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Linux is quite good in that it offers a lot of options for almost any use case. A lot of you may have an old desktop or laptop thrown in some dark corners of your house, but did you know that you can fully renew it with Linux? Here are some lightweight Linux distributions that we recommend for the task.
A lot of other people and websites may recommend a totally different set of lightweight distributions for you, but in our selection, we didn’t just care for resources usage and the distro’s ability to work on old hardware. Instead, we also cared for the ease of use and your ability as a user to deal with the distribution on daily basis to do your tasks. At the end, the goal is not simply to get an old computer to just work – the goal is to get an old computer to work and do things that you need as someone living in 2020.
Remember that the definition of an “old computer” varies a lot. A 2014 laptop can almost run any Linux distribution released today, but a 2009 old laptop? Not much. It all depends on the CPU, RAM and disk storage your computer can offer. Our recommendations will vary based on that information.
So let’s end chatting… Here are our 5 most recommended lightweight Linux distributions for you.
Best Lightweight Linux Distributions
If your computer can just offer 512MB or 1GB of RAM, then Ubuntu MATE is a no brainer. Ubuntu MATE – unlike the mainstream Ubuntu – offers a desktop that does not consume a lot of resources by default, and utilizes a familiar traditional layout out-of-the-box.
Ubuntu MATE is a great choice for old computers because it also offers a 32-bit version (for the 18.04LTS release only), and thanks for it being based on Ubuntu, you can enjoy all the packages and PPAs available for it on your old computer too.
Browsing users reviews of Ubuntu MATE on their official communication channels, and testing the distro by ourselves shows us how little bugs and issues exist in it comparing to other Linux distributions, such as the main Ubuntu or Lubuntu, so that’s another reason for recommending it. Finally, Ubuntu MATE is very user friendly; It comes with tools and programs to install any software you may need even if you were a first-time Linux user, and its control center / settings management tools are very straightforward and functional.
For more information about Ubuntu MATE or to download it, visit their official website.
It may be the first time you have heard about this distribution, but we can assure you that it’s a good distribution for old hardware nonetheless. BunsenLabs was created in 2015 as a Debian-based Linux distribution that somehow mimics how Crunchbang Linux was; It comes with the Openbox window manager beside tint2 and conky by default, and ships with other drivers/multimedia support packages. They have their own repositories and a large set of their own packages and configurations.
BunsenLabs can run on 256MB of RAM and 1GHz clock speed of CPU. It also provides an i386 version for those who have limited amounts of system memory.
Another reason that pushed us to add it to our list was the community behind; A large number of users are available on its online forum. They provide a good list of scripts & configurations that you can set up on your machine if you want too. This distribution is so active, watch this walkthrough:
For more information about BunsenLabs Linux, visit its official website.
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This can be a strange selection from the first while, but Manjaro can offer something very valuable to old hardware. It’s true that Manjaro comes by default with the GNOME, KDE and Xfce desktops – which are arguable heavy – but you should know that the community of Manjaro provides many other spins of it; The community provides LXQt, LXDE, Awesome, MATE, Openbox, i3, Cinnamon, Bspwm and Budge desktops by default in separate ISO files for each. This allows you as an old computer owner to pick the best one for you.
Combining that with Manjaro being based on Arch, which gives it an access to AUR and the rolling release model in general, it would be a great distribution for old hardware.
The distribution – as far as I know – offers its own software center, driver manager, control center and many other tools that will ease your life on daily basis, which makes it even a better option.
Slax is a distribution that is always booted from USB; You don’t install it on a hard disk. So this makes it a perfect choice if your old PC’s hard disk is too slow or old, or even if it doesn’t exist at all. It has a booting mode called “Persistent Mode”, which means that your files and modifications there will always be saved even if you remove the USB drive and reboot. This makes it better because now you can take your OS with your documents and files anywhere you go.
Slax is based on Debian, and comes by default with nothing more than the bare minimum Fluxbox minimum window manager, Chromium browser and some other helpful utilities. But you can install any other desktop or package you want too.
Slax’s ISO file is only 270MB in size, amazing!
Fedora LXDE Spin
This spin is the most lightweight Fedora spin available, as it comes with one of the most lightweight yet functional desktops ever. While it’s true that LXDE is no longer under active development and entered the legacy mode, it is still very usable and functional till this very day. We prefer LXDE over LXQt because the first is way more lightweight and bug-free than the latter.
Fedora is very well integrated with Flatpak, which is an app distribution mechanism that tends to ship latest versions of many available software. This will allow you to have many top-tier programs on your old computer with no hassle at all. And combining that with the lightweight desktop you have, you get a perfect distribution for daily use.
To learn more about Fedora LXDE Spin, visit their homepage.
The Bottom Line
So you have seen our recommendations so far. It’s true that there are many other “micro” Linux distributions like Tiny Core, SliTaz and Puppy Linux, but as I said in the introduction of this article, the goal of any user isn’t just to get their PC to boot and work, but to have a good desktop with nice software selection to do their daily tasks.
If you know more distributions that fit the criteria above, we would love to hear about them in the comments below.