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Maybe you’ve just purchased a brand new laptop. Or maybe you have an older laptop sitting in your closet that you’d like to bring back to life. Either way, the best Linux distros for laptops are those that offer better driver support and can accommodate the performance offered by most laptops.
People buy laptops for a specific purpose. That may be software development, creating graphic content, gaming, or office work. The Linux distros below are well suited to run on any laptop.
Choosing the Best Linux Distros for Laptops
New laptops come with processors that are just as powerful, if not more so, than many desktop computers.
Desktop computers have components that can be replaced if they aren’t compatible with a certain Linux distro. That isn’t the case with laptops. Components are often soldered directly to the motherboard, so the Linux distribution you use will need to accommodate that.
The Linux distros below have the best support for graphic and sound cards, webcams, wireless adapters, and more. Many are also very lightweight, which is especially suitable for older laptops.
Manjaro Linux is one of the easier open-source Linux distros to learn how to use. It’s designed to work right out of the box, with a wide variety of pre-installed software.
The highlight of Manjaro Linux is that it’s well known for having amazing hardware support, thanks to its hardware detection manager.
Manjaro is based on Arch Linux, one of the most well-known and highly-customizable Linux operating systems. There are plenty of great reasons to install an Arch Linux distro like Manjaro.
You can easily change the kernel without any complex troubleshooting. Arch Linux-based distros also let you choose your own components. This means you can customize it to suit the specific laptop you’re installing it on.
Best of all, if you really want to go full-out Manjaro, you can buy the Spitfire, a laptop created and sold entirely by the Manjaro team.
An obvious choice for the best Linux distro for laptops is definitely Ubuntu.
It’s easily one of the most popular and well-known Linux distributions, which means it comes with a large user community as well as solid online support.
But what makes it especially useful for laptops both new and old is the fact that it’s free, lightweight, and offers excellent driver support for most hardware.
Ubuntu will usually accept any hardware you connect to your laptop. This is thanks to the fact that most manufacturers provide Ubuntu drivers.
In the Ubuntu Software Center, you’ll find free apps to accomplish just about any task on your laptop.
It works fine on older laptops that are a few years old, but it’s important to note that it does require more RAM than many other lightweight distros out there. So, if your laptop is very old, you may want to opt for one of the other Linux distros on this list.
However, many people do believe that Ubuntu does a lot of things much better than Windows. It’s also the distro of choice for dual-booting a Chromebook with Linux. All of these reasons make it a perfect alternative OS for laptops. Here are a few of Ubuntu’s latest features.
Elementary OS is a distribution based on Ubuntu. With it, you get the beautiful, custom desktop environment known as Pantheon.
Beyond the fact that it’s so aesthetically pleasing is the fact that it’s well-known as a powerful operating system that can accomplish anything you’d need to do with a laptop. And if that laptop is a low-end one that you’ve pulled out of the closet, it can run on that as well.
The Elementary OS community developed the OS to be as lightweight and efficient as possible. Because of this, it runs easily on a large assortment of low-end laptops (or even desktops if you’re so inclined).
It also comes with most of the drivers low-end laptops will need to start working right out of the box.
The display utility includes a night light feature for when you’re using your laptop in those low-light environments like a student lounge or a library.
It also provides convenient scaling, and the ability to mirror your display if you’re using your laptop to give a presentation on a larger screen.
Elementary OS is considered one of the best alternative Linux distros for anyone switching over from Windows or macOS. And if you’re a Mac user, it’s especially good thanks to the Mac-like appearance of the desktop.
The Linux openSUSE distro is sponsored by major companies like B1 Systems and AMD (and of course, SUSE).
It’s also popular among system admins and computer science students. Why? Because it puts you in control of many functions and services without the need to learn or memorize any complex commands.
This is thanks to YaST, one of the best and most powerful system configuration tools of any Linux distro out there.
This means you can easily configure the OS to suit the particular laptop system you’re installing it on.
It has fantastic driver support, and works well right out of the box.
It was even given a test-run by ZDNet on a brand new laptop with the latest hardware installed. They found that it worked flawlessly.
“Display, graphics, sound, USB and SD slots. Nothing special to install, download, compile, or whatever. When I plugged in an HDMI display, with the system already running, it was recognized and configured at the optimum resolution as an extended desktop, all without disturbing the laptop display. Very, very nice.”
With the ability to handle even the latest hardware, you can be sure openSUSE will work just as well installed on any of your older laptops.
And if you do run into any issues, openSUSE provides an entire section of their Wiki devoted to helping people install and use openSUSE on laptops.
5. Linux Mint
Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, but many people opt to install it instead because of how lightweight it is.
It also feels a bit more familiar to people who are accustomed to the Windows user interface.
It comes pre-installed with a number of things Ubuntu doesn’t install by default.
For example, it includes the codecs you need to watch Flash video. Ubuntu has the option to install third-party tools for this during installation, but those options aren’t set by default.
The benefit you get by installing Linux Mint rather than Ubuntu is a more lightweight OS that works on older laptops. But you still get access to Ubuntu software repositories to download additional apps and tools you might want.
The Best Linux Distro for Your Old Laptop
If you’re focusing on installing Linux on an older laptop, there are several important things you need to take into account.
- Lack of processing power
- Limited RAM
- Older devices (hard to find drivers)
- Limited hard drive space
For all of these reasons, you might want to avoid Ubuntu on older laptops. Ubuntu runs efficiently on new laptops, and those that are a few years old. But if you’re considering something like an old Dell Latitude with 4GB or RAM and a vintage processor, Ubuntu could bog it down.
Instead, opt for the Linux distros listed above that are resource efficient. The best choices here include:
- Manjaro: customized as a scaled down OS with limited features
- Elementary OS: designed to be lightweight and efficient
- Linux Mint: a favorite among old-laptop Linux enthusiasts
You can’t go wrong installing any of these Linux distros on an old laptop that you’d like to bring back to life. You can even pair your choice with one of the best lean Linux desktop environments to slim down your machine further.
Choosing a Linux Distro
When you’re trying to decide on which Linux distro above that you should install on your laptop, much depends on what’s important to you.
If you prefer a beautiful interface with more of a macOS feel, then Elementary OS is the one you want. If you’re looking for an OS that’s extremely easy to use but still highly functional, then Manjaro is perfect. If you’re installing on an older laptop and want a lightweight OS that has the look and feel of a Windows PC, then Linux Mint is the way to go.
Really, it depends on your intentions for using the laptop, and your own preferred user interface. That’s the beauty of Linux distros, there’s a flavor to suit anyone.
If you’re also thinking of installing Linux on a desktop PC, make sure to read our list of great distros that’ll give any old desktop PC new life. Who knows, you may get so used to using Linux that you prefer it over Windows or macOS.
If you’re looking for a new laptop to replace the old one, here are the best Linux laptops to pick from. While Linux laptops don’t come cheap, you can still find a few budget Linux options. And with reputable Linux hardware makers catering to open-source enthusiasts, you can get your hands on Linux devices with pre-installed free and open-source software.