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The lightest Linux distributions for older computers

Published by TheJoe on

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

The myth of the lightweight Linux distribution that today resurrects a Commodore 64 is to be dispelled. Old PCs with architectures a 32 bit, old netbooks or nettops already very cheap when they were put on the market will hardly have “new life” by installing Linux, because the hardware has evolved, the software has been updated and it is easier to ensure a certain degree of compatibility with computers than 10 / 15 years ago or more recent.

Older computers risk failing to open a modern web page, or to run javascript smoothly. Browsers are the most resource-hungry software, and 256MB of RAM may be little for today's requirements (even NAS today often have more than 512MB of RAM). Sure, Linux coupled with an SSD or hybrid drive could make it usable, but don't expect the performance you had 15 years ago.

Having said that, let's move on to evaluate the best alternatives to proprietary computer systems “no-longer-very-young“. The list of distributions that I list does not follow particular criteria. You will have to evaluate the minimum system requirements that coincide with the hardware in your possession.


Q4OS

Q4OS, whose name is a little’ cryptic, is a Debian-based Linux distribution, whose main characteristics are speed, ease of use and productivity.

This distribution claims to be ideal for those who want a work environment tailored to the personal needs and preferences of the user. In this perspective, Q4OS can be used for both less experienced users, both for advanced ones.

In the screenshots you will also find themes similar to the old XP. Personally I do not agree with the choice of having to “to dress” your SO as if it were someone else, but it is also true that personal preferences are not discussed.

System requirements
Support a 32 bitIt
RAM128MB
CPU300MHz
Disk spacethe 3 a 5 GB
Derived distroDebian
Desktop EnvironmentTrinity for the 32bit version
Plasma for the 64bit version

Slax

Slax is a Linux distribution of type “portable”, installable on an external USB memory and bootable without installation.

The ISO file weighs less than 300 MB, the user interface is pretty simple with essential pre-installed packages. You can also change your preferences and make them permanent in subsequent sessions. The right distribution even for novice users.

Minimum requirements
Support a 32 bitIt
RAM512MB
CPUi686 or newer
Disk spaceUndeclared
I would suggest at least 5GB
Derived distroDebian
Desktop EnvironmentXFCE

Ubuntu MATE

Ubuntu MATE is a very light Linux distribution, which runs pretty well even on older hardware. The main DE is MATE desktop, so the interface may seem more complicated to understand at first, but still intuitive.

In addition to desktop support you can try Ubuntu MATE on Raspberry Pi and Jetsons Nano.

Minimum requirements
Support a 32 bitIt
RAM1GB
CPU1GHz
Disk space9GB
Derived distroUbuntu
Desktop environmentMate
Resolution1024 x 768

Zorin OS Lite

Zorin OS is a Linux distribution based on Ubuntu. Offers a lightweight version for older computers and replaces the canonical interface with XFCE.

If your computer is not too old you may still consider installing Zorin OS (instead of the light version).

Minimum requirements
Support a 32 bitIt
RAM512MB
CPU700MHz
Disk space8GB
Derived distroUbuntu
Desktop environmentXFCE
Resolution680 x 480

Xubuntu

Xubuntu is I think the most famous of the distributions I put on this list. It's a “official flavor” di Ubuntu: a derived distribution, but officially supported by Ubuntu sharing software sources, but it offers a different experience or intended use than the stock version of Ubuntu.

In short, all software available for Ubuntu will be available for Xubuntu, but the desktop manager is lighter and the installed packages will be different.

Minimum requirements
Support a 32 bitIt
RAM512MB
CPU1,5GHz
Disk space8GB
Derived distroUbuntu official flavor
Desktop environmentXFCE
Resolution800 x 600

Linux Mint XFCE

If you have old hardware Linux Mint XFCE might be a choice not to be discarded.

Look here:  Test the speed of a USB memory drive with Linux

In addition to being based on Ubuntu (however, it is an unofficial derivative distro, not a Ubuntu flavor) is equipped with the DE XFCE, which makes it fast and light even for some old computers. Whereas Linux Mint is one of the best distributions around, you could also try other editions.

Minimum requirements
Support a 32 bitIt
RAM1GB
CPUnot declared
I would suggest at least 1GHz
Disk space15GB
Derived distributionUbuntu
Desktop environmentXFCE
Resolution1024 x 768

Peppermint

Pepprmint is a cloud-focused Linux distribution that doesn't need any recent hardware. It is based on Ubuntu and uses LXDE as DE. It was originally created to be installed on netbooks and nettops and still retains its network-oriented approach today.

Minimum requirements
Support a 32 bitIt
RAM1GB
CPUIntel x86
Disk space4GB
Derived distributionUbuntu
Desktop environmentLXDE

Lubuntu

Other distribution included in Ubuntu flavor that we find on our list is Lubuntu. Come Xubuntu, Lubuntu also offers the same packages included in the official Ubuntu repositories, but use a different DE, indeed two: both LXDE and LXQT.

Lubuntu can be used on both old and new PCs. It is one of the lighter stock Ubuntu derivatives, focused on speed and support for older hardware.

Minimum requirements
Support a 32 bitIt (old versions)
RAM1GB
CPUPentium 4
Pentium M
AMD K8
Disk space2GB
Derived distributionUbuntu
Desktop environmentLXDE
LXQT

Linux Lite

Linux Lite is too, as the name suggests, a lightweight distribution that can be installed on older hardware. It is quite simple to use even for i Linux newbie and, being an unofficial derivative of Ubuntu LTS, has the entire range of applications available as the stock version, with a long stand 5 years from the date of issue.

Despite being a light version, the developers did not skimp on the software package. In fact, after installation we will find programs like Firefox, LibreOffice, Thunderbird, VLC, Gimp… in short, programs not really “light”.

Minimum requirements
Support a 32 bitIt (old versions)
RAM768
CPU1
Disk space8
Derived distributionUbuntu LTS
Desktop environmentXFCE
Resolution1024 x 768

CrunchBang++

Also known as CBPP or #!++, CrunchBang ++ is a clone of Crunchbang Linux. This last project is now abandoned.

CrunchBang ++ can be installed without any problem on older computers, if you base your Debian 10 and the interface is very minimal. Given its characteristics I would not recommend it to inexperienced users.

Minimum requirements
Support a 32 bitIt (old versions)
RAM1GB
CPUPentium IV
Disk spaceUndeclared
I would suggest at least 10GB
Derived distributionDebian 10
Desktop environmentOpenBox

Bodhi

Bodhi Linux is known for its minimal interface and support for low-end hardware. You won't find many programs after installation, for this reason the ISO file weighs about 1GB.

The most prestigious peculiarity of this distribution is certainly the DE Moksh desktop, specially developed. This DE is the right choice to contain dimensions and offer a rewarding user experience.

Minimum requirements
Support a 32 bitIt (old versions)
RAM256MB
CPU1GHz
Disk space5GB
Derived distributionUbuntu
Desktop environmentMoksh desktop
(derived from Enlightenment)

AntiX

AntiX is a Debian-based Linux distribution. If you are looking for something that does not include systemd you are in the right place.

AntiX bases the user experience on iceWM to offer support even to hardware that is no longer young. It does not include a large pre-installed software park, in fact the ISO weighs about 700MB. Of course, you can install all the software you need from the first start.

Minimum requirements
Support a 32 bitIt
RAM256MB
CPUIntel 3
Disk space5GB
Derived distributionDebian
Desktop environmenticeWM

Sparky

Sparky is another minimal distribution, but at the same time it also caters to the latest computer market.

Depending on what you are looking for you will find two variants of SparkyLinux: one based on Debian Stable and one on Debian Testing. To these two variants are added the LXQT and the “GameOver” which includes a large software park.

Minimum requirements
Support a 32 bitUndeclared
RAM512
CPUPentium IV
AMD Athlon
Disk space2GB (CLI Edition),
10GB (Home Edition),
20GB (GameOver Edition)
Derived distributionDebian Stable
Debian Testing
Desktop environmentLXQT

Puppy Linux

Puppy Linux is perhaps the most unique of the distributions we will see today. It can be launched in version live to CD, DVD o memoria USB, use JWM and OpenBox by default to minimize installation space.

Given the vocation of Puppy Linux to speed, the included software is very poor, even though it includes a set of basic applications.

Minimum requirements
Support a 32 bitIt (old versions)
RAM256MB
CPU600MHz
Disk spaceUndeclared
I would suggest at least 10GB
Derived distributionOriginal
Desktop environmentJWM / OpenBox

Tiny Core

Technically the lightest distribution among those mentioned, however it is certainly not addressed to all users.

Tiny Core incorporates the fundamental components of a Linux operating system: kernel e root filesystem. In other words it is alone “the foundations” of an operating system.

If you are looking for an operating system that boots and connects to a LAN you might want to start using it, but don't expect hardware support “classic” without having to fiddle.

It goes without saying that this distribution is only usable by an advanced user, that he knows – eg – compile a program from source.

Minimum requirements
Support a 32 bitUndeclared
probably yes
RAM64MB
CPUi486DX
Disk spaceUndeclared
I would suggest at least 1GB
Derived distributionOriginal
Desktop environmentTiny X

Conclusions

As already mentioned, not all computers can come back to life and not all distributions can be used by everyone. In this list I wanted to summarize the salient features of what I consider the best Linux distributions among the lightest on the market.

And what distribution do you use?


TheJoe

I keep this blog as a hobby by 2009. I am passionate about graphic, technology, software Open Source. Among my articles will be easy to find music, and some personal thoughts, but I prefer the direct line of the blog mainly to technology. For more information contact me.

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