Free Agent: Make Dapper Drake Perform on Old Hardware
As a longtime fan of SuSE Linux, I somehow managed to miss the Ubuntu bandwagon. Now I know what I was missing. I recently replaced SuSE 10.1 with Ubuntu 6.06, also known as Dapper Drake, on my main PC in a matter of minutes, and am now enjoying a clean, feature-rich computing environment that is easy to configure and just works.
It was such a nice change, I began to wonder how well Ubuntu would run on some of my older PCs. Alas, the resulting installations were a little slow, and in one case installation failed completely. But a little research turned up tricks to get Ubuntu sprinting even on antiquated systems. Here are a few basic things I did to adapt Dapper Drake to old hardware.
Get the alternate CD: To install Ubuntu, you must first download the live-CD version from one of the mirror sites listed on Ubuntu's page and burn it (or request a free CD by mail); you then boot your PC with the disc, and install. However, PCs with less than 192MB of RAM may not be able to boot with the standard CD, so you'll need to download the alternate install CD (lower down on the same mirror page) instead.
Cut down on the eye candy: Ubuntu's default graphical interface is the Gnome desktop environment. Though it's very slick, it can be slow on older graphics adapters. One way to speed it up is to avoid complex themes and backgrounds. Choose System, Preferences, Theme, select a lightweight theme like Simple, and click on Close. You can also save memory and avoid swapping to disk by skipping desktop background images: Right-click the desktop, choose Change Desktop Background, select No Wallpaper, and click Finish.
Not all roads lead to Gnome, of course--you may prefer to use the KDE environment with Ubuntu instead. The Kubuntu distribution replaces Gnome with KDE but otherwise installs and works much like Ubuntu. You can also just add KDE to an existing Ubuntu installation using Synaptic Package Manager, and choose one or the other environment from the log-in screen's Options menu. Like Gnome, KDE can be slow on older hardware. To speed it up, choose Settings, Control Center in the KDE menu, click on Theme Manager under 'Appearance & Themes', click on Style under 'Customize your theme', select the Effects tab, and uncheck Enable GUI effects. Then click OK and Apply to finish.
Try a slimmed-down window manager: Another way to accelerate Ubuntu is to choose a window manager that is fundamentally less hardware hungry, such as the Xfce 4 Desktop Environment. You can add Xfce to your existing Ubuntu installation through Synaptic, or download the Xubuntu distribution, which by default installs Xfce in place of Gnome. Xubuntu is also a good choice for machines with very little memory, as Xubuntu's alternate install CD works on computers with less than 128MB of RAM.
Dig deeper: Performance is more than skin deep. Ubuntu's online forums contain additional tips and how-tos on regaining even more precious processor cycles by disabling unneeded services, speeding up Firefox, deleting unnecessary files, optimizing OpenOffice, and more. Start with the "Improve performance in Ubuntu" thread and don't stop until Ubuntu has reached maximum speed.