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Simple question: There is a gazillion Linux distributions out there. Which one (distribution/incl. window manager) makes (technically) the most efficient use of my (aging) computer ?

I have appx. 1 GB RAM and a 1.6 GHz processor, 120 GB hd. I develop applications (C++/.NET/mono/ASP/PostGre SQL/).

Usually, I prefer distros with apt-get.

Anybody knows which one takes the most care of my limited RAM, and wich one is the fastest/slimmest of them all, that has a decent repo and is damn fast)


migration rejected from Dec 15 '13 at 21:03

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closed as too broad by nhinkle Dec 15 '13 at 21:03

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That computer is not that old, compared to what the slimmest distros are built for. For example, Puppy Linux only needs 128MB RAM, with older versions using 64MB. Even Windows XP only needs 64MB RAM and 233mhz CPU. You could run just about anything on there. – Will Eddins Oct 21 '09 at 19:58
Correct me if I'm wrong, but according to Microsoft's um... optimistic requirements, you could even (allegedly) run Vista or 7 on that. – Macha Oct 22 '09 at 17:27
I did run Vista on that (worked fine), and I still have Vista and XP on another partition, but I really don't want to use XP and/or Vista unless I really have absolutely no other option. – Quandary Feb 21 '10 at 12:30

gentoo is pretty nice but it's tough to get installed.

NOT for the faint of heart, but if you're willing, you'll get something you can love forever. – Phoshi Oct 21 '09 at 19:06
I was going to suggest Gentoo, it's a mission to install but I learnt a lot doing it. – David Hayes Oct 21 '09 at 23:38
If you have one or two weeks of time to install. I don't accept anything over 1 hour. – Quandary Feb 21 '10 at 12:32

I spent some time looking for resource friendly distros to run in virtual machines to set up a virtual network. I started with several very small live distros designed for running fron a cd/usb stick, but found that they were very difficult to actually get installed & updating to a hard drive. They just weren't designed for that.

I finally settled on Arch Linux, and was very pleased. Installed and configured with XFCE, it had good/very good performance in VirtualBox with 128Mb ram & 32Mb video ram. With the same specs, Gnome gave good performance, and with more ram, performance was excellent. As for the repos, I can't say how up to date they are, but pacman (pkg mgr) is just as easy to use as apt-get.

The only downside I would give Arch is that it is only available for i686 & x86-64, so you would need to port it for other architectures.

Although you asked about Linux, if it meets your needs, you might consider FreeBSD. It has the benefit of having packages available in both binary & source, with a relatively easy build process, so you can fine tune where needed. It requires slightly more effort to keep everything synced, but it might be a viable option.

I had Arch. Arch wireless network doesn't work, it disconnects randomly. And pacman is really buggy, and yaourt is a pain in the ass. Some reverse DNS problem, I was able to figure out. But not the solution... But it would be an excellent distro if it wasn't for those 2 problems. Well, I could life with having to correct pacman errors, but not with non-working internet/networking (sinc dns is the problem, ssh is not working, too). – Quandary Feb 21 '10 at 12:25

Whichever distro you eventually choose will depend on a balance between raw speed and features: only you can make this sort of decision. You will be more productive on a system where you are happy with the look and feel but a bit less power spare than an environment you don't like but compiles a program a fraction of a second quicker.

I think that your choice of Window Manager will have more bearing on the preformance of the system than the actual distro.

As an example, I am typing this on openSuse on a Dell laptop. Opensuse is a rather heavy install if you have kde as a window manager and all the accelerated graphics and stuff.

However, this is a ten(ish) year old computer using XFCE as the window manager.

I've got a handful of tabs open in Google Chromium, Thunderbird and a terminal with htop running in it and htop reckons that I am only using 106MB of my rather precious 192MB of ram.

So use whichever distro you are most comfortable with but (for a while) keep an eye on "top".

Use a lighter weight Window Manager such as XFCE / Openbox / LXDE. Don't run extra stuff like Tomboy unless you really need it.


I would go for Debian. As far as I can tell it offers most choice with regard to software packages in general and window managers in particular. This makes it rather simple to optimize your system to your requirements for function and performance. If you decide to try a less power hungry application, it's usually just an 'aptitude install' away. If you later want to try another one with better performance, you will quite likely find it in the repositories already. They also have different stock kernels for different needs, etc, etc.


If you can deal without apt, Arch Linux is currently the top dog when it comes to updated packages. It can be heavily customized and as slim as you want it to be.

Want the most performance out of your system? Only add what you want installed with Linux From Scratch. (Note: This requires a fairly broad understanding of GNU/Linux)

Damn Small Linux is very small (50MB LiveCD) and can run with as little as 16mb RAM. It also comes with apt.

Puppy or Vector are not bad either, as an alternative to DSL. – Rook Oct 21 '09 at 19:37
With vector though keep in mind it will use slapt-get, may be confusing to a first time user. – John T Oct 21 '09 at 19:42
up vote 1 down vote accepted

I've now tested a wide variety of Linux systems:

  • Ubuntu
  • Xubuntu
  • Debian
  • Arch
  • SuSe
  • Damn Small Linux
  • Mandriva
  • Fedora

  • Left out Gentoo already because of reading how long installation takes.

    Ubuntu: Very good, but the software (mono & monodevelop) is not very up-to-date.
    Xubuntu: Don't like a graphics manager where it takes ages to make shortcuts - sorry.
    Debian: As Ubuntu, fast enough and ingenious with netinstall, but not up-to-date on mono & monodevelop. Having to manually install no-free Firmware is annoying, but easy (once you know it).
    Arch: Too buggy. Buggy package manager, buggy networking. It would be good and fast, but that's of no use if it doesn't work.
    Suse: Good enough, but too slow
    Damn Small Linux: Very good for the usb stick, runs on 40 MB RAM. Impressive, but too much work, though.
    Mandriva: Nice installer, but too slow.
    Fedora: Has installer filesystem-selections bug, and installing mp4/flv multimedia is difficult, but possible. 686 compiled, just as Arch.

    I have chosen Fedora.
    686 fast, network works, g++/mono/monodevelop is up-to-date, superior database performance, firmware installed by default, up-to-date kernel and SE Linux works.


    Performance is a slippery fish. Depending on how you actually use your machine will greatly affect your performance. You could install ArchLinux and end up having unsatisfactory performance because of how you are hitting your hard dive.

    That said, Puppy, DSL, and SLAX all have the ability to run totally within RAM. If you really want your machine smokin', set one of them up to run within 128MB memory (plenty or any of them) setup some more memory as a ram disk for /tmp and use your hard drive only for 'persistent' file operations, i.e. File -> Save.

    You may be suprised how fast your 'dumpy' old 1 GB memory machine behaves when you're running most tasks completely inside RAM.


    gentoo, debian. Your configuration is okay, i guess, for any distro, just don't use KDE4 it is really cool, but takes lots of resources.


    Slackware + Fluxbox (14MB Ram), is very fast, you can recompile de kernel for your machine.


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