The 8 Smallest Linux Distros That Are Lightweight and Need Almost No Space
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Do you have an old PC lying around gathering dust? Would you like to make use of the old small-capacity USB flash drive sitting in your draw? You can reuse your old computer and a USB flash drive by installing a super small Linux operating system (also known as a “distribution” or “distro”) on them.

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There are lightweight Linux distros specifically for the Intel Atom Processor. Others will give your old PC a new lease of life. The vast majority install direct to your USB flash drive, too.

Here are eight of the smallest Linux distros that need almost no space!

Before You Start: How to Create Bootable USB Flash Drives

The first thing you need is a tool to create bootable USB flash drives. There are numerous tools you can use to create a bootable USB flash drive. However, I would suggest Windows users try Rufus, while Linux and macOS users should try Etcher.

Rufus

Rufus is one of the fastest, smallest, and easiest USB burning tools available to Windows users. It has decent customization options and can automatically detect your USB flash drive. Furthermore, Rufus can detect the type of ISO you are attempting to burn and apply a common setup.

Download: Rufus for Windows (Free)

Etcher

Linux and macOS users should use Etcher, an open source USB burning tool. Like Rufus, Etcher is tiny, very fast, and comes with a great GUI that makes the tool incredibly simple to use. Etcher doesn’t have many settings, but it does work well the overwhelming majority of the time. Windows users who find Rufus confusing can also use Etcher.

Download: Etcher for macOS, Linux, and Windows

Now, onto the tiny Linux distros, all of which are free (unless otherwise stated)!

1. ArchBang

archbang linux operating systemArchBang is based on Arch Linux and inspired by CrunchBang, which was another small Linux distro. ArchBang is essentially Arch Linux made easier and reduced in size. It includes the power and flexibility of Arch Linux without the complex setup and installation. (Here’s 10 reasons why you should consider switching to an Arch Linux distro. Should You Install Arch Linux? 10 Reasons for Arch-Based Distros Should You Install Arch Linux? 10 Reasons for Arch-Based Distros Arch Linux is one of the most popular Linux operating system around. Here's why you should use Arch-based Linux distros. Read More )

ArchBang works on i686 or X86_64 compatible machines, uses 700MB of disk space, and requires just 256MB of memory.

You can use ArchBang as a fully featured desktop operating system or as a portable live OS. It is fast, stable, and always up to date.

Download: ArchBang for i686 | x86_64

2. Tiny Core Linux

tiny core linux home page

Tiny Core Linux is an extremely small Linux distro developed by Robert Shingledecker, lead developer for former-distro, Damn Small Linux. (The Damn Small Linux site is now dead, but you can find active ISOs online.)

The Tiny Core Linux “TinyCore” installation is a minute 16MB, including the base distro and a decent GUI. The base installation requires at least 46MB RAM to run, but you will need a little more if you want to run additional applications and other software. Note you’ll need to use an Ethernet cable to get online with TinyCore as there is no out of box wireless support.

The best option for most people is the “CorePlus” installation, which comes in at 106MB. CorePlus has wireless support, support for non-US keyboards, plus installation tools for alternative window managers, and other handy setup tools.

Download: Tiny Core Linux “TinyCore” for x86 | Tiny Core Linux “CorePlus” for x86

3. Elive

elive linux operating system
Elive is a lightweight Linux distro with a custom desktop environment. Based on Debian, Elive comes pre-installed with a bunch of handy apps, plus a few games, too.

“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!”

It is quite the statement from the Elive development team.

The Elive desktop environment is a highly customized version of Enlightenment, offering a light and beautiful experience. (Check out the 12 best Linux desktop environments to rival Enlightenment The 12 Best Linux Desktop Environments The 12 Best Linux Desktop Environments Picking a Linux desktop environment can be difficult. Here are the best Linux desktop environments to consider. Read More .) It works well, even on very old hardware. The minimum requirements for Elive are a CPU speed of 500MHz and 198MB RAM, plus 700MB hard drive space.

You cannot direct download Elive. The developer understandably asks for a small donation to keep the project alive for an instant download. Otherwise, you must head to the site, enter your email address, and wait for four hours.

Windows users must use Elive’s USBWriter to create a bootable USB flash drive. The Elive developer states that other programs make unintended changes to the ISO during the burn process. macOS and Linux users can continue using Etcher.

Download: Elive USBWriter for Windows (Donationware/free)

4. Porteus

porteus linux operating system

Porteus is a lightweight, but complete, Linux distro that is optimized to run from a USB flash drive. Don’t have one? Don’t worry! Porteus will also work on an SD card, CD, DVD, hard drive, or other bootable storage media. It’s small and insanely fast, allowing you to boot and get online while other operating systems are still thinking about booting.

Porteus runs on any Intel, AMD, or VIA x86/64 processor, requiring only 512MB of disk space and 256MB of memory. No hard disk is required, as it can run from removable storage media. If you use Porteus on a removable storage media device, you can take advantage of its “Persistent” mode, which saves data directly on the storage device.

It is available in both 32-bit (perfect for older PCs) and 64-bit. A kiosk edition is also available, which is a minimal system that is locked down for use by the public on web terminals. You can choose to download the Cinnamon, KDE, MATE, or Xfce version of Porteus.

Download: Porteous 32-bit | 64-bit

5. Puppy Linux

puppy linux operating system

Puppy Linux is a very lightweight Linux distro that you should only install on and run directly from a USB flash drive, SD card, CD, DVD, or other bootable storage media. You can install Puppy Linux on your hardware if you want. But there isn’t really a need if you have your bootable USB flash drive with you.

It is also worth noting that Puppy Linux isn’t a single distribution, nor is it a Linux distribution with numerous “flavors” (for instance, Ubuntu variants include Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu, and so on). Rather, Puppy Linux is a collection of Linux distributions built using the same shared principle, using the same tools, using a specific set of “puppy” applications.

Check out the below image to see the various Puppy Linux paths, in the official Puppy Linux family tree.

puppy linux timeline#

At the time of writing, there are four official Puppy Linux distributions. All require 300MB or less hard drive space but do have varying CPU and RAM requirements.

To find out more, and choose the right version for you, head to the official Puppy Linux distribution download page.

6. SliTaz

slitaz linux operating systemSliTaz, or Simple Light Incredible Temporary Autonomous Zone, is a lightweight, fully-featured graphical Linux distro. Simply put, SliTaz is small, fast, stable, and easy to use.

SliTaz’s minimum requirements include an i486 or x86 Intel-compatible processor, at least 80MB disk space, and 192MB RAM (however, this can drop as low as 16MB RAM depending on the version of SliTaz you use).

One cool feature of SliTaz is that it runs largely in your system memory. Once you boot SliTaz up, you can remove your bootable USB flash drive for other tasks. SliTaz also has a “persistent” feature that allows you to store your data and personal settings to the removable media, ready to use on your next boot. (You have to keep your media in the machine for this feature to work, mind).

Download: SliTaz Universal Version (Free)

7. wattOS

wattos linux operating systemwattOS is a fantastic tiny Linux distro based on Ubuntu. You can run wattOS from a USB flash drive, CD, DVD, or other bootable media. Furthermore, wattOS has a kiosk mode, or you can install it directly to your hard drive.

The minimum hardware requirements include an Intel or AMD processor, 700MB disk space, and 192MB for the “Microwatt” edition of wattOS. The wattOS LXDE version uses slightly more RAM, but has considerably more customization options and is suitable as a daily desktop environment.

The Microwatt edition is extremely lightweight, however. It is based upon the i3 tiling window manager, offering low resource requirements and a simplistic design.

Download: wattOS Microwatt edition 32-bit | 64-bit

Download: wattOS LXDE edition 32-bit | 64-bit

8. Bodhi Linux

bodhi linux desktop environment

Your final tiny Linux distro to check out is Bodhi Linux. Bodhi Linux is an Ubuntu LTS-based fully-featured Linux distro that uses the Moksha Desktop. Furthermore, Bodhi Linux comes in three flavors: the Standard edition, the AppPack edition, the Legacy edition.

The Standard edition comes with a limited range of options and applications, whereas the AppPack edition offers more features, applications, and options out of the box. Of the three, the Legacy edition is the smallest, designed to work with older, less powerful hardware.

Bodhi Linux’s minimum specifications require a 500MHz processor, at least 128MB RAM, and 4GB disk space.

Download: Bodhi Linux Standard for x86_64 | Bodhi Linux AppPack for x86_64 | Bodhi Linux Legacy for x86_64

Revive Your Old Hardware With a Tiny Linux Distro

You can bring your old PC or other hardware back to life with any of these super small Linux distros. These lightweight Linux distros are a great way to provide a single computer for a relative who doesn’t need the bloat of a more complex operating system.

  1. ArchBang
  2. Tiny Core Linux
  3. Elive
  4. Porteus
  5. Puppy Linux
  6. SliTaz
  7. WattOS
  8. Bodhi Linux

Furthermore, these Linux distros will allow them to surf the web, watch and listen to media, check email, and create simple documents.

If you are preparing a machine for someone new to Linux, you should take a look at the MakeUseOf Linux FAQ. Also, why not check out the changes Windows users need to accept when moving to Linux 6 Changes Windows Users Need to Accept to When Switching to Linux 6 Changes Windows Users Need to Accept to When Switching to Linux Thinking about switching from Windows to Linux? It's not as tough as you've heard, but there are some changes to get used to. Read More . It certainly makes switching easier!

Explore more about: Linux Distro, USB Drive.

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  1. dragonmouth
    April 17, 2019 at 6:18 pm

    Another re-warmed/recycled article. What's going on at MUO. Are you guys running out of ideas and.or writers. For the past couple of weeks, most of the articles are updated old ones. Some of them are almost 10 years old. There is little difference between the old articles and their updated versions.

    • Jim
      April 18, 2019 at 10:51 am

      I agree, you would think nothing is going on in the world of Linux. Also if it is all they seem to care about anymore is phones (android) or raspberry pi.

      • Mike Walsh
        April 21, 2019 at 11:59 am

        TBH, that seems to be endemic amongst most of the tech blogs nowadays. Smartphones and rPi get all the headlines.

        Kinda sucks for those of us who don't bother with either 'genre'.

  2. fakeraol
    October 7, 2018 at 12:38 pm

    A "7 Smallest Linux Distros" article , and you did not mention Tiny Core Linux?
    You should have sorted them by size.

    • Jim
      April 18, 2019 at 10:50 am

      Tine Core is #2 on the list.
      2. Tiny Core Linux

  3. ADMIN
    January 11, 2018 at 5:46 pm

    wattOS download link dead

    • Christian Cawley
      January 11, 2018 at 8:23 pm

      Hi -- I've just checked the link, and it appears to be working.

      • ADMIN
        January 12, 2018 at 1:42 pm

        try to download iso file

        • Christian Cawley
          January 12, 2018 at 2:17 pm

          Hmm. A single link to 32-bit ISO won't download.

          The bittorrent alternative, and the 64-bit ISO, both work and download.

          A problem, but not one that would preclude inclusion of wattOS.

          Also, might be useful if you didn't call yourself "ADMIN" -- people might get the wrong idea.

      • ADMIN
        January 12, 2018 at 1:43 pm

        try to download iso file!

  4. dragonmouth
    October 11, 2017 at 1:24 pm

    Who is the target audience for this article? Linux users? Windows users? Users switching to Linux from Windows?

    Where is antiX, Tiny Core Plus or Q4OS? Q4OS just released a new version based on the latest release of Debian 9 Stretch. This new version of Q4OS works on all systems going back to i386.

    There are 560 distributions in the DistroWatch database that are either dormant or discontinued that will run on old hardware. How "light" they are and how useful they are any more is the question one needs to ask themselves.

    According the the DistroWatch database neither DSL nor ArchBang have had any releases since 2012. I know DSL has been discontinued. What about ArchBang? Does anybody have any info on it?

    • Alister
      October 12, 2017 at 1:00 pm

      Obviously aimed at windows users as Rufus is not available for Linux & other tools need to be used (dd from the command line or unetbootin )

      • dragonmouth
        October 12, 2017 at 1:31 pm

        I'll take your word for it. :-)

        The reason I asked is that, with the exception of Puppy, the above distros are not usually the ones recommended by 'experts' to Windows users. They are 'too different'. OTOH, for most Linux users these distros would not be the primary choice.

        • My hard drive's smaller than yours
          March 29, 2018 at 8:11 pm

          I've played with both TinyCore and SliTaz before (in a VM environment). TinyCore has problems with basic mouse movement in a VM. But when all you want is the smallest distro out there, nothing beats TinyCore. The people behind Damn Small Linux are the authors of TinyCore. There was a falling out in the DSL community of which TinyCore was the result, which explains why DSL is "dead" and TinyCore is still doing well. TinyCore is NOT for the feint of heart. Even if you think you are a hardcore Linux person, you've not come even close. There are so many quirks with TinyCore that I lost count. However, if you are building embedded hardware, TinyCore is awesome because all the other distros requires hundreds of MB to GB of storage. TinyCore also fully boots into RAM in under 5 seconds on the crappiest of hardware specs.

          SliTaz is the next smallest and really the only small distro that's usable by the average Linux person. It also has a respectable package manager that isn't based on the usual suspects (pretty sure they made their own custom package manager). SliTaz has a longer boot time than TinyCore but is also really fast (15 second boot times).

          Everything else out there is based on Debian, RedHat, Arch, or Slackware and have user experiences similar to the big, bloaty distros that sit on top of those (e.g. Ubuntu) that require 500MHz CPU + gobs of RAM + GB of disk. There's nothing particularly wrong with those but I'd like to see more non-traditional ultra-tiny distros pop up. People claim "choice" but when I want ultra-tiny, then there are only two active distros to pick from and one of those is of limited capability. That's not really much of a choice.

  5. Eddie G.
    October 11, 2017 at 12:27 am

    Just thought I'd make mention of "Lightning Linux" and "LxLE"....two distros based on Ubuntu but uber-fast and light. One runs the OpenBox desktop environment and is quite pleasing to the eye. While being light on resources, and still can handle things like CodeBlocks, Ninja-IDE and Eclipse Programming IDE's. The other is running the LXDE desktop and also is ablt to handle things like web browser videos, downloads, and watching hi-def movies in VLC without breaking a sweat. Just thought I'd throw hat out there....great article! Awesome information to have!

  6. skagon
    October 10, 2017 at 9:26 pm

    "Think machines with early Pentium processors (such as the 486 series) and very little memory."
    ...
    "...early Pentium processors (such as the 486 series)"
    ...
    WHAT???
    Who writes these things anyway? :!

    • ElTimablo
      October 10, 2017 at 10:43 pm

      Not to mention, DSL hasn't been updated in like 6 years. It still runs a 2.4 kernel which flat-out *will not work* with anything newer than about a Core 2.

      • Mike Walsh
        October 11, 2017 at 11:21 am

        Christ, you people think EVERYTHING should run on brand-new hardware.

        That's the whole POINT of these tiny distros.....that they rejuvenate OLD hardware. And there's still a LOT of that around.

        • dragonmouth
          October 11, 2017 at 1:04 pm

          It's not a question of OLD hardware. It's a question of OLD software. Would you run Win98/Me or Win XP if you had the hardware? I still have the i486DX4 PC that i built. It has Win 3.11 WFW installed on it. Yeah, it works but only in stand alone mode and only with applications of that vintage. It's not very useful.

          DSL has been DISCONTINUED. That means no one is working on it any more. It's last production release was in 2008. The last alpha release was in June of 2012. So no security updates have been released for DSL in at least 5 years. Since the last release of DSL of any kind, there have a few major security problems with components used in Linux distros. Do you, perhaps, recall something called "Heartbleed"? DSL certainly hasn't been patched for it. Would you want to use an O/S that full of security holes, even if it "rejuvenates" your old hardware?

        • Jim
          April 19, 2019 at 11:22 am

          I agree about the old software. When I used Windows I would fix older computers for people. In the Vista days, you could get Win98 to run, but don't think you are getting on the Internet with it. It would take hours to load if ever, and that was years ago. I can't imagine old Linux software would be much better.

        • Mike Walsh
          June 9, 2019 at 9:40 pm

          @ Dragonmouth:-

          Don't ever go thinking that because Puppy's keeping a 17-yr old, P4-powered Dell laptop alive, that it's doing so with OLD software.

          Puppy's a 'do-ocracy'. If somebody in the community can see a need for something to be upgraded, 'fixed', 'patched', for whatever reason, they'll get on and do something about it. We don't sit around on our backsides, whinging & whining, and expecting our small bunch of devs to sort it out; we dive in at the deep end, if we think we're capable of handling it, fix it ourselves, then if the result is deemed acceptable it's merged upstream into the Woof-CE build-system stuff over at Github, for use in future Puppies, and for the benefit of the whole community.

          We have at least 4 or 5 members that I know of who spend a lot of their time doing nothing but build brand-new, up-to-date kernels, along with whatever patches are 'current'.

          Pup can run much of the very newest software, in perfect safety, and do so on the oldest of hardware..... Now THAT is how WE keep old hardware useful.