Old PCs can’t cope with the demands of modern operating systems and software.
While upgrading hardware such as memory can help, the better solution is a lightweight operating system. If your Windows or Mac computer is old and struggling to keep up, installing Linux can give it a fresh lease of life.
Lightweight Linux distributions are designed with speed and efficiency in mind, making old computers usable again. These distros let you enjoy a lag-free computing experience on your old computer and give you a visually appealing graphical desktop.
Lightweight Linux distros are designed to primarily run on older computers or low-power devices, such as the Raspberry Pi and other similar single-board systems. So without any further delay, here are 25 best lightweight Linux distros you can use to breathe life back into your old computers.
Crunchbang (or #!) was a very popular Debian-derived distro specifically designed to use as few system resources as possible.
While it was discontinued in 2013, the community fondly remembered its lightning speed and responded with two Crunchbang-based distros to continue its legacy. However, one of those successors, Crunchbang++, has now been discontinued.
BunsenLabs is still active, though, and its current release (Lithium) is based on the latest stable version of Debian featuring a gorgeously configured Openbox window manager and its own repository of core packages.
The distro ships with an assortment of themes and wallpapers, and includes a number of everyday desktop apps to provide a very usable out-of-the-box experience. BunsenLabs is available for both 32-bit and 64-bit machines, and the developers recommend running the distro on a machine with more than 2 GB of RAM.
2. Ubuntu MATE
Minimum Hardware Requirements:
- CPU: Pentium M 1.0 GHz
- RAM: 1 GB
- Display Resolution: 1024 x 768
- Disk Space: 9 GB
Ubuntu MATE is one of the great Linux Desktop Environments for those who are looking for something very traditional and nostalgic.
It is the living descendant of one of the most popular Linux desktops, GNOME 2, and has a classic feel and approach.
Ubuntu MATE 20.04 LTS is undoubtedly one of the most popular official flavors of Ubuntu. It’s an impressive lightweight Linux distro that runs fast enough on older computers.
It features the MATE desktop – so the user interface might seem a little different at first but it’s easy to use as well.
In addition to the desktop support, you can also try it on a Raspberry Pi or Jetson Nano.
- Caja File Manager
- Pluma Text Editor
- MATE Search Tool
- Excellent Performance
Even though Absolute Linux is undoubtedly one of the best lightweight distros for desktops, it doesn’t always get the attention it deserves.
Based on Slackware, this 64-bit OS comes pre-installed with Firefox, LibreOffice, Inkscape, GIMP, Google Earth, Calibre, and more. It is version-compatible with Slackware, which means you can use almost any package from the same version of Slack on Absolute.
Development libraries (headers) for everything come with the default installation, making it possible to code/ build almost anything from the source. Absolute Linux is one of the least resource-intensive distros on this list, thanks in part to the lightweight IceWM window manager.
It also includes many convenient custom scripts and utilities for easy installation, configuration, and maintenance.
Do note that there’s no Live mode, but experienced users can add and remove packages from the install media to create a customized distro of their own.
Trisquel is an Ubuntu LTS derivative. The GNU distro uses Ubuntu packages with a GNOME 3 Flashback-based desktop environment.
Trisquel Mini is an alternate iteration specifically crafted for netbooks and under-powered PCs. The LXDE desktop environment, X Window System, and GTK+ graphical displays ensure that Trisquel runs well even on older hardware.
While Trisquel Mini may be small, it’s packed with Linux apps including AbiWord, GNOME MPlayer, and Transmission. Any PC built since 1999 should run Trisquel Mini.
It requires just 128MB of RAM for the 32-bit version (256MB for 64-bit) and 3GB of storage. AMD K6 and Intel Pentium II processor architectures are the earliest supported.
5. MX Linux
MX Linux is a Debian-based Linux distribution. Out of all the distros that we have on the Linux MX has the least good-looking set up by default.
This distribution is aimed at power users as it offers so much more control over what you can do with your OS. MX is a pure performance-driven system which comes with the Debian stability. There is a set of applications here that fall under the MX tools category.
These tools streamlined some advanced actions that are otherwise not easy to do.
You get simple graphical interfaces here to sort out things like fixing GPG, key issues, and some other things. If you don’t like playing with the terminal, MX provides very fine control over package management.
You get to choose different versions of the same package from Debian, stable or testing repositories. Talking about the performance of the OS on old hardware, MX Linux is a distribution that does not offer animations or transitions in the UI. This lowers the resource usage.
So even if you want to revive an old laptop or desktop with as low as 512megs of RAM, this distribution can work really well. The overall balance of being lightweight with Debian’s stability, superior control over your system, and delivering a performance-oriented experience is perfect for power-users.
The ‘L’ in Lubuntu might as well stand for lightweight, as the distro unashamedly appeals to those Ubuntu users who are looking for an OS which requires fewer resources than most modern distros, but doesn’t force you to compromise on your favorite apps. Lubuntu is primarily designed for older machines.
The default desktop is based on LXQt, which is far less resource hungry than mainstream Ubuntu’s Gnome 3 desktop. It comes with a plethora of office, internet, multimedia and graphics apps, along with a wide assortment of useful tools and utilities. As a lightweight distro, Lubuntu focuses on being fast and energy efficient.
It features alternative and less resource intensive apps where possible. The most recent releases have also reverted back to using LibreOffice rather than Abiword for word processing. This doesn’t mean that Lubuntu is lacking, though – it’s based on the latest Ubuntu release, so it’s a proper modern Linux distro – it’s just shed all unnecessary weight, in the manner of a rally car having all but one of its seats removed.
The most recent release of Lubuntu has now lowered the minimum required RAM to run the OS to 500MB.
However, to ensure smooth running, try to use a machine with at least 1GB of RAM. It’s available in 32-bit and 64-bit incarnations. The unique selling point of Lubuntu is its compatibility with Ubuntu repositories, which gives users access to thousands of additional packages that can be easily installed using the Lubuntu Software Center.
- Ubuntu but slimmed down
- Compatible with Ubuntu repositories
- Uses nifty lightweight apps
7. Puppy Linux
No list of lightweight Linux distros would be complete without Puppy Linux.
The average release weighs in at about 300MB, making it one of the smallest (but not the smallest) releases on this list. It uses a combination of JWM and ROX Desktop for a lightweight desktop experience. Puppy Linux describes itself as a collection of multiple Linux distributions that share the same principles, a unique set of apps and configurations, and the same consistent behaviors and features.
This means you can pick from Ubuntu, Raspbian, or Slackware-based Puppy Linux releases, depending on your preference. Opting for an Ubuntu-based distribution for example would provide support for Debian packages, while a Raspbian release makes it easy to install Puppy on a Raspberry Pi device.
Recommended system requirements for the 64-bit release are described as an Intel Core2Duo with 2GB of RAM.
Puppy Linux comes with virtually no software, which makes it ideal if you want to build your own minimalist Linux environment. It works with 64-bit and 32-bit architectures but has no support for UEFI.
Its graphical environment is a bit barebones, but it’s fast and runs almost anywhere.
Slax is a really portable lightweight Linux distro based on Debian which you can use it on a USB drive without installing it. The ISO file size is just under 300 MB which makes it a great option for older computers.
The user interface is simple and usable with essential pre-built packages for an average user.
You can even try to customize the OS and make permanent changes on the fly if you require it.
Minimum hardware requirements:
CPU: i686 or newer
RAM: 128 MB (offline usage) / 512 MB (for web browser usage)
9. Arch Linux
If you’re an experienced user who loves to customize the system and make it personal, I’ll recommend Arch Linux. Without a doubt, the desktop environment of your operating system makes it heavy or lightweight.
Arch is basically a no-nonsense Linux distro, and it doesn’t come loaded with lots of preinstalled packages. I would personally recommend you try out a lightweight window manager like i3. Doing so will be more of a learning curve compared to some desktop environments.
You can also go for barebones Openbox window manager. There’s a saying that the fastest DE is not having one at all. Just in case you’re willing to convert Arch into a fast and lightweight Linux distribution with a desktop environment, you’ve got choices like great Xfce and LXQt.
One thing you should note before going for Arch Linux. Ensure your machine isn’t based on 32-bit architecture, as Arch developers have stopped offering 32-bit images due to the decreasing popularity of the 32-bit platform.
There’s an option to get for the forked archlinux32 option as well.
Minimum hardware requirements:
- 530MB RAM
- 2GB free disk space
- 64-bit architecture
10. Bodhi Linux
Bodhi Linux is an Ubuntu LTS-based lightweight release featuring Moksha Desktop, a continuation of Enlightenment 17 with additional features.
It comes with a whole bunch of available software, thanks to the Ubuntu repo. Further, Bodhi Linux comes in four different editions, including Standard, Legacy, AppPack, and HWE.
While most users will opt for the Standard or Legacy Edition (for 32-bit hardware), those looking for a 64-bit operating system with updated kernels and new hardware support should opt for the HWE edition. Minimum hardware requirements for Bodhi Linux include a 500MHz processor, 256MB of RAM, and 5GB of storage space, making it ideal for decades-old systems.
However, the less-than-1GB ISO file means that it misses out on many essential pre-installed applications. That said, if you want a lightweight Linux distro with an attractive and modern desktop UI, Bodhi Linux is one of the first and foremost distros you should consider.
11. Macpup Linux
Another version of Puppy Linux, Macpup boasts a similarly tiny footprint and is even small enough to run in RAM.
However, despite its small footprint, Macpup Linux is a full-fledged distro. A nice selection of office, multimedia, and graphics apps transform your old PC hardware into a new computer. The name “Macpup” derives from the use of a macOS-like dock across the foot of the desktop. Other desktop elements are less Mac-like.
Macpup Linux is binary compatible with Ubuntu Precise packages.
Additionally, Macpup Linux contains the same apps as Precise Puppy, along with Firefox.
12. Zorin OS Lite
Zorin OS Lite is a perfect example of how beautiful, the XFCE desktop environment can look! Zorin OS was already designed to look extremely beautiful and the Lite version makes it possible to have the same snappy, yet beautiful experience possible on ancient hardware.
Unlike many other Linux distributions, Zorin isn’t built for servers.
Instead, it is built with the desktop users in mind every aspect of its user interface reflects the same. Zorin OS Lite is the best lightweight Linux distribution if you want a fast and stable system without compromising on the looks.
antiX is one of the best options that’ll be content on a computer with very little resources.
The full edition of antiX, which uses IceWM together with the Rox file manager, is one of the lightest distros around and yet ships with lots of apps, including both mainstream and lightweight ones, for virtually every desktop task. The distro uses its own repos together with that of Debian’s.
While it bundles the Synaptic package manager, one of the interesting aspects of the distro is the metapackage installer that helps make the distro accessible to new users. antiX boots into a pleasing looking IceWM window manager with icons on the desktop.
One interesting aspect of the distro is the home-grown antiX control panel which you use to modify virtually all aspects of your installation.
For example, you can modify different aspects of the desktop’s appearance such as themes, menus, wallpaper as well as configure the antiX ad blocker, image a partition and tweak the automount behavior using the custom modules in the control panel.
14. Tiny Core Linux
Tiny Core is a small distribution with a tiny footprint. The smallest release, Core, is only 11MB while TinyCore and CorePlus weigh in at 16MB and 160MB respectively.
The distribution uses the Fast Light Window Manager (FLWM) in a bid to provide a usable GUI that sips as few system resources as possible. As the name may imply, Tiny Core includes virtually no apps at all to keep its footprint as small as possible.
The project aims to provide a very minimal Linux environment rather than a complete desktop. The project makes sacrifices like relying mostly on wired networking to make this happen. Since Tiny Core is so light, it can run completely in RAM which makes it very fast and responsive.
Tiny Core Linux can be used with little technical knowledge of Linux, but its minimalist nature means it’s better suited to those who are more comfortable with the Linux command line, shell scripting, and Linux file systems. Amazingly, the minimum system requirements to run Tiny Core Linux are 46MB of RAM and an i486DX processor, with a Pentium II and 128MB of RAM recommended.
Minimum Hardware requirements:
- RAM: 512 MB (recommended 1 GB)
- Disk space: 8 GB
- CPU: Pentium 3 (recommended Pentium 4)
LXLE is actually a respin of the Lubuntu LTS version.
Now that Lubuntu ships with LXQT by default, LXLE is a great option for users who want to use the LXDE desktop environment. Despite being lightweight Linux distro, LXLE tries to provide an intuitive UI and eye candies.
The system is tweaked to improve performance and comes with a wide range of lightweight applications installed by default.
There are many other fast and lightweight Linux distros, but I’ve decided to end this round-up with Manjaro Linux Xfce Edition. Wondering why?
Apart from my personal liking for Manjaro, it’s also one of the fastest-growing Linux distros with a large user community support.
The Xfce edition of Manjaro Linux is a flagship offering that comes with a polished, integrated, and leading-edge Xfce experience. Coupled with the power of an Arch base, Xfce delivers a fast and lightweight experience.
While it might not be as lightweight as compared to some other Linux distros mentioned in this list, it’s surely going to turn out to be a great Linux desktop experience for you.
It’s also worth mentioning that Manjaro has dropped support for 32-bit architecture.
So it could be a deal-breaker for many who want to run on the old 32-bit PC. However, you can also try out the new manjaro32 project.
Minimum hardware requirements:
- 1GHz CPU
- 1GB RAM
17. Linux Lite
Linux Lite is not just one of the best lightweight distros but also one of the most user-friendly operating systems for new users, especially those migrating from Windows.
It is based on Ubuntu LTS releases and comes with a whole host of popular and helpful applications.
Minimum system requirements include a 1GHz processor, 768MB of RAM, 8GB of free storage space, and a VGA resolution (1024×768) screen.
That makes it a relatively demanding option than some of the other distros on this list. Linux Lite 5.0 comes with a whole host of new features to make it work out-of-the-box, including pre-installed LibreOffice, GIMP, Dropbox, VLC media player, and Firefox.
It also offers users a better Linux desktop experience. Linux Lite also supports default UEFI boot mode, making it suitable for newer systems.
However, it comes with one compromise. The recent versions of Linux Lite are not compatible with older, 32-bit systems. Still, given its versatility and ease-of-use, it is easily one of the best lightweight Linux distros for old computers.
18. Sparky Linux
Sparky Linux is a Debian-based very lightweight Linux distribution.
It offers a variety of pre-built desktop environments for ease of use. The default desktop environments are LXQt, MATE, and XFCE but users can install other desktops via ‘Sparky APTus’. Sparky is based on the stable and testing branches of Debian. It also offers a collection of scripts to handle the day-to-day system administration.
There are multiple versions that Sparky Linux offers to serve different purposes. These are:
- Multimedia: for audio, video, and html pages creating;
- GameOver Edition: targeted to gamers. It features a large set of free and open-source games and some needed tools;
- MinimalCLI and MinimalGUI: for people who enjoy
- Rescue Edition: provides a live system and a large number of applications for recovering broken operating systems;
Sparky is perfect for anyone who wants a fast, lightweight and fully customizable OS for a specific purpose.
The Sparky variations are built to serve the needs of different categories of users.
- Debian based
- most wireless and mobile network cards supported
- lightweight, fast & simple
- set of selected applications, multimedia codecs and plugins
- CLI Edition (no X) for building customized desktop
- own repository with a large set of additional applications
- easy hard drive / USB installation
- your favorite desktops to choose
- stable or (semi-)rolling release
- special editions: GameOver, Multimedia & Rescue
Another Debian-based distro, Q4OS uses the trimmed-down Trinity desktop environment, which follows the classical desktop metaphor, so it shouldn’t throw any usability issues, even if you’ve never used it before. Q4OS boots to a welcome screen that can be used to install additional apps as well as proprietary codecs.
If you have resources to spare you can even turn on desktop effects. You also get the option to replace its application launcher with KDE’s Kickoff menu, using the welcome app. The default Q4OS installation is pretty bare-bones, but you can use the desktop profiler app to flesh out your installation with a single click based on how you plan to use it.
Note however that while you can use the 64-bit edition of the distro as an installable Live CD, the 32-bit edition is only offered as an install-only medium.
The distro also has a Windows installer that you can use to install Q4OS alongside an existing Windows installation without too much fuss.
Crunchbang++ is a minimal Debian-based distro with the Openbox window manager.
Its configuration can be set by the user during installation. After installing the system, a basic system can be set up in a few minutes.
Most of the essential packages for Openbox desktop environment are also included. Other required packages can be installed on your system with the apt command. Crunchbang Plus Plus is perfect for anyone who wants a close-to-barebones experience with GUI Debian Linux, without manually setting things up.
Peppermint OS has a unique quality that sets it apart from the other Linux distributions.
It’s a combination of cloud-based infrastructure and regular desktop applications for Linux. Apart from that, Peppermint is also one of the fastest Linux distros and a lightweight operating system. Like the other Linux distros mentioned in this list, this Lubuntu-based distro also supports 32-bit and 64-bit hardware.
Being Lubuntu-based, it’s able to get the advantage of Ubuntu’s software repositories. Peppermint OS Linux distro combines minimal experience and good looks. Wondering what desktop environment ships by default with Peppermint OS? It ships with LXDE, which is known for its fast and lightweight nature.
Coming back to the hybrid of cloud infrastructure, it comes with custom-made Ice applications for many tasks. Instead of running local applications, one can work in a site-specific browser (SSB). However, the Peppermint project is currently on halt as its creator, Mark Greaves, passed away.
His contributions to the Linux community is definitely something that we could never forget. The last release, i.e., Peppermint OS 10 based on Lubuntu 18.04 was in 2019 and there’s no official confirmation if the project is still alive or dead.
Minimum hardware requirements:
- 1GB RAM
- 20GB free disk space
- Intel x86 architecture CPU
If you’re seeking to rejuvenate that old PC and stay secure, check out the uncompromising SLiTaz.
While this Linux distro is lightweight, it is also high performance, suited as much for running from a live CD as from a disk drive. Install SliTaz on aging PCs, servers, and even tiny ARM devices like the Raspberry Pi.
You can even roll your own version. The root filesystem is a mere 100MB, and the ISO image is less than 40MB. Neat features include an FTP/web server powered by Busybox, Dropbear SSH client, SQLite, and the Openbox desktop running on Xvesa/Xorg.
23. Linux Mint Xfce
Linux Mint came into popularity when the Ubuntu people ditched GNOME for Unity.
Mint community offered MATE which was a smoother, lightweight continuation of the GNOME Desktop environment and that caught on really quickly within the community. Mint is built to be extremely userfriendly, so much so, a user switching from Windows can start using Linux Mint without a learning curve.
The distro ships without bloatware and an easy to use package manager. Linux Mint is perfect for those who are migrating from a Windows or Mac OS and want something really simple and stable to use.
It’s also great for anyone who just doesn’t want to touch the terminal and prefers the GUI!
Porteus is a Slackware-based distro that is designed to be completely portable and run on removable media such as a USB stick or CD, but can just as easily be installed to a hard disk.
The distro is incredibly fast as it’s small enough to run entirely from system RAM. The unique selling point of Porteus is that it exists in a compressed state and creates the file system on-the-fly.
Besides the preinstalled apps, all additional software for the distro comes in the form of modules, making the OS very small and compact. Porteus is available for 32-bit and 64-bit machines.
The distro provides users with the choice of KDE, MATE, Openbox, LXQt, Cinnamon, Xfce and LXDE desktop environments when downloading the ISO image. Unfortunately the option to build your own custom ISO has been removed since we previously looked at Porteus.
But the pre-built images offer a decent selection of software and drivers, as well as an excellent selection of tutorials to help you get started.
Xubuntu is one of the official flavors of Ubuntu that features the lightweight Xfce desktop. Xfce is a stable, light and configurable desktop environment that not only “just works”, but is also beautiful in its own characteristic way.
Xubuntu is perfect for those who want the most out of their desktops, laptops and netbooks with a modern look and enough features for efficient, daily usage. You will find it easy to use and can also install it on your older computers with no issues.
Head to their official website to download the ISO (32-bit/64-bit) you need and get started.
Minimum hardware requirements:
- Processor: Pentium Pro or AMD Athlon
- RAM: 512 MB (1 GB recommended)
That’s pretty much it! So, there are Best Lightweight Linux Distros.
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