Debian LXDE on an old IBM NetVista? (Celeron, 256MB RAM)

Help with issues regarding installation of Debian

Debian LXDE on an old IBM NetVista? (Celeron, 256MB RAM)

Postby RogerRoger » 2017-08-19 01:27

So I've gotten my hands on an old IBM NetVista, circa 2001. It's not a very powerful machine, but I would like to install Debian on it to do light computing in the modern world. I downloaded the i386 net installer .iso from and ran it on the IBM. With only a few minor hiccups involving my broadband connection, I was able to install Debian to a USB drive (for testing purposes, mind you). I chose LXDE as the desktop environment, as I believe that is the only DE listed in the installer that will run half-smoothly on such an underpowered dinosaur.

Everything worked well until I tried to boot my new installation of Debian. It goes through the usual lines of text (started network-manager, etc.) but freezes on a blank screen before getting a chance to show the login manager. I hit Ctrl+Alt+F1, logged in, and attempted to run "startx" manually, but was met with red, blue, and green-colored vertical bars which are a headache to look at on a CRT display. I would really like to get Debian up and running on this machine. On paper, it should. Is there something more I should be doing?
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Re: Debian LXDE on an old IBM NetVista? (Celeron, 256MB RAM)

Postby arochester » 2017-08-19 08:36

1) Which model of the NetVista?
2) It is not clear how you have Debian installed.
I downloaded the i386 net installer .iso from and ran it on the IBM
I was able to install Debian to a USB drive
Is it on your hard drive? Is it on the USB drive? If the latter did you set the Boot Order/BIOS to boot from the USB? Where is Grub2?
3) Just because it offers LXDE as a Desktop Environment does not mean that you have to install a full Desktop. Look at ... nd-laptop/ . LXDE is a metapackage. You could choose lxde-core which is a smaller metapackage. You could look at the elements of lxde-core and install just the ones you want. Also look at ... tallation/
4) Are you sure that the computer has not just died?
5) If it is economically and mechanically viable, try to increase tha amount of RAM.
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Re: Debian LXDE on an old IBM NetVista? (Celeron, 256MB RAM)

Postby ruffwoof » 2017-08-19 10:28

You're on the borders of just meeting the minimum memory requirement (a quarter of the recommended amount of memory for a desktop environment).

I'd boot a command line version and once that was installed/booting to cli, apt-get install xorg jwm pcmanfm ... which will install X along with a lightweight wm (jwm) and a filemanager ... that can also be used as a desktop icons manager (by running pcmanfm --desktop).

Copy the /etc/jwm/system.jwmrc to your userid's home folder, naming it .jwmrc and add a <StartupCommand>pcmanfm --desktop</StartupCommand> to that file along with configuring it how you like

Thereafter you might get X up and running (startx). After which you could try adding things piecemeal (such as synaptic pulseaudio pavucontrol, volumeicon-alsa, leafpad, mpv). See how those run and then try something more heavyweight ... firefox-esr and libreoffice perhaps or just firefox-esr and then use something like googledocs (online) for office type programs. I suspect the last two could be when it really starts to falter such that you might have to just settle for much lighter alternatives.

Another option would be to keep things really light and not use a gui at all. Install the base command line system and add mc (filemanager that also can serve as a editor (mcedit ... or internally invoke the editor) and sc (spreadsheet) to that along with one of the lightweight browsers (elinks or lynx or .. whatever). ... e_programs ... lications/

Overall however I suspect you'd be happier using a lightweight alternative. Puppy Tahr 6.0.5 for instance ... which you can even just burn to a CD and just boot that ... and set up a savefolder on HDD so any changes you make are preserved across reboots. Just make sure you download the 32 bit version not the 64 bit. Likely that will function more like a 'proper' desktop environment on such a machine (quickly and pretty much complete for the things you might want to do/need).
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Re: Debian LXDE on an old IBM NetVista? (Celeron, 256MB RAM)

Postby RogerRoger » 2017-08-19 13:47

Thank you for the quick responses. Yes, I had installed Debian to a USB drive, which in hindsight isn't very practical, considering the USB 1.1 bottleneck. I believe that in this instance I will take ruffwoof's advice and run Puppy Linux on this particular machine. I have previously been wary of using Puppy because the kernels are so old. I will likely be installing Debian on some of my higher-powered machines, though.
Thank you all for your time and assistance!
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