Many people falsely believe they need the latest and greatest computer to surf the Internet. The truth is that, next to ISP bandwidth, software, not hardware, is what causes many consumers' computers to run slowly on the Internet. To illustrate this, I decided to take an old, cheap computer, install fast, light-weight software, and see how well it surfs the Internet. In this article, I'll present a comparison of the Internet-surfing performance of this old laptop to that of my much faster Core i7 laptop.
The old computer I chose to use was a Dell Inspiron E1505 laptop manufactured in 2006. Although it can hold up to 2 GB of RAM, I decided to use only 1 GB to make things even more challenging. The Inspiron's processor is a 32-bit, 1.60 GHz, Core Duo T2050 (Passmark score: 693). I decided against using an older laptop than the Dell Inspiron E1505, because laptops older than about 10 years old are all pretty much in the same $25 to $50 price range on Ebay. Some sell for more, but you can get what I consider to be a nice laptop with medium wear in that price range. I have seen working Dell Inspiron E1505's for sale on Ebay for as little as $27, but yesterday I noticed the cheapest was $45 plus shipping.
Several factors affect the speed at which web pages download. The
top three, roughly in order of most limiting to least limiting for
page download speed are:
My challenge was to find speedy software to run on this 13-year-old laptop. There are several light-weight (meaning fast-running) versions of Linux to choose from. Without too much consideration, I chose the Zorin 12.4 Lite (32-bit) operating system. I wanted something Debian-based, and I've had success running Zorin 9 Lite on an even older Dell. I wouldn't recommend Zorin 12.4 Lite as a good operating system for a multipurpose computer, because it does not come with many applications installed, and the ones it does come with have about the same number of bugs as the average Linux distribution. I prefer a more bug-free Linux distribution, like Linux Mint 17, for a general purpose operating system. However, since I just wanted to optimize for Internet surfing speed, Zorin 12.4 Lite would be fine. With more consideration of the choices of operating system, I might have produced even better results than I will show in this article.
I chose three, fast Internet browsers to load onto this machine:
Pale Moon 28.7.0, Slimjet, and QtWeb 3.8.5. I downloaded all three
as debian package files and tried to install them into Zorin.
Slimjet failed to install, but the other two installed easily
using the commands "sudo dpkg -i
The laptop that I chose to use as my comparison machine was my HP Elitebook 8570p. This laptop has a 64-bit, Core i7 3750QM, quad-core processor (Passmark score: 8122). Even though this processor is several generations old, it is still nearly as fast as the fastest, new laptops sold today. Notice that the Passmark CPU score is over eleven times that of the Inspiron's processor. This would be a very large difference for any two new laptops that can be bought today. I chose to use the Firefox 66 Internet browser, which is a relatively new version of Firefox. My Elitebook is running the Linux Mint 17 operating system on an SSD. By the way, I was surprised to find that my chosen Zorin distribution runs a newer Linux kernal (4.15.0-30-generic) than Linux Mint 17 (3.13.0-24-generic).
The page-loading times in seconds for both laptops is shown in Table 1, below. These numbers are only approximate, because the loading time of a particular web page will vary from download to download. I deleted the browsers' browsing history and cache before visiting each website, each time.
|Website||Dell Inspiron E1505||HP Elitebook 8570P|
I believe the apparent two-second base for page-loading times may be due to the fact that for privacy reasons I am using a DNS service based in Austria. The two-second delay is a fairly recent development, so I am waiting to see if things get better before considering switching DNS services.
Since the Inspiron has limited RAM, I looked at the amount of memory consumed by Pale Moon. To boot up Pale Moon requires only about 50 MB of RAM, but the amount required to have each tab open to a web page varies from something like 10 MB for a page with not much on it to as much as 80 MB for the Ebay home page. Needless to say, I would have run over the 1 GB RAM limit by having more than about nine Ebay pages open at once. For comparison, a newer version of Chrome, Chrome 67, requires about 130 MB to boot up.
Since page loading speed is not everything, I decided to look at how the Inspiron performed with Youtube videos. While I didn't expect to be able to watch 4K videos in real-time, I was hoping that video-playing performance wouldn't be too bad. And, as it turned out, it wasn't. I found that the Inspiron had no problems running 480p Youtube videos in full-screen mode at the 1280x800 maximum resolution of its monitor, but 720p videos were way too much for it. The 720p videos were mostly fozen, with an occasional video frame update.
I didn't even try to play a Netflix video, because thanks to Netflix's unreasonable requirements, it won't play on any 32-bit Internet browser.
Next, I tried playing music on Pandora. Since Pandora has become a CPU hog, I haven't used it much in a couple of years--long enough that Pandora appeared to have deleted my account. After I created a new account and played a song, I saw that the CPU usage was between about 37% and 50% of the Inspiron CPU's maximum capability. So, the Inspiron handles Pandora music easily. My recollection is that the longer I had my account, the more Pandora increased my CPU usage. I don't know why. Maybe Pandora is paying its bills by mining bitcoin with users' CPU's? If my recollection is correct, it is possible that the Inspiron would eventually be unable to play Pandora music.
I also found that I was able to play 480p Youtube videos in full-screen mode and listen to music on Pandora.
The bottom line is that, while the difference in web page loading times between the 13-year-old Dell Inspiron and the very fast HP Elitebook was significant, the performance of the Inspiron was still within what I would consider my acceptable range. I'm sure that if the QtWeb browser hadn't been too problematic to use for every-day Internet surfing, the differences between the two laptops would have been even less. A faster operating system on the Inspiron may improve performance even more.
Based on what I've seen, I doubt I would have a problem surfing the Internet with the Inspiron running Zorin 12.4 Lite and the Pale Moon browser if my usual web-surfing laptop were to die tomorrow. If I had put more effort into software selection, I believe I could have produced even better Internet-surfing performance. This means that my claim that no one needs to pay for a top-of-the-line laptop to surf the Internet is true, for all but the relatively impatient among us.
The point that I've tried to make with this comparison study is not that you should go to Ebay and buy a 13-year-old laptop to surf the Internet. It's simply that you should not feel pressured to buy a fast laptop with the idea that you need it to surf the Internet.
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