Nothing to scoff at: Arch Linux, 300Mhz Celeron

This time I have no excuse. This time I went into the recycle shop with an eye for anything in the US$10-$20 range, specifically to serve as a torrent slave. And this is what I walked out with.

This is an NEC LaVie NX LW30H/6, serial number s98-3089-0: a 300Mhz Mendocino Celeron with a whopping 64Mb of memory, a cramped 4Gb hard drive, CDROM, floppy, PCMCIA ports, stereo sound and best of all, one USB1.1 port. Physical condition is only fair-to-middling, with a lot of physical use, a few stray marks and a missing cushion or two on the bottom. But aside from that, no cracks, broken keys, scratches on the screen or other damage or abuse. If I was still repainting machines this would be a strong candidate.

In case you’re interested, or in case you’re cruising past this page a decade from now, trying to find out what exactly was in the LW30H/6, here’s what I can tell you:

  • 298.378Mhz Celeron (Mendocino). I love how accurate /proc/cpuinfo is.
  • 64Mb, I assume PC100, but I didn’t actually check yet, and I don’t know how important it is for me.
  • ESS ES1968 Maestro 2 sound card. Sound is a little faint, but laptop speakers always sound rotten, and I didn’t buy it for a stereo.
  • Floppy drive. You laugh, but that is valuable in this house.
  • Hitachi DK238A 4.3Gb hard drive. Small and slow. At least it’s not noisy.
  • Japanese keyboard, of course. Actually I’m not particularly fond of this one, because it pushes some of the outlying keys (PageUp, PageDown, and so forth) into strange locations. It’s a bit cumbersome if you are used to them in specific places.
  • Intel 440BX/ZX/DX, which means PIIX4 for ISA, IDE and USB connection.
  • NEC CDROM. It works, and that’s all I know.
  • NeoMagic NM2160 MagicGraph 128XD against a flawless 1024×768 screen. I had to clean through a few layers of grime and fingerprints, but the final results were nice and clear.
  • Texas Instruments PCI1221 Cardbus support. Which means I can use the faster PCMCIA wireless card in this, instead of relying on pre-Cardbus hardware, like I do with the Pentium.

Performance-wise, it’s nothing to howl about. The drive is slow, the processor is slow, memory is occasionally tight, but other than boot to a desktop and run a background instance of screen-plus-rtorrent, the demands are low. I see no need to put too much effort into this one. This is exactly what I had in mind when I went in the store.

Arch Linux makes it acceptably light and fast, and with the addition of a very lightweight desktop, it’s a working-class computer. As you can see I added the old ath5k-based PCMCIA wireless card, which gives it decent download speeds, and the entire graphical desktop, plus nfs and ssh can all run in under 30Mb of memory with a little swap used. Triggering rtorrent and screen-vs over ssh takes care of the actual “work,” and all the rest is cake.

I have no rationale for installing a full WindowsXP Classic-ish IceWM desktop, except that it was the quickest way to get the applications in place and see if the graphical arrangement was working. I haven’t used anything except Arch on it yet, and to be honest I probably won’t. (Actually that’s a lie, since I used a Kolibri floppy to see if the drive was working … and it is. πŸ˜‰ )

That’s about all, really. This one is headed straight to the closet, to take over from that half-working Dell 600m I had a few months ago. I came to miss having that access point in the house, as well as a single machine to handle torrent downloading. I will probably supplant the drive with the WD Scorpio, which is just lying around these days. Might as well put it to use, and provided it will start, it’ll be good for serving up Ubuntu 10.04, which is due in another 10 days or so. That’ll be a good test case. … πŸ˜‰

24 thoughts on “Nothing to scoff at: Arch Linux, 300Mhz Celeron

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  3. cwsnyder

    Do you really think you will be able to get Ubuntu 10.04 server running in 64M? Even without X?

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      I meant seed the ISO, when it’s released. I don’t plan on installing Ubuntu on this. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. 😐

    2. leorockway

      I run gNewSense 2.3 in my home server. It’s a Pentium with 233MHz, 64MB of RAM and 4MB of video. So Ubuntu (or at least older versions of it) would run on a computer like that. X is out of the question, of course.

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  5. Chris

    You know reading your blog is always fun, though none of the stuff you write about I can relate to (I haven’t had the pleasure of being used to computers with processors below the 1Ghz mark).

    I have to admit I skip over a lot of the terminal app posts. But the posts where you get another computer are cool. And as a side thing I learn random things along the way. πŸ™‚

  6. jack

    If you paid anything for that you paid too much. They should have paid you to take it away (I’m not kidding).

    For 80 or so bucks more you can get a sheeva plug ( In comparison to what you have I think you’ll be really really happy.

    1. mulenmar

      And for a total of US$10-$20 one can do what was done and save an old computer from poisoning a garbage dump. Ancient machines are quite useful and don’t use much total electricity.

      For example, I have a Dell Latitude C600 (Pentium 3 processor, circa 2001) which uses about 10 Watts of power, much like my netbook does. Older machines use even less.

    2. K.Mandla Post author

      No thanks. I’ve looked at sheevaplugs in the past and I probably wouldn’t mind having one, but I’m not going to trade one out for a perfectly usable underdog. Thanks for the note though. πŸ˜‰

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  8. ing

    How many torrent slaves do you have now? It seems to me as though you acquire a new machine for this purpose every month.

    Also, I’ve noticed you’re comment volume has gone up significantly since you got on Good for you.

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      Well, one for each torrent, of course. πŸ˜‰ Just kidding. Only one really, the one you see in this post. And it does feel like I get a new machine a month, but this is the first since February. Occasionally I shuffle machines out the door without mentioning it, which is probably bad form.

      And yes, I think traffic has gone up a little bit since I got on the feed. I don’t think I can show that with statistics, but it does seem to be the case.

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  14. Michael

    How exactly did you get Arch Linux onto this, with only 64MB RAM? From what I can tell, I thought 160MB is the installer’s minimum requirement, with 128MB considered difficult. Did you use an old version, or copy an installation from another hard drive? I have similar machines I’d like to do that with…

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      I am afraid you might be mistaken. The Arch installer will boot on quite a bit less than 160Mb. Put the CD in and give it a try, Michael. It should work for you. It might be slow, but I can vouch for it working. πŸ˜‰


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