10 Feb 2011

Low-spec computer: Alt Linux vs Windows 7 Ultimate

This is guest post written by Sergey Trenin, aka greyzy

Purpose: learn process of installation and work of distributives of operating systems Alt Linux Desktop 5.0 KDE and Window 7 Ultimate in low-spec computer which you can find in school.

Computer configuration:

  • Motherboard Asus TUSI-M (7-9 years old, cannot tell more exact)
  • Processor Celeron 1100MHz
  • HDD 40Gb, IDE of course
  • DVD-ROM Sony
  • build-in video card
  • built-in network card.
  • Experiments ran on memory cards 64, 128, 256 Mb, and also with external network card. External video card was not tested because there is not AGP slot on motherboard, and I didn’t have PCI video card available.
  • Screen Samsung SyncMaster 550s, 15"
Comment: videocard has standard RAM 16Mb, but can be extended in BIOS, effectively reducing RAM available for applications.

Installation conditions for OSs:

Both OSs were installed as single systems on HDD.
HDD was divided into
  • 3 partitions for Alt Linux Desktop 5.0 KDE: swap 2Gb, / -15Gb, /home – 22Gb.
  • 2 partitions for Window 7 Ultimate с: - 30Gb, d: - 10Gb

What was tested:

Simple everyday operations were used as performance tests:

  • Opening of graphic file, map - size 80*80cm, file size 5,2Mb
  • Opening of OpenOffice.org document, file size 560Kb, 198 pages
  • Music file playback, artist Moby, track in my heart.wma
  • Movie file playback. 2 movies were selected for tests 1. Our Russia: Eggs of Fate (avi), and 2. The Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human (avi). Also note: Eggs has better quality, but file size is almost equal for both movies: 700Mb. Probably, new coding methods are used in Eggs, but I am not sure. But playback went differently for those files.
Comment. All these files were opened from fileserver in the network (working on Samba).
Both Linux and Windows worked in their default graphical environments after installation.

Results are in tables, plus somewhere commented in words.

Installation time
OS/RAM 256 512

Alt Linux Desktop 5.0 KDE
40min 35min
Window 7 Ultimate 256Mb required 45min

Please note, Alt Linux is workable system after installation, Window 7 Ultimate needs adjustments.
Alt Linux Desktop 5.0 KDE found all the equipment during installation and was ready to use. Window 7 Ultimate did not find soundcard and network cards. I found soundcard drivers after 30 minutes of Internet research, but nothing for network card. Therefore I decided to plug in the coolest external network card Realtek8139, after that Window 7 Ultimate fulfilled minimal requirements (you can listen to music and browse network).
Additionally, OpenOffice.org took 9 minutes to install.

By the way, Window 7 Ultimate qualified my hero system block as performance rate 1.
  • processor 1,5
  • memory 1,5
  • graphics 1,0
  • graphics for games1,0
  • HDD 4,8
Space taken by systems
Alt Linux Desktop 5.0 KDE: 2Gb swap , 3.6Gb taken on /, 2,8Gb taken on /home, in total ready to use system took 8.5Gb (including selected packages for graphics processing, sound and video), probably swap-file is too big, but I always make it 2Gb.
Window 7 Ultimate took something more than 7Gb after installation, which increased to almost 8Gb after OOo addition. Plus 100Mb recovery partition.
Overall, both systems are roughly equal here, but I’d like to remind again that Alt is ready for use while Window 7 Ultimate is just basic, and additional software will take more space on HDD.

As I learned during the experiment, installed Window 7 Ultimate does not require all 512Mb for work, you can also work with 256Mb. In other words, you need 512Mb for installation, later this parameter is not so critical.

Video tests

Video is most interesting here.

Alt Linux Desktop 5.0 KDE RAM/video:
256/16: Neither Eggs nor Habits cannot be played from network. Neither with built-in network card, nor external. Caffeine player died with black screen. When copied to /home, Eggs could be played with normal sound but slow video.
240/32: Neither Eggs nor Habits can be played over the network. But locally films can be viewed OK.
512/16-32: I still did not get video from network. Reasons are unknown.

Window 7 Ultimate RAM/video:
512/16: Both Eggs and Habits could be open from network. Eggs have slow sound and video, Habits are OK. Opening Eggs from D: drive resulted in normal sound, but still slow video.
496/32: Nothing changed. Habits are OK, Eggs are slow in video even locally.
464/64: Video is still slow in Eggs, even after re-installation of codecs (mega codeck pack 5.6.1). I don’t know why it is so. Further test ran in Window 7 Ultimate with movie Habits.
Comment: subjectively Window 7 Ultimate opens video faster

Memory requirements
In parallel to “performance test”, I tested with which memory size both systems became unusable.
Results are surprisingly similar:
OS\RAM 512 256 192 128
Alt Linux Desktop 5.0 KDE Works good Almost no changes Applications are opening much longer, but still work Booted, but later several errors and frozen system
Window 7 Ultimate Works good Almost no changes Applications took 3-5 times more time to open, but work BSOD during boot

As I found out, both systems behave themselves almost equally on 256-512 Mb. They are still workable on 192 Mb, but very slow. Rubicon of 128 Mb could not be crossed by either system.

Working with graphics, OOo document, music playback and video on both systems
I’d like to remind that Alt Linux Desktop 5.0 KDE required 32Mb of video RAM to open Our Russia: Eggs of Fate movie. It was opened locally. The same file could not be opened by Window 7 Ultimate. Instead, Window 7 Ultimate opened Mating Habits from the network even on 16Mb of video RAM. Same file could not be opened by Alt Linux Desktop 5.0 KDE even in best conditions.
Sequence of opening: graphic file was opened first, then audio file (Alt Linux Desktop 5.0 KDE with Amarok, Window 7 Ultimate with WMP), then video file (Alt Linux Desktop 5.0 KDE with Caffeine player locally, Window 7 Ultimate with Media Player Classic (from codecs pack) from network). Totally, all 4 files were loaded simultaneously, and I tested speed.



OOo file

Audio file

Video file

Alt Linux Desktop 5.0 KDE 496/32

Opens relatively quickly


Opens relatively quickly

Caffeine loads longer than OOo, but still works

Alt Linux Desktop 5.0 KDE 240/32 Results almost the same for everything, but little bit slower

Alt Linux Desktop 5.0 KDE 176/32

Opens slow

Very slow


It’s better to switch off audio, video very slow

Window 7 Ultimate 512/16

Opens relatively quickly


Opens relatively quickly

As quickly as audio file

Window 7 Ultimate 256/16 Results almost the same for everything, but little bit slower

Window 7 Ultimate 192/32

Opens slow

As slow as in Alt


Opens slow. Sound is OK, video is slow. After audio file closing, audio is OK, video is still little bit slow. After closing of OOo video became OK.

Both systems did not work on 128Mb

Boot and shutdown

Another interesting study is boot / shutdown time. Boot time counting started from pressing Enter button to welcome login screen. Shutdown – from pressing Shutdown button to power off. First value is boot time, second – shutdown time, in seconds:


Alt Linux Desktop 5.0 KDE

Window 7 Ultimate












Installing Window 7 Ultimate requires more from hardware, it needs at least 512Mb RAM, it has problems with equipment (i.e. drivers for on-board devices). It requires some tweaks after installation. Tested system does not have antivirus so much required in Windows, which needs additional 20-30 Mb of memory to run.
Alt Linux Desktop 5.0 KDE found all the equipment and was ready to use in 40 minutes after inserting of installation DVD into the drive.
So, Alt Linux deserves 5 (out of 5) points for installation, and Window 7 Ultimate get only 3.

I cannot tell the favorite. Nice surprises were Window 7 Ultimate work with 256Mb onboard and also work with multimedia content without any additional codecs, out of the box. Either OS did not make good video test, and I am disappointed why Alt Linux Desktop 5.0 KDE did not show me video from network. Other than that both OSs deserve 4+.

It is worth mentioning that Window 7 Ultimate boots and shuts down faster. But it is not impossible that Window 7 Ultimate will lose this parameter to Alt Linux Desktop 5.0 KDE after additional components’ installation. But on this stage Window 7 Ultimate is ahead. Image quality subjectively was better in Alt Linux Desktop 5.0 KDE. Window 7 Ultimate had some ripple, frequency most likely was 60Mhz, but there was no list with frequency setting in video card driver, so I could not configure. Eyes tired in Window 7 Ultimate, but not in Alt Linux Desktop 5.0 KDE.

If you asked me "what would you advice for this configuration for movies, music, text editing and internet surfing, new system from Alt Linux or new system from Microsoft", I would answer: no difference. Alt Linux Desktop 5.0 KDE can have less problems during installation, but surprisingly both systems behave themselves more or less similar in work. Both Linux and Windows can work on computers from Ancient Egypt. Of course, if you don’t ask for impossible.

Thank you!

Bears, vodka, linux, from Russia with love! Best regards, SergeTrenin, aka greyzy.
Sergey is owner of resource http://samba-doc.ru/
This text was originally published by Sergey in Russian on Alt Linux forum. Translated for guest posting by DarkDuck.


  1. There are a lot of Alt Linux 5.0.
    I have sucess to instal and nice work on a set of comp.s:
    Alt Linux KDE3.5 (Cel700-P3-866,i815,256Mb,10gb)
    Alt Linux New Lite CD LXDE (Via733-Cel600-P3-866,i815-via693-694,128Mb,4gb)

    mayhl http://forum.altlinux.org/index.php?action=profile;u=3323

  2. i have beat up old 80386 ibm, use ide cd rom run dsl linux, about 20 seconds to start up, a bit longer to get on internet, no harddisk. very nice. lets see windows 7 do that.


  3. Ok what init system is alt using. There are many different init systems. Boot time of Linux alters but the difference is mostly what the init system used.

    Also 128 meg limit I guess that was without swap space. I have run Linux systems under 128 but swap space is critical.

  4. Maybe it would have been better to play the video files using the same software on both systems (VLC pops into mind)...

    Apart from that, thanks for the comparison!

  5. Your swap is over 2-4x too big. Your home directory doesn't count and you don't tell how big / needs to be. My guess is that all in all 3-4gb is enough. Windos on the other handneeds at least 10gb.

  6. This is a complete bs article. Why not use a mainstream Linux distro? And KDE? Seriously?

    I run Ubuntu 10.04LTS and it runs rings around Win7 at every turn.

    Oh, and place a load on Win7 and compare it to Linux. No comparison.

  7. Seems to me that the author chose a Linux distribution that would match the outcome he wanted for this article. Bloody Alt Linux indeed - why didn't you use Ubuntu?

  8. For me, WU7's requirement of 512MB RAM is the biggest negative.

    What if I don't have more than 256MB RAM? Also, if y machine is old enough, I may not be able to procure more RAM for it. Result: I have no choice but to install Alt linux then!

    To me, the comparison is meaningless beyond this point.

  9. I say the whole comparison is silly for the general computer users. No one uses such hardware to run a modern OS any more.

    One thing could be meaningful to do and test for is to tailor Linux for the hardware you have, which is something any one with good knowledge about Linux can do but no one can do for Win 7 but MS. A major difference I would say.

  10. Thank you for testing this system. I have several machines of similar vintage and keep them running rather than replacing them. I'm not familiar with Alt Linux, so this was interesting to read. I would ordinarily have used Mepis or DSL for this kind of computer for other people. If it were mine, I'd have installed Debian.

    Why use Samba and AVI for media testing? Is it the only thing you can find in common with Windows? GNU/Linux distributions like Ubuntu package MythTV, which is superior for media streaming but might take more time. FTP, SFTP, HTTP and other easy to run servers would also provide better performance than SMB. For media, you might have installed DeCSS and compared DVD payback, mpeg4 playback and other common formats. AVI is a container format that can be filled with just about anything, so testing that does not tell us much. WMV is an uncommon abomination that should not be considered by anyone.

  11. >Also 128 meg limit I guess that was without swap space. I have run Linux systems under 128 but swap space is critical.

    There WAS swap. Please see section at the top where disk split is described.

  12. > Seems to me that the author chose a Linux distribution that would match the outcome he wanted for this article. Bloody Alt Linux indeed - why didn't you use Ubuntu?

    Alt Linux is very popular in Russia... Like Ubuntu worldwide.

  13. > I say the whole comparison is silly for the general computer users. No one uses such hardware to run a modern OS any more.

    You may wonder what kind of computers you can still find remote areas of Russia...

  14. idea message to learn possibility modern OS's on old computers. At the very least it run :)


  15. >You may wonder what kind of computers you can >still find remote areas of Russia...
    hey! we have both new and old... for experiments ;)


  16. >Maybe it would have been better to play the video files using the same software on both systems (VLC pops into mind)...

    idea message to learn possibility with "default" soft, whenever possible


  17. to twitter
    oh! of course, I could learn all formats and many recorders, and FTP, HTTP, but its not monograph :) May be it is will made by you or I late ;)


  18. all - thank you for interest and reviews

    best regards, greyzy

  19. Hi Trenin,

    Great work! We need a lot of different comparisons to find out how best to fill all the user's needs -- and schools definitely have lots of low-spec computers that need to be revived.

    I've built a minimal version of openSUSE with the XFCE desktop using instructions on the openSUSE Studio website (I call it openXUXE), and I normally run it on old systems with 512 meg of RAM. However, to compare to your experience with ALT Linux today, I ramped it down to 256 meg of RAM.

    I was able to run a variety of videos over the network without a problem at 256 mg, although I could not find the two you referenced. I found part of a movie called "The Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human" on Youtube, and that ran fine.

    Shutdown took 18 seconds, boot took 42 seconds. I've got LibreOffice 3.3 installed, and it opened into a blank word processing document in 13 seconds.

    My installation takes 4.7 GB of space, and my swap file is only 128 mg.

    I think the big differences between my system and yours is you were probably running an older processor, and you are loading KDE, whereas XFCE is much lighter on resources. I think if you tried again using a minimal XFCE distribution like this openXUXE or Xubuntu, you might have better luck with the video.

    Keep up the good work!
    Andy Prough
    Kyle, TX

  20. Andy,
    KDE is default DE for Alt Linux. As Sergey wrote, he tried "out of the box" features. Sure enough, replacing KDE with XFCE should lower the resource requirements.

    "Our Russia: Eggs of Fate" is Russian movie, probably not released outside of CIS. Here is trailer http://www.youtube.com/v/UHjE8lysKFI

    If you want to share your experience with OpenXuXe, you're more than welcome to make guest posting on my blog.

  21. Thanks DarkDuck. I agree that Sergey's analysis was correct, in comparing the two OS's side-by-side and out-of-the-box.

    I'll try to throw together an article for you on how to build and deploy openXUXE. It's a great way to get all the tools and power of openSUSE in a lightweight, nimble form.

  22. @Firewall Implementation
    That's your choice. Everyone is free to use tools which he prefers.

  23. Hey, thanks for the review, I just bumped into this as I was googling for some low-spec linux distros. There is something that confuses me, though, and I'm not exactly a newbie, been messing with the ins and outs of computers for more than a decade now: are you saying that you can actually install Windows 7 on a Celeron 1,1Ghz machine with only 512 RAM? Because I've got a little laptop somewhere around the house quite similar to that (but only 256 RAM...) and I know I've used Lubuntu, Arch+LXDE on it and some other light distros, and I honestly think those specs are a little too low. For Win XP, sure, but if ever you wanna play any game that is more demanding than Tetris :D you kinda need more RAM, even on XP. So are you talking about video RAM or system RAM? Because I may be wrong, but - 512 MB RAM to install and actually run Win7? Or anything with KDE, for that matter, as both KDE and Gnome are pretty resource-hungry compared to LXDE, Openbox, Enlightenment even? I know Vista needed at least 2 gigs of RAM to even get going - and like 2GHz CPU, and Win7 can't be THAT much better optimized... Sorry if I missed something here, but I'm just curious.

  24. oh, it is too much english slang:)

    indeed, Windows 7 may be installed less than 1,1Ghz (i experiment 800 Mhz), but installation time increases in direct ratio lowering of rate; at the same time RAM less 512 MB - error (i mean system RAM, not video RAM) for Win7, for Alt Linux 5 installation it is possible.
    I not say games, photoshop, video or 3D rendering about, but I mean play of music, films, Internet with modern distro on low-spec comp, and it work... almost acceptably;).
    (at the same time WinXP and 512 RAM preferable tnan Win7, as Alt 4.1 and 512 RAM preferable tnan Alt Linux 5).
    A have computer Pentium II about 550Mhz, but I am afraid to begin installation, life too short:)))

  25. here's a good cmparsion http://coolometer.org/windows-vs-linux

  26. @David:
    Thanks, funny comparison.

  27. One thing I really don't like about Windows 7 is that you need to adjust a lot of things if you have a low spec computer. In that case, I find Linux better.

    Whalley range computer repair

  28. Keep in mind that as Alt Linux now uses Red Hats Systemd malware this is just another Windows clones for all intents as the Systemd replicates the Miscroft proprietary
    abstraction layers and proprietary file system philosophy.