Ubuntu 12.04 ‘Precise Pangolin’: Older Hardware Test

One of the great advantages of Linux is it has great support for older systems and legacy hardware. This week, we take a look at how Ubuntu 12.04 ‘Precise Pangolin’ runs on an older system running older hardware. I found such a system in my very own office. In fact, the system that I am writing

this article on! I have a PC which is roughly 5 years old. But when you’re referring to the hardware inside, it’s actually much older again. But in its prime years, this hardware would have been considered powerful. But I think it represents a basic system of todays average Linux user.

 The System

 My system comprises of the following specifications:

Intel Celeron D 3.47GHz CPU

2GB DDR2 Generic RAM

256MB AMD X1050 Graphics

160GB Maxtor PATA HDD

500W Premium PSU

Dual LG DVD Writers

Dual LCD Displays

Operating Systems: Dual boot Bodhi Linux 1.3.0 / Ubuntu 12.04

Unity vs GNOME

When I first installed Ubuntu 12.04, I booted into the default Unity interface. It worked quite well and responsiveness was more than acceptable and actually pleasant to work with. And it is definitely faster than previous versions of Unity that you’ll find in current and present version of Ubuntu. But overall, I had no issues worth mentioning.

I installed Gnome Shell and decided to give it a try. I was unsuccessful. Gnome Shell would not work. I was simply presented with rainbow colors across the screen and a non-responsive desktop in which forced me to hit the Reset button on the PC. Clearly, Gnome Shell requires much more powerful graphics hardware than my X1050 to run successfully. Thankfully, Gnome Shell does provide a Classic Mode which is much similar to the old Gnome 2.x interface.

2D vs 3D

 Gnome Classic boots up just fine. I’m not too sure about the appearance of the Ubuntu Radiance theme with it, but when you change the theme to the default Gnome 3 theme, Adwaita, it looks much more appealing and blends everything in nicely to the Gnome Classic interface. Gnome Classic does have a 3D mode option, but I ignored that and opted to only test the 2D mode instead. It runs very nice. And is very similar in operation to the Gnome 2.x interface. Responsiveness was good and apart from the rearrangement of a few menu options etc. any users not happy with Gnome Shell will be pleasantly surprised and happy with the new Gnome Classic.

Unity also has a 2D option, which I decided to give a try. Visually, it looks much like the 3D interface with only a few noticeable differences. But nothing unpleasant to look at visually. Responsiveness was quite disappointing with Unity 2D. And the whole desktop experience felt very clunky. And I don’t think I could accept using it as my everyday desktop interface and environment. Things got obviously bad when moving a window around the screen. The clunkiness and noticeable jerkiness is unacceptable. And it is something that does not seem to be getting the attention it well deserves from the Unity Developers.

The Dual Display Issue

I like to use a dual display setup. And have each monitor setup for a specific color mode and purpose. Sadly Unity 3D could not handle running my displays in non-cloned mode. And I was instead forced to run in cloned mode only, which otherwise works fine.

Gnome Classic could handle my dual displays just fine, but that is due to it running in 2D mode. The 3D mode option might have drawn a different conclusion.

But to be fair and respectful to Ubuntu, this issue actually has nothing to do with Ubuntu, Unity or GNOME. But rather is a limitation of my graphics card being forced to use the open – source driver as no propriety driver option is available for the aforementioned graphics card. Due to it being classed as a legacy card.

My usual stable system that I run, Bodhi Linux, runs my displays in cloned mode also. And that is because I choose to run Gnome 2.30.2 and Compiz. When Compiz is disabled, non-cloned mode is again available and works perfectly. This does prove that it is in fact my graphics hardware limiting my options and not the Ubuntu operating system itself.

Everyday Usage

As an everyday system, Ubuntu 12.04 runs quite well on older hardware. Even in its current development stage. The system installs fast (even using the Live disc), menus open fast, the interface is responsive and general everyday computing tasks are all just fine. I’m an avid gamer also and all the games that I tested on 12.04 run just as well as previous versions. Hard drive read/write times are equal to that of previous versions as expected with using Ext4.

Printer Support

Printer support is a funny thing with Linux as experiences vary on different systems and with different users. My own printer/scanner, Canon PIXMA MP282, works perfectly with my stable Bodhi Linux system, which at its core is just Ubuntu 10.04. I attempted to install the installation packages for both the printer and scanner in 12.04. At first, things looked quite promising. My printer was recognized and the installation of all required packages went smoothly. But after several attempts and different methods, there was no way that I could get my printer to print or my scanner to scan. Cups was installed as was sane, but there was no life. Whether this will change with either a driver update from Canon or changes to 12.04, I don’t know. But in its current state, it simply does not work.

The Extras – Gaming

As mentioned earlier in the article. I’m also an avid Linux gamer. I have several gaming peripherals plugged in. At a glance, I have a Logitech USB controller, a Playstation 3 controller and also a Logitech USB joystick. Whilst testing Ubuntu 12.04, all my peripherals were recognized and worked perfectly. So there was no great changes there. And I can happily say that if you’re a Linux gamer like me, Ubuntu 12.04 is well up to the task of providing all your gaming requirements.


I am really looking forward to further updates and bug fixes to Ubuntu 12.04. When it goes gold in April this year, I think it will be a fine release and provide a fast, comfortable and very usable desktop for all kinds of Linux users. I believe Developers, Business users, Casual Users, Gamers and even Beginners will all find something to be excited about with Ubuntu 12.04.

And as far as running it on older hardware goes, I see no fit reason as to why older hardware users can’t be running the latest Ubuntu release as all the critical and most important core functions are all there and working. There will always be a few exceptions of course, but that will always happen across all Linux distributions and across all different version of Linux operating systems.

  • Νίκος Κυριαζής

    I liked your review. I use a somewhat similar system…
    what games do you usually play on Ubuntu?

  • http://twitter.com/thatgrrl Laura Brown

    Ironic you consider that an old system/ hardware. That is the computer I use everyday. I had to replace the monitor and the hard drive more recently. But, I didn’t buy an updated hard drive, just one that wasn’t broken. I find it works great with Ubuntu. The only time I run into trouble is with Flash. I have no admiration for anything Flash at this point. 

  • Nate

    I have tried many times to like Gnome 3 and Unity, however I cannot get past the lack of function / custimization. My Gnome 2, Compiz, and Cairo Dock on Gentoo is the smoothest, most stable environment I have seen on any hardware I use it on! Gentoo definitely has a lot involved in the setup and maintenance, but once it is there you are ready for Linux Nirvana. I digress, after researching and experimenting there is no clear advantage to Gnome 3 / Unity IMHO. If they wanted to update the application menu they should have just made an option for that.

  • Bmoez

    this pc is not really old, if you tried a pc for exemple with 512Mo of ram, intel pentium 4ht 64bits cpu,you will see the different. if ubuntu want to be more used, it would be more adopted for old pc like mine. For exemple, what os will i install for my pc, an old version not supported, lxde environnement or puppylinux !!!.there are many ubntu user who have an really old pc ?!

  • http://twitter.com/explodingwalrus Carl Draper

    Agreed, I have several older machines from Pentium M laptops right down to a 300mhz Toughbook CF-27 which runs Debian Squeeze just fine

  • Achmed Hernawan

    I want using this ubuntu, where I can download it?

  • Bmoez

     it is at http://www.ubuntu.com/
    you will found ubuntu 11.10 version.
    the ubuntu 12.04 version will be publiched for normal user at this april and will have many nice features.( it ‘s still in developpement)
    i hope you will enjoy it. :)
    try ubuntu 11.10 and in april, you can update it to 12.04

  • Christian Hagen

    Gnome Shell doesn’t need a more powerful graphics chip/board. It needs a better graphics chip/board, like integrated Intel i915M with 128 MB shared RAM on an Intel CoreDuo 1.66GHz, 1GB RAM, 120GB HDD. Or an nVidia 9400GT with 1GB DDR2 RAM. Really, anything but ATI/AMD. Try swapping your graphics with either integrated Intel-graphics or an nVidia card and you’ll be able to test Gnome Shell too.

  • Canon Printer
  • Chrisjones

    I play Battle for Wesnoth, Tremulous, Alien Arena, Nexuiz and Urban Terror. All are great examples of Linux gaming. I’m also an emulator nut and play many older console titles. Too many to list here. Many of them distract me from my writing and I get tempted on many occasions to quickly boot up a game in between writing articles.

  • Chrisjones

    It can be very hard to accurately determine what is classed as an “old” system these days as it is a very loose terminology and can be applied to a rather large variety of hardware and system configurations. What is “old” for an enthusiast might be just fine for an everyday user. But then what is old for the everyday user might be just fine for a beginner or less-privileged person in a developing country where the latest technology is simply either non-existent or out of reach. But you see my point of the term “old” being very difficult to classify.

  • http://profiles.google.com/linuxcanuck Linux Canuck

    I do not like reviews of development versions. Remember that Precise is still alpha. The printer issue may yet be resolved and Unity 2D may work out its bugs. And it may not. But the time to make judgement is on a final product.

  • Chrisjones

    As technical writers, we just present the facts. That’s how the IT industry and development operates. In the article (and previous articles for 12.04), I clearly point out that Ubuntu 12.04 is still in development. And obviously, I and other Unixmen writers, will take another look when it goes gold.

    Regarding my printer issue; I also pointed out that this very issue may very well be ironed out before the final release.

    And Unity 2D; I keep hearing that developers are constantly working on and trying to improve Unity 2D performance, yet in its current state, I am yet to see any improvement on earlier version of Unity 2D. And I just wanted to make the point that Unity 2D may not be getting the attention of the developers that it really requires.

  • Al Solanes

    You said that a better graphics card is needed to use gnome-shell, I use it with an atom based netbook, and works really fast. The issue you mention when trying to use gnome-shell in ubuntu 12.04 is a normal problem, test gnome-shell in ubuntu 11.10 to know how it works. I personally use both desktops, unity for work/university, and shell to chat(it has a great integrated chat)/navigate. We’ll see how ubuntu works in a few weeks when the final version comes out

  • YoupiY

    When I found this article, and read the title, I expected “very old computer”, older than my Pentium M 715, 1Gb of RAM and 64Mb video card!

  • PED

    Thats not old, not the best but i want 512 RAM 40GB HDD and 3.0GHz processor. like a old office pc that had windows xp on it.

  • Kai

    That is not very “OLD” hardware, Comon thats just as good as many laptops today…I’m wondering if its good for a 1.5ghz intel with 1gb of ram (upgraded from 512mb)