Old Computer Challenge - Preparation

Jul 9, 2023


Reading time: 4 minutes

This year I learned about Solene’s Old Computer Challenge, and I thought hey, I might give it a go!

So this year the rules for the challenge are as follows:

Let’s use a SLOW computer for 7 days. This will be achieved by various means with any hardware:

  • Limit your computer’s CPU to use only 1 core. This can be set in the BIOS most of the time, and on Linux you can use maxcores=1 in the boot command line, on OpenBSD you can use bsd.sp kernel for the duration of the challenge.
  • Limit your computer’s memory to 512 MB of memory (no swap limit). This can be set on Linux using the boot command line mem=512MB. On OpenBSD, this can be achieved a bit similarly by using datasize-max=512M in login.conf for your user’s login class.
  • Set your CPU frequency to the lowest minimum (which is pretty low on modern hardware!). On Linux, use the “powersave” frequency governor, in modern desktop environments the battery widget should offer an easy way to set the governor. On OpenBSD, run apm -L (while apmd service is running). On Windows, in the power settings, set the frequency to minimum.

Okay, easy enough, right? Well, of course my natural tendency to overthink everything kicked in.

First I thought, I’d fire up my (almost) 20 year old laptop from back when I was in university. Turns out, the thing is really on its last legs, the battery has died long ago, the display hinges are barely holding together, the backlight (CFL, no LEDs) could give up at any moment… not a pleasant experience.

Acer Aspire 2001

Next, I thought I’d just slow down my normal desktop PC to one core, 512mb RAM and limit the cpu frequency… but that didn’t really feel old, it was just my normal computer a bit slower.

So after a lot of thinking what I ended up with is this:

  • Keep my desktop computer off for the week
  • Use only my Laptop (a 2013 (or 2014?) 13 inch Macbook Air, almost old and vintage itself!)
  • Create a VM in Virtualbox with 512mb RAM, one cpu core and limit the core to 50% speed (I have no idea how slow this actually is compared to a proper old computer, but it does feel slow, and that’s the point, right?)
  • Install Endeavouros (an Arch Linux variant) with the i3 window manager and use mostly terminal apps
  • For fun, I also installed a second VM (same specs as above) with Windows XP for that authentic retro-feeling (I used it back in the day before I switched to Linux in 2008 or so)
  • Eliminate browsing and YouTube on my smartphone (because otherwise I would just use this all week) and only use the phone as a communication device, meaning only for SMS, WhatsApp, E-Mail and (shocker!) even as a proper telephone!
  • Music comes from physical media, meaning CDs, vinyl, radio or an old iPod (yes, I’m lumping the iPod in with the physical media because it’s a dedicated device whose only purpose is to play music - and most importantly it can’t go online!)

So this is the setup for now, we’ll see how the week goes.

Setup for the OldComputerChallenge

Let the fun begin!