Find out what type of hardware you need to run the open-source operating system
Some people who are new to Linux want to install the operating system on an older, second computer, to try it out and see how they get on.
Others have older computers with obsolete operating systems (such as Windows 98 or Me), and don’t want to pay for a newer version of Windows, but would still like to make a use of the machine.
Some may simply want a separate backup machine, one for a member of their family, or maybe just a file server.
Consequently, the question of the minimum specifications to run Linux frequently comes up. So what type of hardware do you need?
The answer depends on what you want to use the computer for, and which applications you intend to run. That being said, there are a few general guidelines for the most common cases.
For a modern Linux distribution running the KDE or Gnome Desktop, including Ubuntu, Fedora and Opensuse, the absolute minimum memory requirement is 256MB.
However, open up a few applications and the system will immediately start to slow down, so a recommended realistic minimum is 386MB for these desktop systems.
However, to run smoothly, a comfortable minimum is 512MB. Memory prices have declined rapidly over the past couple of years, so adding an extra bit of Ram to an old system could give it new lease of life.
Processor requirements are much more flexible. For average desktop use, such as browsing the web, emailing and writing documents, anything around 500MHz will be fine – this covers just about all PCs made in the past 10 years.
If you want to play back videos, edit image files, or encode music, a speed of about 1GHz is a more suitable minimum. With slower CPUs, extra memory can help a great deal – if the processor is running slowly, this combined with a lot of virtual memory disk access can make the system feel unbearably slow.
The more memory the computer has, the greater the number of applications that can be cached in Ram for fast access, and the less the need to resort to slow disk-based virtual memory. With these things in mind, a recommended specification for a smooth-running system is a 1GHz CPU with 512MB of memory.
If you have a computer with 256MB of Ram and a slow processor, the above systems will be somewhat sluggish. All is not lost though, as there are certain distributions designed to be lightweight and require few resources.
The Gnome and KDE Desktops offer great functionality, but that means frameworks and libraries need to be in place to provide it. This, of course, takes up a good chunk of resources on a low-specification PC.
The XFCE Desktop is one such an alternative. It’s designed to be fast and lightweight and, as a result, works really well on slow machines without much memory. Looks aren’t sacrificed though, and it remains an attractive desktop option.
It comes with several applications, including the Thunar file browser, which offers the simple functionality most people require. XFCE makes an ideal desktop system for computers that are on the borderline for Gnome and KDE, and an excellent replacement for computers running Windows 98 or ME.
It’s possible to run XFCE on computers with as little as 128MB of memory, but don’t expect things to run very smoothly with more than a single large application running.
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