Low End PC

Internet Access at the Low End

L Victor Marks - 2001.10.22

When I think of low-end PCs, I've drawn the line at newer machines, generally about a 386 with 4 MB of RAM. Apparently, for some readers and LEPC author Freya, I've drawn that line a little too new.

Around Low End PC

In Free DOS for the Lowest-end PCs, Freya recommends FreeDOS. While not Free, as in Free software, I have to recommend PC-DOS, IBM's product. The current version uses four digit years, so it's Year 2000 compliant, something Microsoft failed to achieve, and it's not beta like FreeDOS. There's nothing wrong with using FreeDOS, but PC-DOS is a nice alternative as well.

Garry "Ramblin'" Hamblin, suggests using Internet Explorer 3 or Netscape 4.08 on Windows 3.11. Garry, might I suggest Opera? Yes, it's not gratis like the others, unless you don't might displaying some ads, but it's far better at rendering pages than either of the two you chose and runs acceptably well on a 386/16 with 4 MB of RAM. And now, on to more exciting news.

The Internet and the Lowest-end PCs

I've had some exciting correspondence from readers, who've let me in on some interesting things for those of you using the oldest of the older PCs out there.

First off, it's worth mentioning that you can establish a PPP connection to an ISP on an older machine with less than 1 MB of RAM and no hard drive, but the experience may not be rewarding. As they say, experience is what you have when you don't get what you want.


NetTamer is a "DOS PPP dial up access program, which requires no TSR packet driver. It will Web browse, get/send your email, get/send usenet messages, FTP upload/download a file, telnet to another Internet address, or check the time and date. It is a both robot and a navigator. It will get email and usenet groups, then log off so you can use the included offline reader, or you can choose to stay on and look around. It will also do a download/upload of mail or usenet on a timer. The program is speech friendly to users of talking programs for the visually impaired." - from the NetTamer website

The Net-Tamer XT version will run on the original PC with 512k of memory. A hard drive is recommended, but the program will run on a high density floppy if configured properly with a 9600 baud or faster modem. If you have a 2400 baud modem, a hard drive is required for write speed. There is also a version for handheld PC compatibles.

Bulletin Boards

You don't have to have an ISP. Reach back through the mists of time to about ten or fifteen years ago when all access was via dialup into a Bulletin Board System (BBS). There are still a few of these out there, including the GREX Electronic Town Hall, physically located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.

They run Unix on their servers, so you can dial into them and then run text browsers like Lynx from their server to browse the Internet. There are versions of Lynx for DOS, so you can run them on your own machine if you prefer.

Dial in using Kermit, the shareware version of ProComm Plus, or any other dialer you favor, and you'll be set. Just about any dialer will get you there.

Sindi Keesan has a user's site at GREX, and among other things she lists a fantastic collection of freeware and shareware software that you can download, from dialers to CAD programs, an office suite, a few browsers, and other fantastically useful software. Her site is a great resource, with an application for just about anything you'd want to use your machine for.


Arachne WWW Browser is a full screen graphical Web browser, which is currently available for DOS compatible operating systems and for Linux/SVGAlib platform. Arachne supports subset of HTML/4.0, GIF, JPEG, and PNG images, popular Internet protocols (HTTP, FTP, SMTP and POP3), and more. Arachne's browser is the ideal OEM solution for your "thin client" hardware products and solutions. - from the Arachne Website.

NetTamer vs. Arachne

dosppp (epppd.exe) is included with Arachne and is set up for beginners (a wizard or a file to edit). NetTamer uses its own TCP/IP software. They both do FTP and telnet. NetTamer has very user friendly FTP. The telnet does not work well with VT100 emulation in NetTamer. Arachne uses something called CUTP from Clarkson University that is perfect. You can also telnet with Kermit.

NetTamer is about a 600K download. Arachne, zipped with lots of unneeded files, fits on a 1.44 MB floppy drive but expands to as much as 10 MB - less if you delete the GIFs and icons. It needs a couple of meg to run in. It can, in theory, be reduced to 5 MB.

The author of Arachne, Michael Polak, notes that "Arachne runs even on HP-CX 1000, with 640 KB RAM, 384 KB RAM disk and 2 MB flash card, and CGA monitor. But it is not very usable. For real life, 386/40 with 8 MB is minimum - and you can get experience similar to Netscape or MSIE on ~100 MHz PC with 16 MB RAM. If you install Arachne on ~100 MHz PC with 16 (or more) MB RAM, fine-tuned disk caching, TEMP directory on RAM disk, etc., you will get enough performance for comfortable everyday use (e.g.. some Web browsing and reading and archiving about 10-20 emails every day)."

Sincere thanks to Sindi Keesan, Michael "xChaos" Polak, and David Colston, for making using a Low End PC a richer experience. Without them, this article could not have been written.LEPC

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