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I have just spent the last few hours reading the Gentoo documentation (well done!) I am planning on using an old AMD 800mhz Thunderbird box and turning into a web server, file server/repository, mail server, ftp server, media server, etc.
I would like to attempt a Stage 1 install, but after reading many posts, users complain that it takes days to compile - most likely the same on my machine.
Would a Stage 3 install be much different from a Stage 1 performance-wise for my needs?
Here's my system.
AMD Thunderbird 800mhz processor
2 - 20gb IBM Deskstar
1 - 200 gb Maxtor
Generic 56x cd-rom
Sony 12x DVD Writer
Nvidia Geforce 2 MX
3Com 100mb Ethernet (don't remember brand, but it's auto detected)
Yamaha stupid little soundcard thing
Distribution: Slackware 10.0 and Gentoo 2004.3 Stage 1
Well, personally, just from my comparison on KDE in Fedora Core 3 and KDE on my Stage 1 Gentoo install, the performance increase was very noticeable. It was very obvious that the Stage 1 Gentoo install was much faster.
From what I've heard, a Stage 3 install is fine (or even a Stage 2 install), but if you can leave your PC on overnight and you have some basic Linux knowledge a Stage 1 install would be smart. Just remember that to get the best preformance, look at all of the CFLAGS at http://gentoo-wiki.com/Safe_Cflags. Follow the documentation and check for typos on everything you type and you should be fine.
I have done a load of stage 1 and 3 installs. basically, it will take about 24 hours to do stage 1 on your computer. TBH, I don't think there is that much difference on a fast-ish machine. Mine is 1.4Ghz Athlon and there isn't that much difference. However, yours is slower, so you might benefit from stage 1.
Basically, the faster your computer is, the less you will notice the difference between 1 and 3.
Gentoo has a stage 3 for Athlon, so it is already really optimised