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Old 11-10-2004, 11:32 AM   #1
Registered: May 2001
Location: Canada
Distribution: old ones
Posts: 550

Rep: Reputation: 32
want to turn old PC into server, need distro help

Hi, I KNOW this has been asked a million times, and YES I did a search... the link for choosing your distribution at the start of this forum has a link to an article that no longer exists. ALSO I read the link for that a helpful LQ user posted to another user.

Here's my situation. I have an older IBM PC300GL, which I believe is a PII 333 MHz with about 32 MB of RAM (or is it 64? I forget). I have about 1 GB of hard disk space.

Anyhow, this computer is being used as an HTTP server with Apache and PHP and MySQL. In the future it might act as a firewall and/or DHCP but right now, it isn't. All it does is serve web pages and do database queries.

Currently it has Mandrake 10.0. While the HTTP response is fine, the computer is SOOOOOO Sloooooowwwww when I have to edit or copy any documents on it. All I ever do on that system is bring up the command prompt (which takes like 5 minutes) and use vi. So, I don't need Mandrake's fancy desktop, word processors, games, or anything like that. I tried using it to browse the Internet one time, and it took so long to bring up the browser and change pages that I gave up.

Thanks to the article posted above, I looked into VectorLinux/Slackware, but that too is geared for a desktop system. A desktop is fine but really this computer is so slow as to be nearly unusable, so I just need a "DOS-like" environment so I can just copy files, and edit and delete stuff. I don't need word processors. I DO need apache, php, mySQL, and the Internet (Lynx at least) and the ability to boot into command line mode if the distro has a desktop. (or at least, bring up the console in under a minute )

I did not find any information in this forum about FreeBSD. Isn't that Linux? I've heard it's small and fast and for servers. Or would VectorLinux be right for me with a few modifications? I've only ever used mandrake, so this is my first venture into the realm of distros. Thank you very much.
Old 11-10-2004, 11:49 AM   #2
Registered: Jan 2004
Location: cheshire, uk
Distribution: Ubuntu Hoary
Posts: 605

Rep: Reputation: 33

I'd have a go with Debian..

I was in a similar situation, albeit with an old imac - an old 333MHz G3 (equivalent to pentium 700Mhz-ish), but only 64MB RAM. Anything GUI was ridiculously slow...

So I installed the Debian base system - no X, just a basic install. If you've got a high speed internet connection, this is the way I'd go - it's fairly straightforward to download the base system (~100MB iso if I remember), then use apt-get to fetch whatever else you want. Beauty of this is that you're only downloading what you need, so it's quicker to get up and running..
Old 11-10-2004, 11:57 AM   #3
Registered: Aug 2004
Location: Aachen, Germany
Distribution: Debian Sarge
Posts: 129

Rep: Reputation: 15
I would also recommend debian - if you really *need* a GUI (you should not for a server), use something lightweight like fluxbox.

My debian server runs on 350 MHz PII, 196 MB and, well now, a 120G disk (needed a file server). No, it does not run, i flies!

Apps on the box:

apache / php
cvs (pserver)

HTH, Peter
Old 11-10-2004, 02:21 PM   #4
Registered: May 2001
Location: Canada
Distribution: old ones
Posts: 550

Original Poster
Rep: Reputation: 32
Hmm, debian eh. Thanks for your input. I will definitely look into this.
Old 11-10-2004, 04:21 PM   #5
LQ Veteran
Registered: Mar 2003
Location: Boise, ID
Distribution: Mint
Posts: 6,642

Rep: Reputation: 85
Regardless of the distro, if you're only running 32Mg of RAM, performance is going to suffer. I'd suggest putting the max RAM into the box as will fit. It's well worth it. Good luck with it either way -- J.W.
Old 11-10-2004, 04:41 PM   #6
Registered: Oct 2004
Location: Brooklyn
Distribution: Slackware 14.1, 14.2; Debian Jessie; Debian Stretch
Posts: 309

Rep: Reputation: 37
With 32 megs of memory, you may find that Slackware will be more responsive. I am running Sarge (Debian testing) and Slackware 10 on a different equally low end machine. I find the Slackware machine much more responsive; Sarege will have more readily available software (they're up to 14 disks now), but the tasks you are trying to accomplish are relatively straight forward.
Old 11-15-2004, 10:27 AM   #7
Registered: May 2001
Location: Canada
Distribution: old ones
Posts: 550

Original Poster
Rep: Reputation: 32
Will there be a significant difference between Slackware and Debian, since I probably won't have a GUI? It's true the system is quite low on memory. I would like an OS that automatically mounts the file systems on boot, since I use the floppy drive regularly.
Old 11-15-2004, 12:52 PM   #8
Registered: Aug 2004
Location: Aachen, Germany
Distribution: Debian Sarge
Posts: 129

Rep: Reputation: 15
hm, judging from my 330 MHz Box, I think 64 MB *could* do - it uses lots of the memory for caching.
# cat /proc/meminfo
        total:    used:    free:  shared: buffers:  cached:
Mem:  196886528 193351680  3534848        0 12464128 133513216
Swap: 998604800 114896896 883707904
MemTotal:       192272 kB
MemFree:          3452 kB
MemShared:           0 kB
Buffers:         12172 kB
Cached:         103460 kB
SwapCached:      26924 kB
Active:          14680 kB
Inactive:       161480 kB
HighTotal:           0 kB
HighFree:            0 kB
LowTotal:       192272 kB
LowFree:          3452 kB
SwapTotal:      975200 kB
SwapFree:       862996 kB
Avatar, did you try to start the box on Knoppix yet? If you have the chance, try this (look at the "cheatcodes" document how to test 2.4 and 2.6 kernel in console-only mode), this could give you a first impression how well the memory performs.

Knoppix is based on debian, but IMHO, it should make no difference *where* (from which distro) the running apps and demons come from.

When you are about to set the box up, keep in mind to choose only the things you *really* need - in fact, this is always a good advice, if not for ressource reasons, then for security. A process not running simply cannot be attacked, cannot deadlock or whatever.

A friend of mine set up a quite nice iptables firewall on a 32 Megs 166 MHz box, it serves 20 Clients in a small company very well.

I am excited about your progresses, I would love to see "your" success story soon!

HTH, Peter
Old 11-15-2004, 02:44 PM   #9
Registered: May 2001
Location: Canada
Distribution: old ones
Posts: 550

Original Poster
Rep: Reputation: 32
Thank you Peter!

I have not used Knoppix. This system is up and running right now with Mandrake Linux 10.0, (2.6.X kernel), it's just really slow.

I have more information on my system this time. It's IBM PC300GL; Original description: CELERON 366MHz 128KB 64MB 8.4GB HDD IDE PCI/ISA 4X4 32XCD WIN98 SMB/OFFICE

It's possible that it has a 4 GB hard disk because I might have switched it with an older Aptiva.

Anyway, I am still having trouble deciding between Slackware and Debian. I am leaning with Slackware, because with Debian, having to download all the packages with apt seems somewhat steep for a Linux-newbie. But then, Debian seems more suited to older computers. **sigh** Eeenie, meenie, miney, moe............
Old 11-15-2004, 04:32 PM   #10
Registered: Jul 2004
Location: Parts Unknown
Distribution: Arch
Posts: 377

Rep: Reputation: 30
I have a web-server box that is loaded with Slack10. Just install with a minimal set of packages and use swaret or slapt-get to install apache, mysql, php, perl, or whatever else you want. Just about any distro will work well as a webserver if you strip it down to just the AMP
Old 11-16-2004, 09:19 AM   #11
Registered: Aug 2004
Location: Aachen, Germany
Distribution: Debian Sarge
Posts: 129

Rep: Reputation: 15
Hello Avatar,

hm, just mere speculation, but maybe the 2.6 kernel could be a bit too optimistic for your box - did you try a 2.4 or even 2.2? There should not be hardware on that old box that really requires a 2.6 kernel, and kernel provided security also seems not to be the matter.

Working with apt is not difficult for a newbie - quite the contrary, it provides a good package versioning and does not try to keep you unaware of the config files you have to get acquainted to if you really want to manage your box.

You do not have to download every package with apt - if you get the first two or three Woody Cd's, there should be almost everything you need to run your mini-server.

I suggest Woody because
  • it is stable, so the apt-get upgrade does not bring up as much daily changes as Sarge or Sid do
  • it matches your Hardware
  • it uses apt to maintain security upgrades and package integrity.

On the other side, you do not need the latest KDE because you will not use a GUI at all, and plenty of server software is already included in Woody.

Good luck, and feel free to come back whenever you think we could help you!

Cheers, Peter
Old 11-16-2004, 01:43 PM   #12
Registered: Aug 2004
Location: Ohio
Distribution: Slackware 9.1/10/10.1 RedHat circa 2000, Knoppix, OpenSuse 10.0/10.1
Posts: 122

Rep: Reputation: 15
I'd have to agree with a lot of the other's Slack is your best choice. Its ran on everything I ever owned, Pentium pro, pII, pIII, celeron, P4. I think, with the right kernel and enough ram, Slack could run on a washing machine.

Last edited by Doolspin; 11-16-2004 at 01:44 PM.
Old 11-17-2004, 03:45 AM   #13
Registered: Aug 2004
Location: Perth, Western Australia
Distribution: Mageia , SME , IP Fire, LinuxMX
Posts: 637
Blog Entries: 2

Rep: Reputation: 114Reputation: 114
Have you looked into SME Server 6.0
built on Red Hat
I heard pretty good reviews on it
and I plan on using it myself

live long and prosper


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