Linux

14 Lightweight Linux Distributions to Give Your Old PC New Life

Christian Cawley Updated 28-01-2020

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.

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Many Linux distros are designed to be lightweight, with versions of Linux under 500MB and even under 100MB available.

If you’re looking for a lightweight operating system for your PC, try these compact, resource-light Linux distros.

Linux Distros Under 1GB

Most PCs currently ship with 4G of RAM or higher. If you need an operating system for an older machine, these Linux distros run on computers with less than 1GB.

1. Xubuntu

Xubuntu is an Ubuntu derivative which uses the Xfce desktop environment. While Xubuntu may not boast the eye candy of GNOME, it does offer a snappy experience. To try Xubuntu, you only need 512MB of memory. With the Minimal CD, just 128MB is needed, making this the first Linux distro under 1GB to consider.

Meanwhile, a full install requires at least 1GB of memory.

As a branch of Ubuntu, Xubuntu therefore has access to the entirety of the Canonical repositories. It’s a fantastic distro that offers great features and applications with low system resource consumption.

2. Lubuntu

Lubuntu aptly describes itself as “lightweight, fast, easier.” As the name suggests, Lubuntu is an Ubuntu derivative and like Xubuntu it allows access to the full Canonical repositories. Whereas Xubuntu utilizes the Xfce desktop, Lubuntu opts for the LXDE/LXQT desktop.

The Lubuntu website recommends 1GB of RAM for web services like YouTube and Facebook. If you’re merely browsing and using programs like LibreOffice, 512MB of RAM is enough.

The minimum specs for a CPU running Lubuntu is a Pentium M or 4, or AMD K8. That means support for many older computers. Additionally, Lubuntu comes packed with loads of apps including the LXTask system monitor, GNOME disk utility, MTPaint and much more.

3. Linux Lite

Linux Lite is unsurprisingly a light Linux distro. Based on Ubuntu LTS and described as “simple, fast, and free,” Linux Lite has low memory requirements. Bundled apps include LibreOffice and VLC; Linux Lite may be light on system resources but it’s heavy on included features.

The minimum system spec for Linux Lite is a PC with a 1GHz CPU, 768MB of RAM, and 8GB of storage. Better performance can be enjoyed with a 1.5GHz CPU, 1GB of RAM and 20GB of space.

With its balance of function and efficiency, Linux Lite is a slimline distro that’s usable out of the box.

4. Zorin OS Lite

Zorin OS aims to make PCs faster while improving security and performance. Zorin OS Lite takes this a step further, reducing the already slimline system requirements of the main operating system.

You can install Zorin OS Lite on a system running a modest 700MHz single core processor, 32-bit, or 64-bit. The computer will need 512MB of RAM and 8GB of storage too. Zorin OS Lite can be run satisfactorily on a display with just 640×480 pixel resolution.

If you’re looking for something that performs well and has a Windows-like feel for your old PC, Zorin OS Lite is ideal.

5. Arch Linux

Arch Linux is a lightweight Linux OS
Image Credit: okubax/Flickr

Arch Linux abides by the KISS mantra: keep it simple, stupid. Available in i686 and x86-64 varieties, Arch Linux is lightweight and easy to use. You’ll need a PC with at least 512MB of RAM, with 800MB of disk space. A Pentium 4 or later is recommended, although some older CPUs can run Arch Linux.

Notable Arch Linux derivatives include BBQLinux and Arch Linux ARM which can be installed on the Raspberry Pi.

While your PC hardware may be old, Arch Linux operates on a rolling-release system for current, continuous updates.

Linux Operating Systems Under 500MB

If you’re running a PC from the 2000s, it like has inadequate RAM installed for a modern OS. Try one of these operating systems for a machine with less than 500MB of RAM.

6. Helium

Released as a community-driven continuation of the famously low-spec CrunchBang Linux distro, Helium is based on Debian 9.

Employing the Openbox window manager and conky system monitor, Helium features an assortment of GTK2.3 themes and conky configurations. This lets you customize how the desktop looks, creating a unique environment.

Helium is available for 32-bit, 64-bit, and ARM architectures. Your PC should have at least 256MB of RAM, and a 10GB hard disk drive. Note that different installation options result in slightly differing disk usage—installation from the live ISO uses 2.1GB, for example. Similarly, adding different applications at installation will result in a different storage footprint.

As with the Debian system requirements, the lowest spec CPU you can use is a Pentium 4 1GHz chip.

7. Porteus

Porteus is a Linux distro optimized for use as a live CD, to boot from a flash drive or CD. You can also install Porteus on a hard drive.

With 32-bit and 64-bit options, Porteus is one of the best Linux distros for aging PC hardware. Capable of booting up in just 15 seconds, Porteus takes up just 300MB of storage space.

Porteus can even be loaded into RAM and run purely from the system memory. Because Porteus is Portable and modular, it can be used on a variety of computer types.

8. Bodhi Linux

Dubbed the Enlightened Linux Distribution, Bodhi Linux derives from Ubuntu LTS. Its main design principles revolve around minimalism and the Moksha desktop. The default application array requires a measly 10MB of space.

The minimum system requirements are 256MB of RAM, 5GB of hard drive space, and a 500MHz processor. Even the recommended specs (512MB RAM, 10GB of drive space, a 1GHz processor) are rather forgiving.

9. Trisquel Mini

Try Trisquel, a lightweight Linux OS

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.

Linux Distros Under 100MB

Need to use an old, modest computer, perhaps from the last century? Try one of these amazing Linux distros intended for systems with less than 100MB of RAM.

10. Puppy Linux

Looking for a fast, easy to use distro? Puppy Linux Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Puppy Linux Here, we'll be taking a look at a distribution of Linux that is famous for being able to run with very little hardware requirements, Puppy Linux. Puppy Linux isn't based on another distribution; it is... Read More is a perfect lightweight OS for an old laptop or PC. Boasting a minuscule footprint, Puppy Linux may be booted straight from a flash drive or CD. Further, Puppy Linux can even live in-memory.

Boot up typically takes less than a minute, even on older hardware. The default ISO is about 100MB, and with OpenOffice installed Puppy Linux is still under 300MB (around 256MB).

Puppy Linux is great as a full install, or simply as a live CD to use on guest PCs. There’s even a version of Puppy Linux for the Raspberry Pi, called Raspup.

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. SliTaz

SliTaz is a Linux distro under 100MB
Image Credit: Linea/Creative Commons

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.

13. Absolute Linux

Absolute Linux is a lightweight OS for an old laptop or PC

The long-running Slackware distro is the basis for this simplified approach to Linux, capable of running on most hardware. Absolute Linux bundles Kodi, Inkscape, GIMP, and other popular applications into the installer, with a minimalist approach to the desktop.

This distro is “version-compatible” with Slackware, which means software packages for Slackware should run on Absolute Linux.

Like Slackware, Absolute Linux can run on 32-bit and 64-bit systems, with support for Pentium 486 CPUs. 64MB of RAM is supported (1GB recommended) with 5GB of HDD space free for installation.

This makes Absolute Linux ideal for older hardware, although for the best results on ancient PCs, rely on pure Slackware.

14. Tiny Core Linux

The Core Project is a Linux project offering a barebones experience to which you can add your own elements.

Ideal for desktop users, the TinyCore distribution features the basic Core system, X/GUI extensions for a desktop environment, and network support.

TinyCore is just 10MB and can be stored on, installed from, or simply run on, a USB stick, embedded devices, or a CD with very little space left. Additionally, it can run with just 48MB of RAM. From this modest starting point, you can add the software you need to get your old PC up and running.

While smaller versions of Core are available, TinyCore is ideal for desktop and laptop computers.

Amazing Lightweight Linux Operating Systems!

While these may be the top Linux distros to breathe new life into your old PC, there’s no shortage of alternatives.

To recap, the best lightweight Linux distros for an old PC are:

  • Linux Distros Under 1GB
    • Xubuntu
    • Lubuntu
    • Linux Lite
    • Zorin OS Lite
    • Arch Linux
  • Linux OS Under 500MB
    • Helium
    • Porteus
    • Bodhi Linux
    • Trisquel Mini
  • Linux Distros Under 100MB
    • Puppy Linux
    • Macpup Linux
    • SliTaz
    • Absolute Linux
    • Tiny Core Linux

Whichever distro you decide to install, don’t forget to protect it with solid antivirus software. Here are the best free antivirus programs for Linux The 6 Best Free Linux Antivirus Programs Think Linux doesn't need antivirus? Think again. These free antivirus tools can ensure your Linux box remains virus-free. Read More to choose from.

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  1. Christopher J Bieda
    February 3, 2020 at 4:10 am

    I think you might usefully distinguish between TRULY old hardware (32-bit) and 64-bit gear that may simply be underpowered. Linux Lite was truly lovely when it could run on 1gb in a 32-bit machine, but has since moved on to a 64-bit only architecture.

  2. Chris
    February 2, 2020 at 1:54 am

    I hopped a bit when I picked up an old netbook before settling on Sparkylinux with the LXQT desktop. It runs very well on old Intel Atom (mine is one of the beefiest of them, being a dual core N550 with 2gb of DDR3 and I installed an SSD, but I have run it on single core models with 1gb of RAM and a HD and it was satisfactory) hardware.

  3. Glen LeBarr
    January 29, 2020 at 11:06 am

    MX Linux 32-bit is by far the best light distro I've used; Peppermint is another great choice.

  4. Michael Tucker
    January 29, 2020 at 3:07 am

    I don't know why this article does not mention Peppermint OS. I've tried many lightweight distros and found Pmint to be the best (although Linux Lite is a close second). Works "out of the box" and has a good forum.
    Speaking of Linux Lite, even though this article is supposedly updated to 1/28/2020 , the screenshot is of version 3.0
    The latest is 4.8 (which you will get from the link).

  5. Timmi
    October 1, 2017 at 10:55 am

    While Bodhi 4.x and Slitaz certainly have their place here,
    ARCH Linux is 64bit only, having discontinued development on 32bit, which will also affect it's spinoffs. This was announced a year ago, long before this article was published!

    Also, Xubuntu has no place here: XFCE uses more mermory than LXDE and even Maté - and we're not even talking about super-lightweight environments like OpenBox for example. There are so many more choices out there.

    Instead, you could have included some lighter weight distros, such as:
    AntiX, Q4os, Salix, WattOS,

    • Glen LeBarr
      December 7, 2018 at 6:43 pm

      take a look at MX Linux, I was along time Mint user until I discovered MX; 64 and 32 bit versions available, my favourite by far

      • Gilbert
        February 23, 2019 at 3:02 am

        MX Linux bad distro.

        • Sergey Simeonov
          July 20, 2019 at 4:27 pm

          What is bad in MX Linux ??
          I am using MX 18.3 and I can say is the lightest and stable distro I have ever used.

        • Sergey Simeonov
          July 20, 2019 at 4:28 pm

          What is bad on MX linux ??

  6. mlburch
    March 5, 2011 at 4:06 am

    I would also suggest trying legacyos 2010. I believe it's an offshoot of Puppylinux. It runs great on an old celeron pc I had laying around. Very usable os with apps for most common tasks.

    • Tim Brookes
      March 5, 2011 at 1:36 pm

      Thanks for the input, I'll check it out. It's always nice to turn that old PC into something useful!

  7. guest
    January 25, 2011 at 3:38 am

    nice hearing this news I'll try lubuntu on one of my laptop (ibm t22 which is so old that cannot boot by usb disk!) running w2k now.

  8. Gusto
    January 14, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    Cape Verde: why not try a more light weight distro and use Hiawatha instead of apache?

  9. Cape Verde
    January 9, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    I have an Acer that is 4 years old with 1gb of RAM and 2ghz processor single core. It runs Ubuntu nicely but since i started using Lamp it is like a snail. Gotta invest in hardware!

  10. darkduck
    January 7, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    I personally would not name anything *buntu as "light". It is still full-throttle OS with light desktop environment. Puppy and its derivatives (macpuppy, fluppy etc) is really light one. Other example already given is DSL.
    And then... just to name a few: TCL (Tiny Core Linux), xPUD, SLAX.

    I tested some of them, so you may find some useful info at http://linuxblog.darkduck.com

  11. DarkDuck
    January 7, 2011 at 11:01 am

    I personally would not name anything *buntu as "light". It is still full-throttle OS with light desktop environment. Puppy and its derivatives (macpuppy, fluppy etc) is really light one. Other example already given is DSL.
    And then... just to name a few: TCL (Tiny Core Linux), xPUD, SLAX.

    I tested some of them, so you may find some useful info at http://linuxblog.darkduck.com

  12. Gusto
    January 7, 2011 at 7:11 am

    Every version of puppy is "lite". The latest LucidPup (lupu 5.2) is 125 MB. If you are bothered by the looks of the basic pup, try Macpup (a staggering 188 MB iso...)

    Eeebuntu Base however is over 500 MB in size...

  13. Gusto
    January 7, 2011 at 8:11 am

    Every version of puppy is "lite". The latest LucidPup (lupu 5.2) is 125 MB. If you are bothered by the looks of the basic pup, try Macpup (a staggering 188 MB iso...)

    Eeebuntu Base however is over 500 MB in size...

  14. Nhee Ghee
    January 6, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    Puppy is still an ugly dog.It has improved the icons and wallpaper but the dialogs have an amateurish appearance one should be embarrassed to show when spreading the word about Linux. Also there is no "lite" version of Puppy; it typically comes loaded with a large number of apps. For a true lite version you need something like Eeebuntu Base (soon to be Aurora Base) or the bizarre Tiny Core Linux.

    • Glen LeBarr
      December 7, 2018 at 6:46 pm

      can't stand puppy

      • Mike Walsh
        April 23, 2019 at 11:09 pm

        Did anybody ask for your opinion?

  15. Anonymous
    January 6, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    Another well-known small linux distro: Damn Small Linux. It can run on a 486 with 16MB RAM!

  16. lucky
    January 6, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    Xubuntu is nowhere near Lubuntu or any other Lxde based distro when comes in being light on resources.

    • stlouisubntu
      January 7, 2011 at 2:07 am

      lucky is right. Use Xubuntu if you like Ubuntu and the Xfce desktop, but don't use it because you need an OS that is light on resources. It isn't as it consumes nearly the resources as gnome.

  17. Guest
    January 6, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    What is missing from each of the distro's description is the minimum system requirements such as RAM, MHZ processor etc.
    Thanks.
    From a real neophyte.

    • Lgwlinda
      March 14, 2011 at 4:16 pm

      Did anyone every give you an info on system requirements? I have a laptop running (or rather "chugging" along like the little engine that could) XP Home SP2 664 MHZ, 256 MB of RAM that is not upgradeable. DSL (damn small linux) will not work on this machine no matter what I do or how I do it.

  18. kubrick
    January 6, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    Try Salix OS.
    Its a great distro based in Slackware, that comes with XFCE or FluxBox.
    Really beautiful and cheap in resources.
    :)
    Cheers!

    • llewton
      January 6, 2011 at 8:51 pm

      Salix really could/should come up with a live CD for the Fluxbox edition... In this day and age that shouldn't be too difficult.

      As for Xubuntu mentioned in the post as being able to "give a new lease of life to old computers", you gotta be kidding me :) It's heavy like a ton of bricks.

      Puppy has to be the fastest distro I've ever tried, and it seems very functional, software selection and hardware support-wise.

      Crunchbang has gotten lighter since it switched to Debian as base (by almost 80 MBs RAM at cold start lighter on my machine), but that distro really is just Debian netinstall and some convenient scripts.

  19. Guest
    January 6, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    What is missing from each of the distro's description is the minimum system requirements such as RAM, MHZ processor etc.
    Thanks.
    From a real neophyte.

  20. llewton
    January 6, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    Salix really could/should come up with a live CD for the Fluxbox edition... In this day and age that shouldn't be too difficult.

    As for Xubuntu mentioned in the post as being able to "give a new lease of life to old computers", you gotta be kidding me :) It's heavy like a ton of bricks.

    Puppy has to be the fastest distro I've ever tried, and it seems very functional, software selection and hardware support-wise.

    Crunchbang has gotten lighter since it switched to Debian as base (by almost 80 MBs RAM at cold start lighter on my machine), but that distro really is just Debian netinstall and some convenient scripts.

  21. kubrick
    January 6, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    Try Salix OS.
    Its a great distro based in Slackware, that comes with XFCE or FluxBox.
    Really beautiful and cheap in resources.
    :)
    Cheers!

  22. Inkysplat
    January 6, 2011 at 10:55 am

    those are all very well but if you've got hardware pre-2000 you might struggle running some of those.... if you wanna go real hardcore try running muLinux [Broken URL Removed] off a floppy on a 486!