X and Openbox in 12Mb

I have not been lax in testing distros with the Mebius, but it is becoming rare to find a system that will start up effectively on 32Mb of memory, let alone install to the disk.

But I do have another miracle of modern science to show: an i586-flavor Crux system running Openbox and Xorg 7.4’s server 1.8.2 on a measly 12Mb of memory, no swap, after a cold boot.

The python memory script I mentioned a year ago confirms that, although it does put usage closer to 14Mb. I never know if I should be mentally subtracting for the space taken up to run it under python.

No matter. That’s not what is important; what’s important is that I thought only Debian could pull off this stunt, but now there are two contenders.

Memory usage is definitely lower in this rendition than in Debian, and start times from Grub to the desktop are under 16 seconds for a 150Mhz machine … with a somewhat quicker hard drive in it, so don’t tout that. Not bad at all, considering some of the speediest Arch machines I have are doing the same.

But it’s also important to note that I build Crux systems with kernels so sparse you can drive a car through them, and without an initramfs, etc., to wait on, things are considerably faster on the startup.

The standard Xorg trident driver was a loss, as was the kernel’s tridentfb module in the kernel. With both the Xorg xvesa and fbdev drivers installed I get an acceptable 16-bit 800×600 graphical desktop.

And it’s not as much of a memory hog as I usually make it out to be. In both screenshots you can see X squished into less than 6Mb of space, which isn’t as good as this was, but it’s still considerable.

Perhaps that is another bonus to using older computers — considerably smaller demands on X. 😈

Openbox is running the desktop in those screenshots too, and while that’s no miracle, it is amazing to me that GTK2 applications like Leafpad or gcolor2 or even obconf run without undue hassle. Yes, everything is still ugly slow, just because 150Mhz is ugly slow. But at least it’s not as bad as GTK2 was at 16Mb.

And because someone is going to ask, here it is:

Yeah, it took me almost half an hour to get that screenshot, so enjoy it. And the screen artifacts are there because it takes 20-25 seconds for a redraw for Firefox, with continuous swapping to the disk. I’d have to time-delay scrot by about two minutes to get rid of that.

For practical use though, I think the standard array of console programs inside rxvt-unicode’s daemon would be an improvement. And maybe dmenu and Musca.

Regardless, this is quite remarkable in its current form. I will continue to sift through some of the other “lightweight” distros and see what I can find, but sometimes it’s just a better idea to build it yourself. :mrgreen:

P.S.: Sound is still screwy though. … 😦

7 thoughts on “X and Openbox in 12Mb

  1. pruba

    You can try to get rid of dbus in your system. With this, you get 500 Mb of free RAM, or so. Try it. I’m runing a Debian/testing without dbus from ages and no problem :-DD.

  2. quigybo

    Meh, if you wanted a graphcal web screenshot you could have used one of the micro-browsers based on webkit floating around these days, like uzbl, surf, juamnji or luakit. I am however well aware of your love for elinks, so you are forgiven 😛

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