(Editor’s note: I still feel that Crunchbang is one of the best Linux distros that I have ever used. It offers a preconfigured “out-of-the-box” experience while still retaining all the functionality of barebones Linux. Unfortunately, the lead developer discontinued the project in 2015, and while it has been picked up by the community under the name BunsenLabs Linux, I have not yet had the opportunity to try the latest version.)
Crunchbang (#!) Linux is a Debian-based Linux distro that is designed to run on very low-powered hardware. I discovered Crunchbang while trying to find a lightweight OS to run alongside Windows XP on my old Dell Dimension 4100. Here are the specs of the computer:
Processor: Intel Pentium III (single-core) @ 1 GHz
RAM: 512 MB
Hard Drive: 6.61 GB allotted for Crunchbang (18.61 GB total)
As you can probably tell, the Windows XP installation running on the 12 GB partition wasn’t exactly being speedy. In an attempt to see if I could watch YouTube videos on the computer, I googled “Linux for very old hardware”. Multiple distros came up, including Puppy Linux, Xubuntu, and Knoppix. I had already tried Xubuntu, and my lack of Linux knowledge at the time coupled with the fact that it hadn’t run much faster than Windows XP on the Dell had persuaded me to drop it. Then, I noticed Crunchbang. It’s designed to run on really old hardware, even more so than Xubuntu, and has a very cool looking minimalistic desktop.
I downloaded the latest Crunchbang .iso and burned it to a CD (the Dell, as I found out, doesn’t support booting from a USB drive). The installation process took under 15 minutes, and I was ejecting the install CD in no time. Once I rebooted the computer, though, I noticed that Windows XP was absent from the GRUB boot menu. This was soon remedied by running
sudo update-grub once I had booted into Crunchbang.
Crunchbang has a very minimalistic user interface, which is why it is capable of running on such old hardware. Nearly everything is located under the right-click menu on the desktop, and there are very few programs that come pre-installed. Use of the terminal is mandatory.
In all, Crunchbang is a pretty awesome Linux distro. It may be designed to run on low-powered hardware, but it’s definitely not a low-powered system.
NOTE: Since this review was written, Crunchbang 11 “Waldorf” was released. It appears to be even more black-and-grey coolness, and I can’t wait to try it out on something. (Ed: Waldorf did turn out to be “even more black-and-grey coolness” and I believe I still have it in a virtual machine somewhere.)