8 Lightweight Linux Distros Ideal for Intel Atom Processor PCs

Bertel King Updated 16-12-2019

Intel’s Atom processor is a line of low-voltage microprocessors that first appeared in 2008. They power many ultra-portable devices, like netbooks, net-tops, and tablets. But the power efficient Atom quickly showed its limits in keeping up with current software.


That doesn’t mean you should let your Atom-powered device collect dust in a closet! You can bring it back to life with a Linux distribution. Linux operating systems generally use fewer system resources than their Windows counterparts, and there are no shortage of options.

Here are the best lightweight Linux distros for netbooks with Intel Atom processors.

1. Puppy Linux

Puppy Linux Desktop
Image Credit: Mick Amadio/Wikimedia Commons

Puppy Linux boasts a tiny memory footprint (or pawprint). It’s roughly 300MB and can live on flash drives and DVDs. You can even run the entire operating system from RAM. Doing so lends a speedy experience on any device, overcoming slow hard drive read-write speed. This makes Puppy Linux one of the best Linux distributions for old PCs and netbooks.

Puppy Linux versions are based on Ubuntu long-term support releases, so you can keep this desktop installed for a long time.


2. Lubuntu

Lubuntu Linux distribution

Lubuntu pitches itself as both lightweight and fast. Newer versions use the LXQt desktop environment What Is LXQt? The Most Lightweight Linux Desktop Built Using Qt Looking for a new Linux desktop environment with a light footprint? With the latest release of LXQt, your wish has been granted. Read More , though the most recent long-term support version still provides LXDE. Lubuntu provides a good netbook Linux desktop for people who don’t want to tinker with their computer all that much.

System requirements are undemanding. The Lubuntu website recommends 1GB of RAM for intensive web apps like YouTube, Facebook, and Google Docs.

3. Linux Mint (MATE or Xfce)

Linux Mint MATE edition
Image Credit: Linux Mint


When it comes to Linux distributions, Mint is one of the more popular options. The Ubuntu and Debian-based distribution has a modern, simple elegance. It’s pretty user-friendly, too. Apps and multimedia codecs are easy to find.

There are several variants of Linux Mint available, with MATE and Xfce virtually tied as great examples of Linux for Intel Atom processors. Both are well suited to netbooks and most under-powered computers in general. Of all the distributions on this list, Mint offers arguably the most functional and complete experience.

While we’ve selected Linux Mint for its particular appeal to newcomers, virtually any distro running MATE or Xfce will run as well. If you prefer Ubuntu, Fedora, or openSUSE, give them a go instead. Compared to the other options on this list, MATE or Xfce may run better on netbooks with more RAM.

For more info, see our comparison of Mint and Ubuntu Linux Mint vs. Ubuntu: Which Distro Should You Choose? Linux Mint and Ubuntu are two popular Linux distros, but which is best? Should you choose Ubuntu or Linux Mint? Read More .


4. BunsenLabs

BunsenLabs Linux distribution
Image Credit: BunsenLabs

As lightweight Linux distributions go, BunsenLabs is one of the most lean offerings. It’s a continuation of CrunchBang,which avoided the traditional desktop environment in favor of a retooled version of the Openbox window manager.

While this Debian-based distro is forgiving to Atom processors, its spartan design may not be for everyone. You won’t find the eye candy you see in Lubuntu or Linux Mint.

BunsenLabs isn’t the only distro to carry CrunchBang’s torch, but it does appear to be the most active. Another option is CrunchBang++. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can run a rolling release version based on Arch Linux, called ArchBang.


5. Porteus

Porteus Linux distribution
Image Credit: Porteus

Small, fast, and bootable from a variety of storage media, Porteus is an excellent netbook Linux distribution. At under 300MB, it’s super efficient, comes in both 32- and 64-bit packages, and can in RAM. Note that Porteus is modular, so rather than using a package manager and connecting to the internet during initial installation, Porteus provides pre-compiled modules that you can activate or deactivate before install.

This all comes together in an efficient experience that can boot in under 30 seconds, making Porteus a top version of Linux for netbooks.

6. Elive

Want a unique Intel Atom Linux experience? Check out Elive, a very small Linux distro with its own custom desktop environment. A bunch of apps and a few games come preinstalled. They appear on a dock at the bottom of the screen.

Elive is not geared for newcomers or enterprise use. Who’s it for? Let the development team tell you:

“Elive is not made for newbies. Elive is not made for experienced people. Elive is not made for enterprises or personal user. Elive is art. It is simply for the people who appreciate it and want to use it. Feel free to try Elive, because only you decide what you want in this world!”

While it’s not clear who live is for, we do know what Elive is for: old or underpowered machines. The minimum requirements for Elive are a CPU speed of 500MHz, 198MB RAM, and 700MB of hard drive space.

7. Bodhi Linux

bodhi linux desktop environment
Image Credit: Bodhi Linux

If your Intel Atom netbook is a secondary computer, why not use it to run software you might be too nervous to run on your main machine? Consider Bodhi Linux. This small Linux project has been around for years. It doesn’t have the manpower you find in larger projects, but it’s functional.

With Bodhi Linux running on a netbook, you can keep up on the work taking place on the quirky, relatively unknown Moksha desktop interface. It might just win you over from comparable experiences such as LXQt and Xfce.

Bodhi Linux requires at least a 500MHz processor, 128MB RAM, and 4GB disk space.

8. wattOS

wattOS Linux distribution
Image Credit: wattOS

While you’re taking a look at quirky lightweight Linux distros, add wattOS to your list. The gist of wattOS is to take Ubuntu stripped of all the non-essentials, then add the i3 tiling window manager Should You Use a Window Manager as Your Desktop Environment? The Linux desktop is hugely configurable, from themes to a whole new environment. And if you want a lightweight desktop experience, you can even use a window manager as your desktop environment. Read More on top. This “Microwatt” edition requires only 192MB of RAM and 700MB of disk space.

If you prefer a more common interface, try the LXDE edition instead. It needs a little more RAM, but even on Intel Atom netbooks, that’s probably not a big deal.

Will You Use Linux on Your Intel Atom Netbook?

When Intel Atom netbooks hit the scene, creators saw an opportunity for Linux to thrive on smaller devices. Ubuntu made a netbook edition. So did KDE. Joli OS was essentially a Chromebook before Chromebooks came along. My favorite was a project called Moblin, which turned into MeeGo.

In the end, most manufacturers chose to ship the already outdated Windows XP desktop rather than take a chance on Linux.

Yet despite how many years have passed, Intel Atom netbooks and Linux remain a great couple. If you need help getting any of the above options onto your netbook, here’s a quick guide to installing Linux What's the Easiest Way to Install Linux on Your Computer? Switching from Windows or macOS to Linux is easier than you think! These easy installation methods get you started in minutes. Read More .

Related topics: Hardware Tips, Linux Distro, Linux Mint, Linux Tips, Lubuntu, Operating Systems.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Frank van Wensveen
    July 2, 2020 at 10:49 am

    I've been running Lubuntu on my old Samsung NC10 netbook (Intel Atom 270) for about three months now and I'm looking at replacements. It's simply not stable. I can understand that some of the big mainstream apps have been replaced with lightweight versions that are less mature than mainstream stuff, but that's not the problem. Lubuntu simply isn't stable on my system. Apps crash frequently (not sue if that's LXQt or underlying OS layers) and power management has stopped working altogether after the latest update. The hardware is fine; Windows XP was solid as a rock on that system (but got too old and had to be upgraded to Linux). I've been running Ubuntu for years with great results, but Lubuntu on my NC10 netbook isn't what I was hoping for.

  2. Mike Walsh
    May 2, 2020 at 1:51 pm

    Re; Lubuntu....

    "Lubuntu pitches itself as both lightweight and fast. Newer versions use the LXQt desktop environment...."

    LXQt....lightweight? Hah. Don't make me laugh. I can guarantee it's built using Qt5 (not Qt4), and Qt5 is absolutely BLOATED compared to Qt4. But, it's the current version; it's what all the devs are dribbling with excitement about, and wetting themselves over, so.....we're stuck with it.

    Great, innit, huh? (*Jeez...*)

  3. Zhong
    August 10, 2019 at 1:58 pm

    I think Slackware should be on this list as well.

  4. Sergiu
    August 8, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    You forgot Raspbian!

    • Laurent
      August 26, 2019 at 10:00 am

      hi, Raspbian is for Raspberry Pi.. Raspbery Pi doesn't use an Intel Atom processor.

  5. dragonmouth
    August 3, 2019 at 4:14 pm

    If you are recommending Lubuntu and Mint, you should mention antiX and MX. They are both lighter than any distro based on Ubuntu, as well as being more modular.

  6. Michael Tucker
    August 2, 2019 at 9:16 pm

    I've seen many articles like this on Makeuseof. None suggest Peppermint Linux. I have had much success running Peppermint on my HP mini netbook. Worth a look!

  7. Mikhail
    February 9, 2019 at 1:09 pm

    Used lubuntu. Still slow AF. Deepin was better. The problem is modern Web with JS, atom Just can not handle.

  8. Albinas Pupkis
    March 21, 2018 at 12:14 pm

    Acer aspire One model AOD260 with 2GB ram. First tried LXDE, now using Linux Lite... It's flying ?

  9. Gabi
    February 21, 2018 at 7:01 am

    eXpertBook Maguay, Intel Atom N270, 1.6GHz, Memory DDR2 1GB, 1024x600.
    Point Linux with Xfce

  10. Glen LeBarr
    March 28, 2017 at 1:14 am

    take a look at Solus OS and Deepin; I'm using Solus and it's super fast...I've had nothing but problems with Linux Mint, which I installed on 2 different machines

  11. cpcnw
    March 7, 2017 at 10:04 pm

    I'm running Q4OS ( on my Atom - amazing fully featured lightweight and F-A-S-T-!

    Just get it :)

    • Semisonic
      June 12, 2018 at 1:03 pm

      Thanks for the hint -> Q4OS ! Never heard before, but my ancient Lenovo Ideapad S10e runs like a charm now... This OS should definitly be mentioned in the article above. Cheers

  12. tezryuga
    January 12, 2017 at 4:22 am

    im running an MSI wind netbook with intel atom N455 and 2gigs of ram. I have a licensed win 7 running on this. Im fond of linux but in a dilemma of which os run best. Is it possible to dual boot any of these os with the existing win 7 and not have any lags? Help me find the best solution.

  13. John WB
    December 2, 2016 at 4:05 am

    I have an asus transformer book with the x5 processor and 4gigs of RAM. My rig is pretty vannilla I haven't installed grub on it I have just been using Linux live. Anyway Kali isn't bootable or at least I haven't got it to. Ubuntu gives me a black screen after choosing to run it live. Android works except it doesn't seem to play -at all- with the touchscreen. Anyone have any ideas on OS's to try?

  14. John S.
    November 15, 2016 at 7:27 pm

    I have been using Cub Linux. It is a lightweight Openbox distro based on Ubuntu 14.04 with a lot of GTK3 Gnome apps added. It also does a great job of emulating a Chromebook which is a plus on a laptop.

  15. George
    October 12, 2016 at 2:15 am

    I also have a acer aspire one but can't find a distro that will work with the Cedarview graphics
    . You can't play back HD video

    • Moe Long
      October 21, 2016 at 3:54 pm

      Crunchbang and Lubuntu are my top picks, but then again I'm not playing HD vids on my Acer. Got a Plex server set up for that, and my regular laptop with Ubuntu runs HD video great. Thanks for chiming in! What distro are you currently using on it?

  16. Jouni "rautamiekka" Järvinen
    October 11, 2016 at 10:24 am

    LXDE instead of Lubuntu.

  17. Utkarsh Amitabh Srivastava
    October 11, 2016 at 9:58 am

    Remix OS is also a great option.

    • Moe Long
      October 21, 2016 at 3:55 pm

      Thanks Utkarsh! Haven't tried it, but may need to make a live CD to give it a go.

    • Sumeet Kumar
      September 29, 2017 at 3:39 am

      Thanks Mate!!

      Running Android based OS on Atom will be perfect

  18. Tim Vels
    October 11, 2016 at 5:45 am

    One problem is that we cannot install Linux on the cheap 32GB internal / 2GB RAM 11 inchers like the Asus X205 and E200 series.
    Is there Linux OS for them as well? I always wanted to try that instead of having Windows 10 fill up the space :( (i personally don't own it, i want to try it for a friend's X205ta system)

    Any suggestions?

    PS: I know there is a customized Arch linux for it. But a big pain to install.
    Something simple and easy?

    • Kyle
      October 11, 2016 at 7:29 am

      Have you seen bodhi? There is an app pack iso for a more ready to work experience.

      • Tim Vels
        October 11, 2016 at 8:48 am

        Oh nice! Thank you very much!

      • Lori
        April 27, 2017 at 1:36 am

        The current version of Bodhi linux is 4.1.0
        500mhz processor
        128MB of RAM
        4GB of drive space
        1.0ghz processor
        512MB of RAM
        10GB of drive space

    • Moe Long
      October 21, 2016 at 3:57 pm
      • Laurent
        August 26, 2019 at 10:06 am

        I love ArchLinux, thanks to finally mention it in the comment section. It is a real swiss knife and when you mention "minimal Linux" it is the first name that comes to mind for me, then followed by Slackware.
        Both require that users "know what they are doing" as they are not user friendly. User friendliness takes hardware resources.. it's going as lean as it gets ; you reach the bones !

  19. William Vasquez
    October 11, 2016 at 4:20 am

    I have an old Lenovo Atom PC and I have been using Zorin Linux on it for 2 years. I even dual booted it with Windows XP and it works flawlessly. Easy to use because of it's DE that resembles Windows. Another one that I have used is Linux Lite. As I have mentioned in the past, a good distro on an old computer should be easy to install; similar to the OS that I used before; run everything right out of the box (i.e. wifi, video card, printer, ethernet, music, videos); and rock solid stable so no crashes and blue screen of death. Both of these distros fit those requirements quite well and the old Atom PC feels as fast as a medium quality current model computer.

    • john
      October 12, 2016 at 4:43 am

      Linux Lite rocks, I have it installed on 2 old machines that ran xp.

      • Moe Long
        October 21, 2016 at 4:03 pm

        So true! I tried a live CD, and it's pretty sweet. The bundled apps (Libreoffice, VLC) are great for me as I mainly use my devices for writing/editing and multimedia. So the included programs cut down on install time for me at least.

        What machines are you running LL on?

    • Moe Long
      October 21, 2016 at 3:59 pm

      Hey William! I'm not familiar with Zorin, but will totally check it out. Sounds like a great distro. Currently using Crunchbang, but since it's not technically supported anymore, may switch to something that's guaranteed to be stable which Zorin sounds.


  20. James Ramsey
    October 10, 2016 at 8:59 pm

    Lubuntu and Puppy have always been my go to when people upgrade and GIVE ME a machine that once cost $500. Simple to setup and use. Thankfully Open Source software is available for tinkerers like us.

    • Moe Long
      October 21, 2016 at 4:07 pm

      Upvoting Lubuntu and Puppy. Totally go-tos for breathing new life into my aging machines. Funny what you mention about open source software. The other day a friend was commenting on newer OSes (Windows and OS X) using more system resources and I suggested they look into open source OSes.

  21. dragonbite
    October 10, 2016 at 6:27 pm

    I've found CentOS being a good fit because being a stable-first distribution uses secure but older applications and environments (e.g. Gnome 3.14 instead of the 3.20/3.22 other distributions are using).

    In some ways this means the version used may be not as far off in age from when the atom-powered PC was release so they are more in-line with each other.

    For desktop environments I do prefer Xfce but have found Mate to be surprisingly light without sacrificing features or ease of use.

    If I wanted to revive my netbook today, I think I would be looking at Mate running on CentOS (with possible steps found here )

    My problem now is that most of my older, low-powered systems are 32bit architectures and most distributions are dropping support for non-64bit.

    • Moe Long
      October 21, 2016 at 4:10 pm

      Ah, CentOS! Great pick, and yep MATE is pretty slick. I like Mint with MATE, but Mint Xfce is solid as well. I'm with you there on the 32-bit thing! Had an old 32-bit desktop (RIP MOBO), and the Linux distro options were pretty limited by non 64-bit options.

    • Pete
      December 6, 2016 at 11:24 pm

      My problem now is that most of my older, low-powered systems are 32bit architectures and most distributions are dropping support for non-64bit.

      OH YES! ... Elementary which is awesome only supports 64bit .... the dropping of 32bit os must be putting a great number of working computers on the scrap heap.

      the older 32bit Elementary based on 14.04 is good but fractionally off the pace.
      worth a look!

      • dvous
        April 4, 2017 at 1:26 pm

        I have an Acer Aspire One Atom-powered netbook that originally came with Windows 7 Starter. Frankly, the experience was not great, so I had put it away for a while.

        When Win 10 came out, it got a memory upgrade to 2Gb from the original 1Gb, then Win 10 was installed. Again, not great at all.

        I read about ElementaryOS (Freya) on MUO and decided to try it. I have been using it on that machine daily for about the last year. It looks nice and runs ok, but is still a little slow on that netbook. So I experimented with other lightweights before settling upon AntiX (32 bit version) about a month ago.

        AntiX is now installedto the hard drive, but I can still boot to Elementary and Win10 via the Grub bootloader menu. AntiX boots and runs much quicker than Elementary, thus making this little netbook a useful box once more and a pleasure to use when sitting in my armchair at night.

        • Ida
          October 26, 2018 at 9:27 pm

          what you're saying is greek to me except the "I love my aspire One." I have upgraded mine to 2bg ram, installed SSD memory and have a huge battery. It is slow running the windows 7 starter, so I am going to try deciphering what you said about AntiX.

          Do you have any tips for someone technically challenged but still in love with the aspire One cutie?

          BTW, I have preordered a kickstarter Falcon 8" computer to see if it operates for on the go computing.