Linux distros aren’t as bleak and visually tasteless as they used to be. With modern Linux distributions focusing heavily on the GUI, the system requirements for the same have gone up drastically. If you have a fairly older system, running these modern Linux distributions can be a disappointment. So, the clear option seems to revert to the old distros but that is not entirely correct.
Linux is an open-source operating system with numerous lightweight Linux distros that can even run on hardware that doesn’t have much of anything including RAM, HDD, and processor. We have searched and curated a list of the best lightweight Linux distros that can easily run on older systems and look almost as good as the newer distros.
10 Best Lightweight Linux Distros for Old Computers
- Puppy Linux
- Linux Lite
- Ubuntu Mate
- Absolute Linux
- Arch Linux
- Zorin OS
- Tiny Core
- Sparky Linux
- Peppermint OS
BodhiLinux is a perfect fit for users looking for a lightweight Linux distro that has an interactive user interface. BodhiLinux is part of the Ubuntu LTS-based lightweight release that comes with the Moksha desktop. It is a carryover from the Enlightenment 17 desktop that has undergone some visual changes. BodhiLinux 5.1 is now available in four editions: standard, legacy, app pack, and HWE. BodhiLinux is available in both 32bit and 64-bit versions, so if your system cannot run the latter, 32-bit version is the viable choice.
Puppy Linux is as cute as it sounds but that doesn’t mean it is an incompetent Linux distribution in any manner. The distro has one of the smallest sizes and downloads in a merely 300 Mb file size. This tiny size leaves a lot of room for storage on your old system. The developers call this distro a grandpa-friendly certified which is an indication of its extremely lucid interface.
Puppy Linux is available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions, so go with the one feasible for your system. The main reason behind the distro’s compact file size is that it sheds all the pre-installed applications. On the other hand, you have to install the applications from the store or the appropriate developer website after you boot into the Puppy Linux.
Linux Lite is one of the best-looking yet feature-packed Linux distros available for old systems. It is based on the Ubuntu LTS-based releases and comes loaded with all applications that you would find on a full-fledged Linux distribution. Its latest version, the Linux Lite 5.0, brings is new and improved themes, language modifier, improved firewall, and dual-architecture support.
Like most lightweight distros mentioned in our list, this one also doesn’t take much space and can easily expand and work with a storage space of 40 GB. But if you wish to download large files, we recommend you to go beyond or add an external storage device. It is the most desirable option meant for a user that is transitioning from a Windows machine to a Linux-based system.
Ubuntu Mate is one of the graphically dense Linux distributions available for free. We wouldn’t call it extremely lightweight but that is a slight compromise you have to go for if you want the best visuals from your Linux distributions. Ubuntu Mate 20.04LTS is the latest iteration based on Ubuntu and includes Revan features like one-click installation, game mode, experimental ZFS, and much more.
If you have a Raspberry Pi lying around, Ubuntu Mate can even run on that without any problems. So, options are endless whether you want a 64biy version of the same or want to run it on tiny microcontrollers like Raspberry Pi. If your computer cannot handle the full version, there is a minimal installation version that scrapes the additional software and clutter.
Absolute Linux is based on Slackware with increased attention towards simplicity in the configuration of the operating system. It is so simple that the default package installation is text-based with no option to switch to Live mode. For internet connectivity and browsing, the distro comes preloaded with Mozilla Firefox. Similarly, for office-related documentation tasks, the libre office makes an appearance in the operating system.
If you go for the latest release, media streaming software Kodi, Google Chrome, calibre, and Inkscape are also bundled with the installation.
Arch Linux is popular because it pays no attention to bloatware and relies on minimal packages to be as agile as possible. Depending upon your choice for a window manager will have an impact on how lightweight is your OS. We would suggest you go for a less resource-intensive window manager like the i3. If you want to stoop even lower, the Xfce and LXQt are a great option as well. One troublesome fact is that the Arch Linux developers have dropped the support for the 32-bit architecture. So, it will only work if you have a compatible 64-bit processor in your old generation system. Other than that, you will absolutely love the interface.
Zorin OS is clearly meant for systems that do not have enough firepower to run anything graphics intensive. Zorin OS is supported on any single-core processor in both 32 bit and 64-bit architecture. It does have a comparable windows desktop-based interface that doesn’t make you feel left out after installing the OS. It has a 600* 480-pixel resolution so if you have a larger monitor, chances are that the visual experience is not what the Zorin OS promises on its webpage. Still, it can run in a meager 512 MB of RAM, so Pentium processors, here we come.
Tiny Core is downright the flyweight option in our list of the best lightweight Linux distributions of the year. It is available in three cores, namely Core, Tiny Core, and Core Plus. We would advise a newbie to avoid the Core version as it based on a command-line interface and can make your head spin with commands. Tiny Core is an improvement as it offers a more interactive experience rather than just fiddling with the command line for minor tasks. You would be surprised to find out that Tiny Core needs only 46 MB RAM to run without any issues and we are sure that your system, even the oldest one, has got more RAM than that.
Sparky Linux is based on Debian and is brimming with features that help it present a modern-looking desktop to the end-user. It uses an open box windows manager that comes with only the basic applications that are needed to support the fast-paced environment.
Sparky Linux comes in three different distributions, namely Game over, multimedia, and rescue. Both game over and multimedia ship with Xfce and are more inclined towards the visual fidelity of the operating system. Game over is for playing games while if you are a multimedia buff, the multimedia version is apt for you. The third version, rescue isn’t for mainstream users and is mainly used for performing diagnostic services. Sparky Linux is accomodating in nature and supports both 32 bit and 64-bit processors.
Peppermint OS is also a much-downloaded Linux distribution due to its lightweight architecture and the focus on cloud and web application management. The default desktop is LXDE and the OS shops with a Nemo file manager that facilitates easy navigation of files and locations. Peppermint OS can run on x86 processors and requires 1 GB RAM to run without any major stuttering. For hard disk space, you should consider freeing up at least 10 GB after the initial installation is done.
Puppy Linux remains our favorite lightweight Linux distro to date. Linux Lite is another great option for users looking for the best lightweight Linux distro that can run on outdated systems. We would even recommend Arch Linux but its stipulation of only running on 64-bit processors can be an ordeal for systems that date back to 2002.
Frequently asked questions
- Is Linux distro free?
Yes. Linux distros are absolutely free as they are open source projects developed by an extensive community dedicated to the betterment of free software. You aren’t charged for anything but have the option to donate to the cause and help developers that are taking time from their busy schedule to make the desktop experience better for you.
- How do I install the software of my choice?
To ease up the installation procedure, every Linux distro ships with a dedicated app Store that contains tons of software support for the distro. It is secure and a free method to download software like browsers, tools, etc.
- Is Linux secure?
Linux is one of the most secure operating systems on the planet. It is deployed in every industry at the core level and mostly manages the security and severs. There is malware available for Linux distributions but they are very few in number and seldom infect a distribution. Moreover, the viruses written for another operating system such as windows cannot run in Linux.