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I think that the issue of how well Gnome runs on old hardware is not useful if the goal is to increase Linux adoption for the desktop.
The advantage of running a Linux desktop on old hardware is adopted from the arguments for running Linux on servers, where the advantage was substituting Linux for other software to do the same work. The fact is, the difference in what a server is asked to do today compared to 5 years ago is far smaller than what a desktop client is asked to do today compared to 5 years ago.
Today someone running a desktop system (and like it or not, this includes every Joe Sixpack who gets his computer from Best Buy) has a far greater expectation as to what that desktop will do for them compared to 5 years ago. Previously, the point was made that used hardware can be bought for $100. This makes no economic sense if one can get hardware that is more than four times as powerful for less than four times that price. Trying to make the argument that one should adopt Linux for the desktop because it will run on old hardware is probably not useful in a market where people are buying new computers rather than trying to fix their old ones.