ARCH With GUI on Old Slow Machine

Published on October 25, 2022 at 4:38 am by LEW


Today I am starting a new project, running Arch with a GUI on an older and less powerful computer. The purpose of this project is to see if a standard Linux Distro (not something specifically deigned for low end machines) can indeed be used efficiently on older computers.

While the command line is exciting and fun, and something everyone should learn it, it is not really the best driver for most people in this day and age. So a Graphical User Interface (GUI) of some sort is a necessity. The question is how much of an interface do you really need (I know how much I need as I ran the really bare bones LWM once for several months as my daily driver). The question is how much do you the reader need?

Equipment For This Test

It is amazing what you can find in some thrift stores now days. I picked up a Dell OptiPlex FX160 for $5.00 US. I think I did okay, as I checked on Ebay and fond a similar computer for $6.00 US (cost $20.00 to ship it though). So the thrift store computer was a much better deal (assuming it runs).

From what I can dig up, the Dell OptiPlex FX160 came out in late 2008. I could not really find an end of life date, but I suspect it was around 2010 at the latest (given my experience with the life time of various computer models back in the day).

Hardware Review

As with most Dell computers, you could get a range of features and options , depending on what you wanted to spend. I could look up the Dell tag number, but someone in the past had helpfully removed it from the computer. I could always search the Dell site by serial number. You can also get a lot of information by booting into the BIOS. However, like usual, I chose to do it the hared way (from the command line).

From the Arch installation media you can find some information in the “/proc” directory. Booting (yes it did boot up by the way) into the Arch installation media, I issued the following command to read the cpuinfo file.

cat /proc/cpuinfo

From this I found out I had an Intel Atom 230 single core hyper-threaded CPU clocked at 1.6 GHz. On the plus side, it does support 64 bit architecture.

For installed RAM, I used the following command.

free -h

From this I was able to determine that I had 2 GB main memory installed. Not a lot by today’s standards.

For the hard disk, I issued the following command.

fdisk -l

This showed an 80 GB hard drive. On the plus side, from the model number, it is a 7200 RPM instead of 5400 RPM mechanical drive.

To find the graphics controller I used the following command.

lspci |grep VGA

This indicated a SIS 7671/671 graphics controller. So far I have not found much information on this controller, other than it shares RAM with the main system (set in BIOS).

The BIOS version is A06. There is a A11 version available from Dell, which I might try to install before going to much further.

Also no UEFI boot. Strictly Legacy. This may or may not change after BIOS upgrade.

Hardware Implications

There are several things that can be taken away form this hardware review. Some of them more obvious than others. The underwhelming CPU and the small amount of RAM are probably the most obvious. The Atom 230 was never a great CPU to start with. It is low power, but that’s about it.

The less obvious problem is the shared memory between the system and the GPU. This basically means no fancy effects. Our GUI is going to be as plain as possible.

There is an empty memory slot. Though it might be somewhat difficult to find matching memory, considering the age. If I do decide to upgrade memory, I might have to replace the existing RAM stick. I need to make a note to go scrounging through my junk drawer to see if I have a couple of two gig sticks that will work with this computer.

The Initial Install

For the initial install, I used this series of posts to install a minimal Arch with only a command line interface. There were a few bumps and deviations along the way however.


That was it for the base ARCH Linux install on the aged Dell Optiplex. Next time around I will do the Bios update, and install a Graphical User Interface.

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