Old PCs have a penchant to slow down. Upgrading components such as RAM, CPUs, and hard drives may alleviate performance issues. However an excellent solution to give your old PC a new lease on life is simply installing a lightweight Linux distribution.
Linux distros come in all varieties and flavors. Thankfully, this wide range means there are loads of lightweight distros perfect for aging PCs. Maybe you’ve got an Atom-powered netbook, a Pentium 4 desktop, a Core 2 Duo laptop, or any combination of seasoned hardware. Rather than throwing it out, try a lightweight Linux distro for a refreshed experience. Check out the top 13 Linux distros to breathe new life into your old PC…
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 256 MB of memory. With the Minimal CD, this bumps down to 128 MB. A full install requires 512 MB 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 a slew of features and applications with low system resource consumption.
Lubuntu describes itself as “lightweight, fast, easier.” It’s really an apt description. As the “ubuntu” suggests, Lubuntu is a derivative of Ubuntu and like Xubuntu it allows access to the full Canonical repositories. Whereas Xubuntu utilizes teh Xfce desktop, Lubuntu opts for the LXDE desktop. System requirements are pretty forgiving. The Lubuntu website recommends 1 GB of RAM for web services like YouTube and Facebook. If you’re merely browsing and using programs like LibreOffice, 512 MB or RAM should be sufficient.
The minimum specs for a CPU running Lubuntu is a Pentium M or 4, or AMD K8. That’s pretty low. Plus, Lubuntu comes packed with loads of apps including the LXTask system monitor, Gnome disk utility, and MTPaint.
3. Puppy Linux
Looking for a fast, easy to use distro? Puppy Linux is perfect for resurrecting an old PC. Boasting a minuscule footprint, Puppy Linux may actually 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 100 MB, and with OpenOffice installed Puppy Linux is still under 300 MB (around 256 MB).
Puppy Linux is great as a full install, or simply as a live CD to use on guest PCs. You can even use Puppy Linux to remove malware.
4. Macpup Linux
You can probably guess from the “pup” in its name, but Macpup Linux is a Puppy Linux derivative. As such, it boasts a similarly tiny footprint. Macpup is small enough to run in RAM. However despite its small footprint, Macpup Linux is a full-fledged distro. A bevy of included office, multimedia, and graphics apps transform your old PC hardware into a new PC.
Macpup Linux is binary compatible with Ubuntu Precise packages. Additionally, Macpup Linux contains the same apps as Precise Puppy, along with Firefox.
If you’re seeking to rejuvenate that old PC and stay secure, check out SLiTaz. While this Linux distro is lightweight, it’s uncompromising with security. Maintaining high performance, SLitTaz uses the Linux Kernel and GNU software. Installable on a traditional hard drive, SliTaz is perfectly suited for a live CD. SliTaz can be used on everything from an aging PC to server or even a tiny ARM device like a Raspberry Pi. There’s even a roll your own distro feature.
The root filesystem is a mere 100 MB, and the ISO image is less than 40 MB. Neat features include an FTP/web server powered by Busybox, Dropbear SSH client, SQLite, and pleasant desktop of Openbox running on Xvesa/Xorg.
While CrunchBang may not still be supported, it’s available for download still and remains a great pick as a Linux distro to give your old PC a new lease on life. Moreover, CrunchBang does have several successors. Aiding in its minimal resource consumption, CrunchBang runs the Openbox window manager. Lots of its preinstalled apps use the GTK+ widget toolkit. Although CrunchBang did use its own repository, many packages come from Debian’s repositories.
As of Feb. 2015, CrunchBang was no longer supported. Nevertheless, it’s a fantastic barebones Linux distro that still yields great performance. While CrunchBang is a stellar pick for older PC hardware, it’s well suited to newer high-performance hardware. BunsenLabs and CrunchBang++ carried on the legacy, and are currently supported distros.
7. Legacy OS
Formerly TEENpup Linux, Legacy OS is an awesome, lightweight Linux distro. Legacy OS derives from Puppy Linux. The multipurpose distro comes standard with a lot of apps, codecs, and plugins. Yet despite its feature-rich environment, Legacy OS remains appropriate for older hardware.
There are a few different iterations, including Legacy OS 2.1 LTS and 2.1 Gamer. Gamer inlcudes 100 games, HTML5 browser, and more all on one disc. LTs has more than 200 apps and an HTML5 browser on one CD. Both are capable of supporting Pentium III processors, but they’re also excellent for newer PCs as well.
8. Arch Linux
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. There are loads of derivatives for most any device you can think of. Notable Arch Linux derivatives include BBQLinux, an Android variant, LinHES for HTPC purposes, and Arch Linux ARM which can be installed on the likes of the Raspberry Pi.
With its minimalist approach, Arch Linux dominates as distro. While your PC hardware may be old, Arch Linux operates on a rolling-release system for current, continuous updates.
Porteus is an entire Linux distro that’s optimized for use as a live CD. Although it’s optimized to boot from a flash drive or CD, it’s installable on a hard drive as well. With 32-bit and 64-bit concoctions, Porteus is one of the best Linux distros for aging PC hardware. It’s capable of booting up in a mere 15 seconds.
Like many Linux varities intended for use on ancient PCs, Porteus is capable of running in-RAM. Because Porteus is Portable and modular, it is a wonderful and unique Linux distro.
10. Trisquel Mini
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. Its LXDE desktop environment, X Window System, and GTK+ graphical displays ensure that Trisquel runs well even on older hardware.
While Trisquel Mini may be a small Linux distro, it’s packed with apps including AbiWord, GNOME MPlayer, and Transmission.
11. Linux Lite
Linux Lite is a, well, light Linux distro. Prided as “simple, fast, and free,” Linux Lite has really low memory requirements. Based on Ubuntu LTS, Linux Lite is therefore a stable release. Bundled apps include LibdeeOffice and VLC, Linux Lite may be lite on system resources but it’s heavy on included features.
Ultimately, with its balance of function and efficiency, Linux Lite is a great choice for a Linux distro that’s usable out of the box.
12. 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 only takes up a measly 10 MB of space. Thus, system specs are pretty relaxed. The minimum ssytem requirements are 128 MB of RAM, 4 GB of hard drive space, and a 500mhz processor. Even the recommended specs (512 MB RAM, 10 GB of drive space, a 1 ghz processor) are rather forgiving.
13. Zorin OS
Zorin OS aims to make PCs faster while improving security and performance. The Windows and Mac OS replacement was dubbed “…without question one of the best Linux distros currently available” by CNET. Thinking of switching from Windows? Zorin is a fantastic choice. According to the Zorin OS website, it powers such extraordinary systems as the International Space Station. Hey, if it’s good enough for the ISS, it’s probably suitable for your netbook or elderly PC.
While these may be the top Linux distros to breathe new life into your old PC, there’s no shortage of distros. 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 to choose from.
Image Credit: Africa Studio via Shutterstock.com
Original version by Tim Brookes
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