maybe apt has been improved since.

    [ Reply ]

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