For about two months now I’ve been using Debian on this Pentium, but I rebuilt it over the past few days as an identical machine in Crux. And at last, everything is working right.
Of course, that wouldn’t have been possible at all without Debian in the first place. I tried off and on for a couple of years to get sound working, or to get the framebuffer display to push beyond 640×480. I never got the combination of kernel options arranged correctly on my own, so I borrowed from the testing kernel configuration and adjusted it from there.
Lo and behold, not only did my system boot on the first try, but it snapped easily to the full 800×600 LCD, and the same sound modules and options I wrangled a month ago work perfectly too. Of course I pruned out a lot of things from Debian’s configuration but I was a little more cautious this time, and made sure I wasn’t pruning it down to a level of unusability.
Which means that everything just works. Finally, after a year-plus of mangling my own configurations and achieving only mediocre (even if still acceptably functional) results, I have sound, proper framebuffer dimensions, wireless access, etc., etc.
Performancewise — and this is the funny part — there’s not a whole lot of difference. Yes, my boot time is shorter in Crux, and the amount of memory I use is considerably less (if the difference between 24Mb and 14Mb can be described as “considerable”) but after that, it’s about the same.
Which is both good and bad. Good, because it means I sacrificed nothing by converting to Crux, but bad because things like stuttering audio under mocp are the same. I don’t plan on using this machine for audio playback so I guess I can rationalize that away, but it’s comforting to know that it is there, working and available, if I want it.
The only holdout in my preferred standard array of software is, ironically, fim … ironic because now that the full framebuffer is working, the framebuffer image viewer won’t compile. I can live until I get that working though.
But honestly, considering the sum total of results for both Crux and Debian, there is little difference — and probably therefore, little to be gained spending days compiling on a surrogate machine, transplanting drives, adjusting configurations, etc., etc.
Ordinarily I would suggest Arch for anyone probing a new-to-you computer, to better find out what the guts are, and how to configure them manually. It goes without saying that on a pre-i686 machine that’s just an impossibility, and for that reason I’d probably have to endorse Debian instead. With only the low-memory requirement to consider, it has been the most helpful and most informative of any distro I have put on this machine.
And so, formally and out loud: Thank you very much, kind sirs and madams of Debian. Your efforts and expertise are greatly appreciated.