I am getting an old sony laptop (PI-2XXish, 32ram, 1 gig HD) that I am about to rebuild for myself (maxing RAM and adding a bigger HD when I do.)

I planned to do a Debian min install and add what I need to keep resources as free as possible, but if Mepis or Ubuntu would run well with the older hardware I would rather go that way to save time. Anyone running Mepis or Ubuntu on an ancient laptop?

I'd just go with Debian. You can get all you would have gotten with Ubuntu or Mepis. But, with Debian, you'd be building up, rather than slimming down, so you can save a good bit of time and disk space. 1GB hard drives can fill up REALLY quickly if you install a "modern" distro, even if you tried to pick-and-choose what you installed on there.

Thanks ALC I am going to do just that, here is my plan for this weekend:

1) Upgrade RAM to 96 (max) and throw in a 60 gig HD
2) Partition and format HD
3) Boot DSL and run HD install to boot partition
4) Run min-install of Debian, create keyboard shortcut for "apt-get" ;)

Since this model is known for CDroms and floppy drives that die, I may have to use USB to load DSL then do a net build of Debian, so this could get fun!

Here is an update on how it all went down:

Vaio pcg 731 arrived: p200mmx, 128 ram, 2 gig HD. Hardware is faster and certainly in better condition than I remembered, but ancient nontheless. My only other complaint is the small screen is only 800x600, hardware limitation. CDrom internal and working perfectly.

I tried knoppix, slax popcorn, serveral versions of damn small linux, all of which errored out. Finally I booted FreesBIE cleanly, I pushed my luck and attempt a HD install but I run out of disk space in /usr. All LiveCD's back to the drawer.

I tried to install Debian Sarge but it keeps erroring out on hardware detection. Next I tried to install FreeBSD 5.4, which did not have any errors but I ran out of disk space during the install of it too so as long as I would be doing another install of FreeBSD I download the new FreeBSD 6.0 and planned out a skinny install.

I did a netinstall of 6.0 and kept it under 900 megs including ports! I loaded the packages for xfce4, firefox, torsmo. Everything works beutifully BUT the applications are REALLY slow to load (firefox takes 50 seconds to open) I am going to try out fluxbox tonight to see if that increases the speed the apps load.

After I decide on a gui and find a 5400rpm drive to put in it, I am going to reinstall FreeBSD 6.0 from scratch and see if I can trim it down even more.

Good deal!

On a machine like that, NetBSD is always my first choice. So, I have to applaud you for coming in close with my second choice, FreeBSD.

If you can bump up the RAM even further, I think you'd be pleasantly surprised at the speed of that machine. I've got a P233mmx with 256MB SDRAM and 7200RPM SCSI drives running NetBSD 1.6.2 (Haven't updated to 2 yet because it's SO DARN STABLE as is!). That thing runs like a champ-- granted, my XP2500 Barton can smoke it, but it is quite usable for Firefox with few extensions. I go a little leaner on the WM by using ion, but I recommend XFCE or even TWM for people who don't want to invest the time to learn the nuances of ion.

Great job! Let me know how FreeBSD 6 goes. Because I have a bunch of installations based off of FreeBSD 4.8, I tend to still stick back in the 4.x branch. Again, that's just because it's battle-tested, and the only time I've ever been let down by the 4.x branch is by my own stupidity. As a matter of fact, I still keep my FreeBSD 4.6.2 Power Pack CDs that I bought around, because that still runs great on low-spec machines.