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My laptop is a 12 year old Compaq 610, 4GB DDR2, not upgradable chipset (Mobile Intel GLE960 Express), Core 2 Duo T5870, 320GB HDD and 240GB SSD, Windows 10 x64. System boots fast but performance isn't.

Earlier I tried Linux Mint 18 using 8gb of swap space from SSD, was able to load, minimize applications (up to 4), but wasn't able to work on them.

Requires heavy multitasking like MySQL, Spring Tool Suite, NPM, Atom, Postman, Docker and Firefox. Not to forget PDF reader, Spreadsheet etc.

As of now, doing one task at a time, really annoying. RAM usage exceeds 90% with only MySQL and Spring Tool. CPU is 100% used. Most annoying thing is computer freezes every other minute or two if I open another application.

Idle usage is between 35-40%, no heavy application processes. Disabled startup programs, killing unwanted processes over and again. Tried disabling cache, did startup changes, no improvement.

I need the Spring Tool to be running all the time with MySQL, and that leaves me no RAM space to run other of those above mentioned applications. Possibly the culprit here is to little RAM and underpowered CPU.

What can be done improve the multitasking and general computer performance in this scenario?

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Windows 7, 8, and 10 64-bit need a minimum of 8 GB to run decently - 16 GB for heavier loads. That exceeds the limit of memory for your machine.

The hard drive is likely 5400-rpm which will slow down the computer enormously under heavy load.

Since the machine is 12 years old, you need to consider a new and faster machine.

You can try upgrading the hard drive to an SSD and that will help if it will work with the older BIOS and computer. Still, I would hesitate investing money in this machine. Put it toward a new computer.

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    @SandeepRoy You might be able to use the notebook as a "media reading/watching device" under the circumstances you're in and with a lightweight Linux distro might be able to do some "light load", but anything requiring proper performance is scaled to work on current spec, which is what John gave you. If you want something cheap quickly, look at refurbished computers/notebooks with a refurbished warranty. There is a huge market of computers that lived through their official warranty in some huge corporation that has a requirement to have warrantied tech that then got sold to a refurbisher ... – mishan May 3 at 14:46
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    @SandeepRoy ..who checks it, reinstalls the software, gives it some cheap drive or upgrades it a bit, and gives you a year or two of warranty for half the price of a similar computer new. And since you need a working machine and not a gaming laptop with a powerful graphics card, the machines are a bit cheaper since they don't get snatched by bitcoin miners and gamers. – mishan May 3 at 14:49
  • @John Thanks for the guidance. – Sandeep Roy May 4 at 17:10
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    @mishan Agreed. This machine isn't up to the workload which I'm trying to do. Thanks. – Sandeep Roy May 4 at 17:12
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John’s answer is great, but there’s more that can be expanded on here to explain why you are having such issues.

First off, I think it’s worth mentioning that depending on what you are doing, Linux will run fine on a system with only 32MB of RAM, and you can go even lower than that in rare cases through aggressive customization. Such setups are only really useful for single-purpose network appliances though (like routers). 4GB can be enough for desktop usage with Linux, but only with very lightweight desktop environments like XFCE or LXDE. Windows, as John mentioned, needs at least 8GB to run comfortably. The caveat to this though is that for a 12 year old machine, 4GB may be the absolute best it can do. That was a reasonable amount of memory a decade ago for a portable system like a laptop.

There are three other issues though.

The first is that a Core 2 Duo is not really an appropriate processor for the development work it sounds like you are trying to do. It’s not particularly fast (for a client system at least), doesn’t have good parallelism, and arguably most importantly has at best mediocre cache performance. It’s theoretically acceptable though (2GHz is actually right about the clock speed for a lot of modern server processors, and they obviously do fine with workloads like you are talking about), were it not for the fact that it’s the cause of the other limitations. There’s nothing you can do about this though, because the CPU is soldered to the mainboard (that model of CPU was only available in a BGA package).

The second issue is that you probably have at best SATA 2 support for the storage device. This translates to half the theoretical bandwidth you would get from the same SSD in a modern system, which means that the SSD is only really reducing your latency, not improving your throughput (a good HDD from that era could actually saturate a SATA 2 link under some circumstances, which is why SATA 3 was developed). This performance limitation is going to seriously impact system usability when you have to hit swap or the pagefile, which is going to happen more often because you have only 4GB of RAM and are trying to run a memory-intensive workload. There’s nothing you can do about this either, because SATA support is a function of the chipset, which quite simply cannot be changed on laptops.

The third, and probably biggest after total RAM capacity, issue is that you’re dealing with DDR2-800 RAM. That is, quite simply, so slow as to not be practically usable for any modern memory-intensive workload, and the issue is further compounded by the poor cache size and performance of the CPU, and actually makes the SATA performance limitations even worse (the RAM is actually slower than your SATA link, which means that the RAM is the limiting factor for your storage performance). This is, yet again, not something you can do anything about because it’s a property of the CPU itself.


Overall the general assessment is that you need to just replace the system. If you don’t need the mobility of a laptop, I would probably suggest looking at an NUC. One of the older i3 or i5 models plus 8GB of RAM and an inexpensive SSD will cost you about 500-700 USD and make this old laptop look pathetic in comparison, and will probably use less power too. If it needs to be a laptop, I’m at a bit of a loss for a recommendation, as all the brands I would recommend are either likely to be well beyond your price range, or are completely sold out right now.

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    +1 for Linux with a lightweight window manager. They make a big difference on ancient machines (I set one up for my daughter not long ago). If you've got dual drives that gives you some options: running swap on a separate (fast) volume to everything else can help too, but OTOH you may want your file access to be off the SSD if that's a limit – Chris H May 4 at 8:57
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    Linux will run fine on a system with only 32MB of RAM Uh, just no - not if OP needs "...heavy multitasking like MySQL, Spring Tool Suite, NPM, Atom, Postman, Docker and Firefox. Not to forget PDF reader, Spreadsheet etc." Linux can run on a postage stamp if you like, but no amount of fanboy enthusiasm can conjure a modern workstation out of a 30 year-old mess of transistors. – J... May 4 at 15:42
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    @J... I’m not arguing about their particular workload, but in general, hence my comment about such systems being useful only for single-purpose embedded systems. – Austin Hemmelgarn May 4 at 17:09
  • @AustinHemmelgarn Thanks for the guidance and suggestions. The best is think for this machine is, to keep it for pdf reading. – Sandeep Roy May 4 at 17:16
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    @Chris H I tried that earlier, I did make a difference on application load time, but again same sloppy performance when you try to work on them. – Sandeep Roy May 4 at 17:18
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You noted it even struggles to run Puppy Linux decently. While ancient and absolutely outdated, it shouldn't be that abhorrent.

Try looking at the chipset temperatures when working on the laptop? Do they rise quickly, with the fan constantly running?

Redoing the very old thermal compound between the CPU and heat sink might improve performance there.

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    That i tried earlier, even reapplied thermal paste, change the fan etc. It even has a cooler plate underneath it. It hits 95+ on both cores when I open 5+ applications and fan sounds like a mig21. In idle usage 70-75. – Sandeep Roy May 4 at 17:25
  • Very good point. I assume that you also cleaned the cooling fins or whatever they are called? Lots of dust in the cooling system is common in older notebooks which will lead to the CPU overheating and throttling. – idspispopd May 5 at 10:11
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I've run machines with less, and it very much comes down to being realistic.

I've very much used machines like that as a 'general purpose desktop' - but you're pretty much running a server on it. You've made most of the upgrades you could to get the most out of a machine, but a geriatric terrier isn't winning a greyhound race.

While it needs a reinstall - if memory serves, there's a IDE and AHCI mode for SATA, and you need to change your storage to use AHCI mode in the bios to get the full performance out of a SSD if you haven't already.

Getting a more modern machine is the sensible option (and you have more upgrading headroom) - but out of scope here. You might wish to consider that 12 years pretty much is almost 3x the 'design' life of these laptops. Its even outlasted the company that made it.

Mint's pretty heavy though - in this scenario I'd try to see if debian works, with an LXDE desktop environment. If even that's bogged down, you're going to be unable to run anything resembling a modern system with your requirements.

You might be able to get some life out of the laptop by running it cli only but I notice many gui applications in your list.

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  • "Geriatric terrier isn't winning a greyhound race" Agreed. – Sandeep Roy May 4 at 17:31
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Under Linux you can do a few things:

  • Use compressed RAM and compressed swap (zram, zswap).
  • Play around with swappinness settings.
  • Put swap on the SSD (if you are using zram, make sure this one has a lower priority so it gets used after the zram swap).
  • Use an early out of memory (OOM) killer e.g. EarlyOOM. The default Linux OOM killer completely freezes your system for several minutes when you run out of memory until it finally kills a process.
  • Use a lightweight distro and lightweight desktop environment. Maybe even think about running a 32bit distro since they should need less RAM. However I think most 32bit distros don’t make use of extended CPU instruction sets except SSE2.
  • Disable/kill anything you don’t need: cupsd (printing daemon), Bluetooth daemon/applet etc. etc.
  • Think about your program choices and try to configure/use them for low memory. For example use an Adblocker in Firefox.
  • Make sure your laptop does not overheat, has no faulty RAM, faulty HDD etc.

Don’t expect too much, especially if you are running applications which can eat >2GB of RAM on their own.

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    Running Windows x86 (32-bit) instead of x86-64 might also save a bit of RAM. I also remember something about Core 2 Duo having a speed penalty when running 64 bit code. (It was the first CPU in that line that could run 64 bit code, Pentium M and Core Duo were 32 bit CPUs.) I can't find a source for this, though. I don't know if the difference will be notable, though. – idspispopd May 5 at 11:05
  • I also can’t find any 32 vs 64 bit benchmarks for the Core 2 Duo (Merom) specifically. I guess back then (2007) nobody cared about 64 bits. I dimly recall some later benchmarks where some programs used up to ~30% more RAM in their 64bit versions for minor performance improvements. – Michael May 5 at 14:40
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    My point about memory usage is not only because a 64 bit program will use more memory than a 32 bit program, but that some system libraries will be kept in memory both in 64 and 32 bit instances because there will be 64 and 32 bit programs running. (This is one of the reasons why Apple removed 32 bit support in iOS 11 and macOS 10.15.) – idspispopd May 6 at 6:58
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Requires heavy multitasking like MySQL, Spring Tool Suite, NPM, Atom, Postman, Docker and Firefox. Not to forget PDF reader, Spreadsheet etc.

As of now, doing one task at a time, really annoying. RAM usage exceeds 90% with only MySQL and Spring Tool. CPU is 100% used. Most annoying thing is computer freezes every other minute or two if I open another application.

Others answers covers much of the problem, so here are some extra tips when upgrading hardware is not an option:

  • use Vim / Emacs as your editor
  • Downgrade to an older browser version if you can, they have lower memory footprint
  • cheat and run your server applications in the cloud. You can do this with your development application, the mysql server etc ...
  • cheat and run your mem-intensive GUIs in a remote desktop, and VNC into them (or remote X server ?).

There are some hosting/cloud providers with free plans for low usage, maybe you could take advantage of it. Provided, of course, you have stable internet connection.

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