I spent this weekend organizing a high-speed game of Eressea, and the noise from the PC running all day long drove me crazy. I have a fan to replace the loud one with, but couldn’t bother putting it in (it needs soldering).

So I shut it down and booted my precious instead. It’s an old Pentium 166 with 64 MB of RAM, and it’s super-silent, with just one tiny little fan.

Compaq Armada 7350. 166 Mhz, yeah baby!

Of course, it doesn’t run any decent software anymore. When I bought it eight years ago for what would now be now 2100 Euros, it came with Windows 95, and that worked fine for a long time, but we all know the expiry date has long gone, and Microsoft says you should be running XP instead, only we’re sorry, it won’t work. So I installed Debian on it. I got drivers for everything in there (well, no sound, but that’s not a driver fault, that’s the stupidity of the Linux sound systems). And hey, playnig mp3s on it would probably suck up 70% of the cpu anyway.

So, what software do you run if you have almost no CPU power, very little memory and an 800×600 LCD screen? Is there software for that? In fact, yes. The first thing I tried was Gnome, Thunderbird and Firefox. Jesus. Gnome takes forever to load, Firefox sucks up all that Memory, and Thunderbird renders its GUI so slow that I want to switch to another application and multitask while it does that, but of course I can’t, because it also hogs all the memory. I still do it reflexively, so there’s only kswapd running, really.

So I did some searching for alternatives. Here’s what I came up with:

Window Manager: IceWM. At university I used this on Sparc4 workstations, which were significantly less powerful than my precious, and it didn’t let me down now either: It’s absolutely no-fluff, just multiple desktops, taskbar, tray with a clock and windows. Very little RAM usage, very fast rendering.

Browser: Links2. It uses 4 MB of RAM, it renders quite fast (it uses SDL), and the layout is acceptable. It does not understand CSS, which makes some pages (like this one) look very different, but readable. Only problem for me is that Der Spiegel does not render very well at all. I can always fall back on Firefox, but for 95% of my browsing, I don’t have to. HTML is great stuff.

Mail: Sylpheed. My requirements for mail are support for IMAP4, GnuPG and SSL, and it supports all three. I have only started it twice so far, so the real verdict is still out, but it is definitely faster than Thunderbird and looks promising enough.

ICQ: gaim. It’s heavy-weight, really, but not as heavy as kopete, which is the only working alternative I found. Ickle didn’t understand server-stored userlists, which makes it useless. I miss Miranda, and I wish there was a Linux port for it.

And that’s all the new software I am using, and it cut my memory usage down so I actually have space left, and don’t need to swap. That harddrive is terribly slow, as you can probably imagine. The one thing I didn’t find (at all) was blog software for Linux. Something like w.bloggar, and that works with nucleus. I need some advice there, I think.