Unlike Windows, the de facto idea is that most Linux distros are generally easier on system resources, which gives you the opportunity to revive your older laptop with ancient hardware specifications. However, even the latest versions of popular Linux distros ship with Desktop Environments that need at least 2-3 GB of RAM to function smoothly, especially highly-customizable desktop environments. Hence, if you’re on the internet looking for a lightweight Linux distro to breathe new life into your aging computers, here are some of the best lightweight Linux distributions that you can install.
1. Puppy Linux: Best Lightweight Linux Distro
One of the all-time favorite lightweight Linux distros, Puppy Linux, is a Unix-like operating system primarily meant for netbooks, older systems, and Live CDs. The OS can run from RAM, with the latest version taking up barely about 500MB of space on 32-bit systems (and 1GB on 64-bit PCs). Official system requirements for Puppy Linux include a 1GHz single-core processor and 512GB RAM for 32-bit and 1GHz dual-core CPU with 1GB RAM for the 64-bit variant, which means even PCs from the late 1990s should be able to run this without any issues.
Puppy Linux isn’t based on another full-fledged distro but can be built from packages of distributions such as Slackware and Ubuntu. The choice of your binaries determines the availability of additional packages. It is user-friendly and can be live-booted using a CD, DVD, or USB flash drive. And to maintain its lightweight nature, Puppy Linux does not come with many pre-installed applications. That said, AbiWord, Gnumeric, and MPlayer are part of the default installation, along with a choice of lightweight web browsers and a utility for downloading other packages.
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2. Linux Lite: Good Windows Alternative
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 more demanding option than some of the other distros on this list.
Linux Lite 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. The distro also supports the default UEFI boot mode, making it suitable for newer systems. However, one of the major cons of the latest Linux Lite version is that it’s 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.
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Yet another Ubuntu-based lightweight Linux distro, Lubuntu, is for folks who want to experience Ubuntu on a barebones system. It is an official Ubuntu flavor developed by Canonical and features the same software and repositories as Mate. Lubuntu provides you with a simple but modern GUI and comes with a wide variety of applications, including Firefox, LibreOffice, VLC, Featherpad, Trojita, and more.
Like Linux Lite, Lubuntu discontinued 32-bit support from version 18.10 but continues to offer a fast, lightweight desktop experience, even on weaker hardware. The minimum system requirements include a Pentium 4 / Pentium M / AMD K8 or higher processor and 1GB of RAM. One of the other major changes was a move from LXDE desktop to LXQt in Lubuntu 18.10; however, both are still more lightweight than Xfce.
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4. 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.
The latest Bodhi version (Bodhi 6.0) was released about two years ago and since then, there have been no updates to the project. This begs the question if the project is still alive. However, since Bodhi 6.0 is based on Ubuntu 20.04.2 LTS release, the project should stay alive for the next two years. The legacy version on the website is still Bodhi 5.1, with a mention of 32-bit Bodhi 6.0 (coming soon), but there have been no reports about the same for two years.
Minimum hardware requirements for Bodhi Linux include a 500MHz processor, 256MB of RAM, and 5GB of storage space, making it ideal for an ancient computer. 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.
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5. Ubuntu MATE
Ubuntu MATE is an official Canonical distro that incorporates the core Ubuntu and adds the MATE desktop on top. That makes for a stable, easy-to-use operating system with a configurable desktop environment. It is often referred to as an Ubuntu alternative for older, less powerful computers. It is, however, not nearly as lightweight as other options on this list, meaning you will need a relatively more capable device to run this OS. The minimum hardware requirements include a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of free disk space, and a display with at least 1024×768 resolution.
The latest release of Ubuntu MATE is based on Ubuntu 20.04.6 LTS Focal Fossa. It brings tons of new features, including multiple color theme variations, a one-click install option, ZFS support, and a Game Mode from Feral Interactive. The OS is for users who want to experience the beauty and customization of Linux with easy installation and a hassle-free experience. To that effect, it is one of the best lightweight Linux distros that’s available for a wide range of devices, including the Raspberry Pi.
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6. Manjaro XFCE
Manjaro is a Linux-based open-source operating system that comes with the Arch-based fast and lightweight Xfce experience. According to the developers, it provides users “all the benefits of cutting-edge software combined with a focus on getting started quickly, [as well as] automated tools to require less manual intervention.” The OS allows users to run many popular Windows applications using Wine, PlayOnLinux, or Proton via Steam.
Manjaro is only available for 64-bit systems, with the developers officially supporting XFCE, KDE, and Gnome editions. Other flavors, including editions for 32-bit systems, are maintained by the community. Minimum hardware requirements for Manjaro XFCE include a 1GHz processor and 1GB of RAM. XFCE isn’t the most lightweight Desktop Environment out there; hence, Manjaro XFCE might sometimes require a little more RAM than 1GB. Overall, it’s still one of the most lightweight Linux Distros out there. If XFCE is not your favorite DE, you can try the MATE or i3 WM community variants.
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Based on Debian, antiX is a fast, lightweight, and easy-to-install live CD distribution for x86-compatible systems. It ships without systemd and can be used as a fast-booting rescue CD on a USB flash drive. The OS comes in four flavors, including a full distro (1.1GB), a base distro (700MB), a core distro (350MB), and a net distro (150MB). While experienced users who want total control over their system will fancy the latter two versions, the first two are for first-time Linux users.
Minimum system requirements for antiX include a PIII processor paired with 256MB of RAM and 4GB of hard disk space. The latest antiX release is version 22 Grup Yorum, which rolled out in October last year. To make the most of the antiX live system, the developers recommend using the antiX/MX live USB maker to create the CD. Windows users should ideally use Rufus, but you can check out our list of Rufus alternatives if you want to use something else.
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8. Tiny Core Linux
As the name suggests, Tiny Core is not a turnkey desktop distribution, unlike most of the other distros on this list. Instead, it is just the core system on which users can add what they want to customize their OS experience. The developers offer three different x86 cores, including Core, TinyCore, and CorePlus. While Core is the base system with only a command-line interface for servers and appliances, TinyCore is the recommended option for desktops with a network connection. It includes the base Core system and X/GUI extensions for a dynamic FLTK/FLWM graphical desktop environment.
This is possibly the lightest Linux distro on our list, having the ability to run even on an i486DX paired with a meager 28MB of RAM for Core and 46MB for Tiny Core. That said, Tiny Core is not for newbies wanting to try out Linux for the first time. It offers only the Linux kernel and the root filesystem to go with it, which means users will have to know their way around the Linux ecosystem to be able to build all the tools on it. It is a great option for knowledgeable DIY folks whose top priority is minimal system requirements. For the rest, it’s best that you select something a little more mainstream.
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Q4OS is a Debian-based lightweight Linux distro that uses the trimmed-down Trinity desktop environment. It comes with a set of dedicated utilities and specific optimizations, combined with a focus on making a productive system. It is equally suitable for newcomers, as well as Linux veterans. Although the default Q4OS installation doesn’t offer a full suite of applications, you get powerful tools to install apps and proprietary codecs based on your usage requirements. On relatively modern hardware, it also supports desktop effects.
Unlike most mainstream Linux distros, Q4OS offers Trinity as a dedicated download option, right after the default Plasma desktop. The distro also comes with a Windows installer, which means you can install Q4OS on your Windows PC just like any other Windows application. This installer is compatible with Windows 10, 8, or 7 versions and can handle Secure Boot. Q4OS also offers native utilities, such as Desktop Profiler and Software Center, and installers for third-party applications with support for x86/32-bit, ARM architecture, and more.
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10. Absolute Linux
Absolute Linux has to be one of the most underrated lightweight Linux Distros out there. 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.
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The name says it all. EasyOS not only strives to be an easy-to-use OS but also goes quite Easy on your hardware. Although it takes around 600 MB to 1 GB of RAM, it can run on relatively old hardware pretty easily. It runs the JWM desktop environment, which is a lightweight window manager that uses X Window System.
Besides, EasyOS’s image is just 825 MB and comes with a slew of applications you’d need to get started. EasyOS is inspired by Puppy Linux, and in some areas, might look inspired by the same. All in all, it is one of the best Linux Distros if you need a good, fast, and lightweight distribution to revive your old machine.
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12. OpenSUSE Xfce
OpenSUSE is one of the most underappreciated distros in the Linux world. Based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, this distro has proven itself to be one of the best distros for Linux sysadmins, Developers, regular users, and gamers alike. Besides catering to regular users, it also has a lightweight Xfce variant that you can install, which merely consumes a gigabyte of RAM and should work on almost any ancient computer.
We’d suggest sticking to Tumbleweed instead of Leap for extra stability and a better overall user experience. Another great thing about openSUSE is you can download and install the OS via the network image for added flexibility. This way, you can choose exactly what you want and leave behind the unnecessary stuff. Overall, openSUSE Xfce is one of the best lightweight Linux distros out there.
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13. Zorin OS Lite
Modern distros follow a few formulae and the most popular one is to base your distro off Ubuntu, slash a few features, and call it a good Windows replacement. While in most instances that’s not enough to convince people to give up on Windows, Zorin OS Lite takes a different approach and tries to make the UI look as Windows-like as possible, and it has, till some extent, succeeded in it.
Like most lightweight distros, it uses Xfce to bring down the system requirements drastically. Besides, it follow’s Ubuntu’s release cycle and is completely free. Although most of the stability reports on the internet have been a mixed bag, Zorin OS Lite is a distro that you should try out. After all, choice is one of Linux’s greatest strengths.
Check out Zorin OS Lite