April 18, 2019

Colorful KDE 3.1 Performance On Low-End Hardware

Running KDE 3.1 On Antique Iron

  • February 17, 2003
  • By Rob Reilly

Variety is the spice of life for the Linux desktop of today. For sheer speed and few features you can run a minimalist desktop like BlackBox. At the upper end of the scale is KDE 3.1. This full-blown desktop offers advanced features, extreme customization and tight application integration.

People have become accustomed to the convenience and beauty of the modern desktop. However, some people shy away from packages like KDE 3.1 because they think it's going to run like frozen molasses on their six-year-old Pentium machine. Let me put your fears at ease and tell you how it works on ancient iron.

The trend in desktops, across all operating systems has been to continuously add features and graphics with each new release. Unfortunately, cool icons, animation and complicated multi-paned desktops have usually required increasingly capable machinery. For various reasons, Linux desktops seemed to have suffered less from this performance crunching bloat than other packages, such as Windows XP.

KDE 3.1 has actually reversed the trend. To prove my point, I loaded it on an antique 133 Mhz. Pentium desktop machine. The box had 128 MB of RAM, 256K of L2 cache, a 2.5 GB disk and Debian. Even though KDE took about two and 1/2 minutes to load, most of the programs, menus, icons and animations seemed to appear almost instantly and ran without a hitch.

I don't see this as a problem because most people would just start up their desktop and then let it run all the time. It might be a little more inconvenient with older laptops, because for portability those need to be shut down and started up much more often.

Big resource hitters, like the Gimp, Mozilla, and the World's slowest loading program, OpenOffice.org all ran fine, once they were up. As you would expect, with this type of processor, some of the applications took a couple of extra seconds to load. Switching and moving window panes also worked very well, in spite of the tiny 2 MB of video memory.

Imagine trying to run Windows XP on a box like this. Pretty scary. For the average office or home user, the combination of an older PC and KDE 3.1 would work perfectly well for their needs.

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