back to article x86 Raspberry Pi Desktop is a great way to revive an old PC

The Raspberry Pi Foundation has updated its lightweight Linux for 32-bit PCs. When the first Raspberry Pi launched just over a decade ago, the Raspberry Pi Foundation offered an ARMv6 version of Debian 7. It worked, but it had a problem: while the Pi 1 had a hardware floating-point unit, the ARMv6 version of Debian couldn't …

  1. karlkarl Silver badge

    I use this on my R60 ThinkPad (slightly bulkier, more plasticy version of the T60).

    It is good; it is one of the lighter desktops. Still feels a bit heavier than Windows XP but does ultimately allow you to run more recent versions of everything.

    My only issue with my GPU (and old Intel GMA 945) is not very well supported by the OS anymore, especially in the web browsers it is very slow with lots of black / graphical corruption. It tends to be better to run the browser itself in software; i.e:

    $ LIBGL_ALWAYS_SOFTWARE=1 chromium

    It could be that the xf86-video-intel is not being used and the modesetting support isn't well maintained for such an old GPU but I didn't want to spend too much time fiddling.

    One unlikely OS that I find very, very good on this era of machine (too new to send to landfill, but too old to run "modern" bloat) is OpenBSD. If you can accept the spartan installer (which is very easy btw, if you look at it objectively), it provides a clean OS with X11 and FVWM to get you started. Firefox and chromium are available.

    1. Arbuthnot the Magnificent

      I was recently testing OpenBSD on my X60 and I don't believe Firefox or Chromium were available in the 32-bit edition - did you build them manually?

      1. karlkarl Silver badge

        Eeek. Chromium still is:

        The last i386 build I run is actually 6.9 and indeed that is the last version where Firefox supported. Possibly issues with Rust but I'm not sure.

        There is also Iridium (still chrome based) which might be an option:

        (Apologies for the janky links; obviously pkg_add is to be used ;))

        1. Arbuthnot the Magnificent

          Thanks for the information, I was wrong about Chromium then - must be because I don't really use it at all. You're right though, it does run surprisingly well on the old 1st Gen Core Duo.

    2. AJ MacLeod

      Interesting... I installed OpenBSD on an ageing but not ancient laptop maybe 12 or 18 months ago and found it glacially slow. I loved the "clean" nature of the OS and it otherwise worked OK, just too slow to be practical; in the end I wiped it and stuck Void on there which worked fabulously until the motherboard fried itself.

      Perhaps there was something in the OpenBSD kernel config that wasn't making proper use of the CPU or GPU, I didn't spend too much time investigating it.

  2. nautica Silver badge

    "For a fat guy, you don't sweat TOO much...", and other examples of 'damned by faint praise'

    Perhaps a knowledge of what other more-serious Linux distributions are available would be an asset, when writing an article such as this.

    The closely-coupled antiX and MX-Linux have been available for years, and work extremely well on older laptops and netbooks, as do other Linux distributions.

    From the article:

    "...We found installation very slow, but to be fair, we were trying it on two very old PCs...

    "For a low-end PC for a not-very-technical user, Rasperry Pi Desktop is a great little OS. It won't magically make an old PC quick again, but it works pretty well. Programs launch slowly from old rotating hard disks, but once they stagger into memory, they run quite usably. It can handle light web browsing, for instance, but for bashing out emails or basic productivity duties, it should cope fine..."


    "MX Linux MX-18 & 10-year-old EeePC netbook - Fantastic"

    Updated: April 1, 2019

    "...What really matters is how the netbook behaves. And it behaves oh so well. It's fast and responsive. LibreOffice, which wouldn't even start previously, opens within about 10 seconds. Firefox takes about 20 seconds to launch, but then it runs fine. I tried 720p video, and the playback is quite all right....”

    “...MX Linux MX-18.1 Continuum has restored life to my netbook. It runs beautifully fast, it's elegant, loaded with real, practical goodies. The tremendous part is really the speed. This mini-laptop was weak even when I bought it, but to be able to keep using it in a nice fashion a decade later is truly an achievement...."

    There are other serious alternatives.

    1. revenant

      Re: "For a fat guy, you don't sweat TOO much...", and other examples of 'damned by faint praise'

      I too was surprised to see no mention of MX Linux. It certainly brought a bit of life back to my eeepc, when it began to struggle with more recent versions of Mint. Also worked very nicely on an old Compaq dual-core laptop.

      Just to reverse the point of the article - I particularly like the performance of an MX-Linux respin on my Raspberry Pi 3.

      1. Blackjack Silver badge

        Re: "For a fat guy, you don't sweat TOO much...", and other examples of 'damned by faint praise'

        If you know Spanish there is also Loc os 22,

        And there is also Cereus Linux but is in "testing" status.

      2. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

        Re: "For a fat guy, you don't sweat TOO much...", and other examples of 'damned by faint praise'

        See my comments below.

        I've tried it in the past. It's not especially lightweight, and it had serious problems trying to scale to the Vaio P's tiny ultra widescreen.

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: "For a fat guy, you don't sweat TOO much...", and other examples of 'damned by faint praise'

      I dunno what all this "serious" condescension is about but the article is about a lightweight OS for non technical users. Not serious OS for uber-nerds.

      1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge

        Re: "For a fat guy, you don't sweat TOO much...", and other examples of 'damned by faint praise'

        "For a nerd, you're not too condescending . . ."

      2. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

        Re: "For a fat guy, you don't sweat TOO much...", and other examples of 'damned by faint praise'

        Exactly this.

        There are lighter distros but not *much* lighter and they're a lot more work. I tried antiX and while it worked it's really rather clunky. It can't even remember which desktop you chose last login.

        MX Linux worked fine and I ran it for a while on this machine, but there's no easy way to scale the GUI to adjust for the tiny-but-hires letterbox screen. Adjusting the X11 DPI setting worked but very inconsistently, only some controls scaled while others didn't resulting in a ugly mess.

        RPi OS is about as light as any Linux gets, Just Works™, and it's easy.

        Incidentally the machine is maxed out with 2GB of RAM.

  3. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921

    @Liam Proven in Prague >Sony Vaio P

    Was it usable, faster than Windows 7? I've got a Vaio P and really would like to know. It's a very useful little computer, but with Windows 7 being killed off, I'd like a fast and lightweight Linux. I'm about to replace the HD with an SSD, so this would be a good time to try alternative OSs.

    1. david 12 Silver badge

      We added memory to our Vaio P, so I can't do a direct comparison, but with the extra memory debian worked fine: without the extra memory, Win7 was effectively useless.

    2. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      I haven't tested it exhaustively yet, but I'd say it felt more responsive than Windows Thin PC, which is a cut down edition of Win7. (But disappointingly, not very cut down.) It did at least let me update the machine's BIOS.

      When I got it, It had Win 10 on it. That took about 15 minutes to boot and was completely unusable.

      Xubuntu wasn't much better and took nearly 10 minutes to get to the desktop. I was surprised and disappointed.

      Devuan worked fine but used about 300-350 MB of RAM at idle, significantly more than RasPiOS.

      Alpine Linux can't detect the machine's Wi-Fi chipset.

      ChromeOS no longer supports 32-bit.

      1. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921

        Wow, that's very useful information, thank you! I'll certainly install Pi Desktop (and also try Devuan if Pi Desktop can't run all the software I need) when the mSATA SSD and 1.8" adapter arrives. I'll clone and resize partitions before installing for a dual boot - that "sudo update-grub" tip of yours is deffo very useful!

        Rather helpfully, Sony has removed all of the drivers for Vaio Ps from their website - can I ask where you found the BIOS update?

        I use mine quite a lot, running Windows 7 Home (2GB RAM). The form factor of the device makes it very useful on the hop. I haven't used the SIM for data for awhile, compatible networks may go dark soon, if they haven't already. I do wish there were new devices as small and (sort-of) pocketable, and with bluetooth bult in like the Vaio P.

        The only big issue I have ever had with it, is that the tiny ribbon display cable slightly dislodged from the screen driver board - after opening it up to investigate why the screen was streaky with lines, I discovered it was caused by a tiny blob of glue which had stuck to the ribbon, which pulled it slightly away. I couldn't determine where this glue blob could have come from, but I picked it off and it's been working great ever since.

        The other issue is battery life - after much patient searching, I scored a high capacity battery on an auction site, because the original was on it's last legs. I still need to replace the cells in the original. The new high capacity battery pack powers the Vaio P for hours :) but it is a bit bulkier :(

        I love that it's fanless, completely silent, uses it's casing as a heatsink, is small but has a decent keyboard (not PSION series 5 quality, but there is the Cosmo Communicator to try next). I believe there are ways of overclocking it, but I think I'll leave that alone lol - fanless solutions have their limits, and it'd be hard to find a replacement miniscule motherboard or replacement CPU (it might be soldered to the board, haven't looked). I should buy a second one, for spares.

        1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

          It is a *superb* form-factor and I would love an updated version with a modern low-heat-output CPU.

          I think I got the BIOS direct from Sony, sadly; this was a couple of years ago, in the first lockdown. I also bought a battery on Ali Express but it never arrived.

          1. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921

            Why don't they made new netbooks in the same form factor? Much more pocketable than the GPDs, which I keep looking at but they're just too darn wide.

            Good to know re: BIOS, if I encounter issues, I'll try and find the BIOS update elsewhere.

            Every time I have intended to buy from AliExpress, I found the same item on eb*y dispatched from the UK, and quite often for the same price (or a little more), therefore I have never ordered anything from AliExpress. It's seller beware on eb*y, in all my years they have never refused me a refund. I really don't know what the AliExpress refund policy is, but I doubt it's as good. I someone I know had an ebike battery fail within the warranty period, no replacement or refund from AliExpress, and he's been trying for months.

            I think it's best to buy original Sony batteries, so that when it fails the board is less likely to shut itself down into protection mode, which it may not wake up from. This recently happened with my Acer laptop and it was impossible to revive. I took out the CR2032 (supposesly clears CMOS), I couldn't find a "Clear CMOS" jumper, the board is a dodo... and as usual it makes financial sense to throw it away, rather than buy a replacement board. Mind you, this can also happen with original manufacturer laptop batteries. My Vaio P motherboard going the way of the dodo would be a nightmare. The first Sony branded battery I bought turned out to have been incorrectly listed, wasn't actually compatible, so I got a refund. The second was the high capacity version and "New old stock". I search periodically on eb*y, because they're usually clearer about where items are posted from, or at least, they make that clearer these days.

        2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          BIOS updates

          Have you tried for the BIOS updates?

          It's a bit patchy, because it doesn't archive dynamically generated websites, but I've used it to locate drivers for several pieces of obsolete kit.

  5. oiseau Silver badge

    32-bit Linux distributions

    There are other 32-bit distros still out there.

    Indeed there are, Liam. 8^D !

    The most important among them is probably Devuan Linux.

    ie: a Debian based 32-bit distribution without systemd.

    I have been using it for years on my ca.2010 Asus 1000HE/Atom N280/2Gb RAM netbook with a 10" 1024x600 LED-backlit panel.

    Works a wonder, serves as the hardware I use for my coffee roasting software and always goes with me when Ieave town and need a portable.


    1. Citizen99

      Re: 32-bit Linux distributions

      Just for the avoidance of misunderstanding, Devuan also offers a 64-bit version.

    2. vortexvortex

      Devuan Pi

      Devuan also runs on 32 and 64 bit Raspberry Pi hardware.

      With lightweight sans-systemd hardware optimised builds, it's possible to reasonably use a GUI even on a Raspberry Pi Zero!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Free Math!

    "Barring a couple of Pi-native components, such as Mathematica ..."

    So you are saying Mathematica can be used for free on a 32 bit desktop?

    I imagine it was allowed for on the PI because it would be too slow to be anything but a novelty.

    Probably the same on most 32 desktops though.

    1. nautica Silver badge

      Re: Free Math!

      No, Mathematica cannot be used "for free" on a 32-bit desktop machine. It is only licensed for "free" use on 32-bit RPi hardware.

      Yes, due to its complexity, it is only a novelty on any RPi 32-bit (ie, all of them) machine.

      Stephen Wolfram was very quick to anticipate the popularity of the Raspberry Pi, and make his "free" offer to the RPi group as a way of promoting Mathematica and the Wolfram Language, knowing full well that offering Mathematica on the the woefully under-powered (for the purposes of running Mathematica) Rasberry Pi machine would present absolutely no problems to Wolfram's marketing efforts of Mathematica, and only add highly-desirable visibility to his product and organization.

      Eben Upton was, of course, delighted to add this high-powered application to the stable of what is offered as a "...learning tool for eight-year-olds..." (it should be noted that Eben Upton, to this day, claims that the Raspberry Pi can run Windows10 with no problems; that the Raspberry Pi makes an absolutely fantastic desktop computer; and that the RPi Group has not developed a 64-bit Operating System---in support of the long-available 64-bit Raspberry PI---because of the worn-out excuse "...that would break backward compatibility...").

      In the meantime, Eben Upton, just where IS that 64-bit Raspberry Pi Operating System? I want to run LibreOffice 7.4. On my Raspberry Pi.

      1. timrowledge

        Re: Free Math!

        Well I don’t know about your little bubble universe but in mine the 64bit raspberry pi os has been in use for quite some time. Maybe if you spent some more time paying attention?

  7. Buzzword

    Power consumption

    This is all very well, but an ageing x86 PC is likely to be a power hog. You'd spend more in electricity in a year than the purchase cost of an energy-efficient Raspberry Pi 4B.

    1. nautica Silver badge

      Re: Power consumption've just created a 'logic-equivalent' of the mixed metaphor.

  8. rudedude

    Other distro(s) to try

    Another distro being advertised as 'liteweight' (for x86/x64) is LXLE Linux. In my testing it's proved VERY responsive in the latest incarnation. It comes with a quirky set of apps, but it's not an unpleasant user experience :)

    For 32-bit hardware you can go with an older release of LXLE derived from Lubuntu, with 18.04LTS at the core of it still being updated. On my netbook with a 200-series Atom / 1GB, the liveCD spins up at least but your mileage may vary. If you get it to work, you'd have to see if you like the results.

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