After tinkering with the Thinkpad 560e for a while and learning some of the eccentricities of it, I swapped the 64Mb memory stick out of it and put that in the Fujitsu Pentium that was otherwise languishing in the closet.
With a total of 80Mb to work with, the playing field changes instantaneously. The only reason I spent a year (and perhaps longer) trying to build Crux installations for this machine and its predecessor is because few distros will run comfortably, even at the command line, on only 16Mb of memory in an i586. Crux worked the best, considering it could run X plus a few console-based applications, well under the 16Mb limit.
Ordinarily Ubuntu and Debian won’t even install on 16Mb of memory — the installer program (yes, even the floppy-based installer program) crashes and burns without 32Mb of memory. In fact, neither OS will even boot without 20-30Mb of memory, regardless of how you get the system on there. (It’s always possible that different architectures have different memory demands; perhaps a different machine could boot on less.)
On the other hand …
Stepping up over that low memory limit makes it much easier to handle. For the record, that’s this machine, plus the added stick of memory, and a fresh console-only installation of Ubuntu 9.10.
Originally I was flustered by the framebuffer issues — the system won’t boot to anything but a 640×480 porthole console. I managed to get around that by forcing it to load the uvesafb module in
/etc/modules, and installing v86d, kbd and fbset. From there I could force it to pick the proper screen resolution with
fbset -xres 800 -yres 600, then set the Terminus font with setfont. Your machine might need the same coaxing.
Performance at the framebuffer is acceptable, with strictly console-based programs like you see there. Memory use is around 20-30Mb regularly, with a custom-patched version of screen-vs running (the default Ubuntu version has some eccentricities I don’t like) and four or five text-based applications. The processor will spike if any one of them takes over, but usually falls down to cruising load of about 20 percent, according to htop.
I have wireless access through a Linksys WPC11 v3, which is an ancient PCMCIA card that I adore (the hardware otherwise can’t handle CardBus connections). I have floppy access, which I alluded to in my last post. Sound is still the big falling down point. It might be something in the way Ubuntu handles sound, or it just might be that the hardware is so old that there’s little chance of getting it set up at all. The board is supposedly SoundBlaster 16-compatible, but I’ve never been able to detect it, let alone get it configured. Ubuntu, Debian, Slitaz and (of course, my mangled) Crux systems all come up empty-handed.
But to be honest, I’m doubting whether sound would be a good idea on this. The 560e running Slitaz was having a frustrating time playing ogg files; I have a feeling 120Mhz would only be worse. It would be nice to have sound but I’m not going to force the issue.
Otherwise, I think that’s it. Bumping the machine up to 80Mb makes a world of difference in what you can install and do; if you have a machine treading at 16-24Mb, getting that last little bit of space can seriously change things.