Using An Old Computer? Give It New Life With LXDE

Danny Stieben 08-07-2013

Using An Old Computer? Give It New Life With LXDE lxde logoAs Linux is arguably the most customizeable operating system between it, Windows, and Mac OS X; there’s plenty of room to change just about whatever you please. Proper customizing can potentially lead to massive performance improvements, giving even the oldest hardware a new leash on life. I previously reviewed Xfce XFCE: Your Lightweight, Speedy, Fully-Fledged Linux Desktop As far as Linux goes, customization is king. Not only that, but the customization options are so great it might make your head spin. I have previously mentioned the differences between the major desktop environments... Read More quite a while back as a great choice for resource-conscious users, but apparently there’s a new kid on the block that is even more lightweight and great for the crappiest hardware imaginable.


About LXDE

LXDE, which stands for Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment, aims to provide a usable and feature-filled desktop environment with the least impact on your system resources. Therefore, this is great for users who are using very low-end or old hardware such as netbooks or computers that are more than 7 years old. Additionally, it’s also good for users who are paranoid about the resource usage of their operating system, even if they have ultra-high end machines. This just ensures that most of the resources are available to the apps you wish to use and interact with.


Of course, the trade off to using a resource-conscious desktop environment is that it isn’t quite as visually appealing as you might prefer. In fact, it’s pretty reminiscent of Windows 95 or 98. However, if you don’t care about how your desktop looks but rather how it performs — as long as it even has a graphical interface — then this is definitely for you.

If you want something a little better looking that still runs on little resources, then Xfce XFCE: Your Lightweight, Speedy, Fully-Fledged Linux Desktop As far as Linux goes, customization is king. Not only that, but the customization options are so great it might make your head spin. I have previously mentioned the differences between the major desktop environments... Read More is better for you. If you want a good-looking desktop that takes a normal amount of resources, try Gnome GNOME 3 Beta - Welcome To Your New Linux Desktop Read More /Unity Ubuntu 11.04 Unity - A Big Leap Forward For Linux It's here. The newest version of Ubuntu sports an entirely new user interface: Unity. It also includes a much-improved Software Center, alongside the usual updates for the thousands of free programs Ubuntu offers. Canonical decided... Read More . Finally, if you don’t care about the resources being used and want a desktop that looks good with the most effects, you should try KDE Enjoy A Clean, Improved Desktop With KDE 4.7 [Linux] One of Linux's most popular desktop environments, KDE, released their latest series (version 4.7) at the end of July. This version improves on work done in previous releases by adding new features while improving performance... Read More .

How Efficient Is LXDE Really?

Just how long (on resources) can LXDE really go? If you take a quick look at its homepage, you’ll see that they tested the desktop environment under a few different configurations. The lowest-powered configuration that was able to run LXDE was comprised of a Pentium II processor at 266 Mhz, along with just 192 MB of RAM. It’s virtually impossible to find a computer nowadays that has anything less powerful than those specifications, so it’s safe to assume that LXDE will run on any computer imaginable. Of course, the higher powered it is, the faster it’ll run. The LXDE homepage already suggested that running it on an Intel Atom processor with just 512 MB of RAM made LXDE run “very fast”.



If that’s not enough proof, I’ve installed Lubuntu Lubuntu: A Lightweight Version Of Ubuntu [Linux] Love Ubuntu, but feel skeptical about 11.04's new Unity interface? Try Lubuntu 11.04, an extremely lightweight alternative to the main branch of Ubuntu. You'll find the menu-driven interface familiar and the resources hit remarkably low.... Read More , an LXDE variant of Ubuntu, onto my netbook and use it primarily as a makeshift wireless receiver for my Ethernet-only desktop. As such, I installed nothing extra on top of the default installation. On average, CPU usage bounces between 0-1% and Memory (RAM) usage is consistently at 90-110 MB out of the 2 GB that I have installed on it. Of course, this includes the System Monitor that is running in order to monitor the resource usage — taking it out of the equation would reduce both the CPU and RAM usage.

Associated Software


LXDE comes with its own software as well as other chosen software maintained by separate developers. Of course, each application is chosen with resource usage in mind, and as such includes Openbox as the window manager, Chromium as the default browser (in Lubuntu anyways, and that could possibly change eventually thanks to Firefox’s progress with the MemShrink project), and PCManFM as the default file manager. Various system settings including the screensaver are provided via generic X applications, as these are very simple and lightweight yet they get the job done.


Where To Get It


LXDE can be installed on virtually any distribution by installing the respective LXDE-related packages. This is really hard to do, so hopefully your distribution will have an LXDE metapackage which will automatically pull down all of the necessary packages. Additionally, a few distributions offer LXDE spins if they don’t already use LXDE by default. Lubuntu is the LXDE spin of Ubuntu, and there’s also a Fedora LXDE spin available for download from their website.

If you’re interested in LXDE for any other distributions, a quick Google search will lead you to some answers. Alternatively, try a Live version from a CD or USB flash drive.


Overall, LXDE is a fantastic desktop environment if you really need to be careful of how your precious system resources are used. Again, although it definitely isn’t the prettiest desktop environment available, it’s definitely the lightest and quickest and is sure to add new life or improve performance for your system.


Which desktop environment are you using with Linux? What would your ideal desktop environment be like? Let us know in the comments!

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  1. DT
    July 4, 2016 at 5:24 am

    I was a long-time KDE devotee until version 4 came out with the ugliest, most useless work environment not called unity....about that same time I moved from primarily slackware for desktops to kubuntu (briefly) and ultimately lubuntu...I agree with what PePas said in 2013, that the look is just as good as any other and you can theme it up if that's your thing: I've actually been using an XP theme for about 5 years now and it basically looks like xp, but it's much snappier and provides better support for the latest hardware, aside from displaylink (absolutely necessary for a docked laptop)...recently moved to lubuntu 16.04 and theme still works the same... As for lxde being primarily for the ancient stuff, I just like my i7 and all of its ram to perform to its ultimate capacity when I'm actually working, not while I'm daydreaming and staring at screen effects, just as I like my pentium 4 with a USB ssd to boot and load its first app in 10 seconds or less...

    the other thing with lxde is that almost anyone can pick it up and use it very quickly, aside from launch menu customization... I've been able to install it for use by seniors who can barely function in XP...

  2. Steve I.
    December 10, 2013 at 12:05 am

    I'm using Linux Mint with the MATE desktop and love it, though it is running on an i5 processor so speed is not an issue. The customization possibilities of MATE are endless, and for those who like the traditional type of desktop environment, I feel it has no equal.
    On my cheapie Acer etbook that's slow even with Ubuntu 9.10, Puppy Linux with XFCE did the trick and it runs great. Yes, XFCE is a little heavier than the basic Puppy running with just the window manager, but the performance hit was minimal and setup/usage similar enough to Gnome 2.x, MATE, and WinXP that I was up & running with almost no learning curve.
    For older/cheaper hardware, Puppy is the way to go, and since the OS is only about 100MB and runs completely in RAM, it leaves plenty of resources for the desktop environment.
    I find running a slimmer OS with a richer desktop environment better (more efficient) than running a fat OS with a minimalist DE.

  3. Fabrice Soopramanien
    July 9, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    Nice article !! :P !!

  4. Bob
    July 9, 2013 at 8:13 am

    This past week, after various attempts to find a smooth running OS for my 8 year old laptop, I found ArchBang with LXDE was the best. It outbeat Fedora LXDE, and various other distros that was said to be for low powered machines. Arch also has, from what I've seen, much wider support than Puppy.

  5. PePas
    July 9, 2013 at 4:00 am

    I don't see what's necessarily prettier about any other desktop environment. It all boils down to themes. I guess you'll want compton for some extra shadows/effects that don't put a burden on your CPU usage. I think functionality-wise, LXDE is complete, it works well, is stable, very fast, and user-friendly. And even Puppy Linux now has an LXDE-spin (though I think the next version might have fewer bugs...)

  6. Joe
    July 9, 2013 at 3:24 am

    Great linux distro for older machines running on scarce resources. Ive have already installed lxde on several of my older Amd machines and it runs great it never crashes it works with flash pretty well, its a keeper. Also the gui is really good, simple and easy to use by far the best linux distro for computer with limited resources.

  7. Al
    July 9, 2013 at 2:02 am

    How do you get Task Manager to look like that? I'm running Xubuntu and it says Task Manager but the column headers and graphs are different.

    • Kaffeine
      November 6, 2013 at 1:24 pm

      download the lxtask package from Synaptic. You must add the Lubuntu repositories first and then sudo apt-get update command

  8. Chuck Payne
    July 9, 2013 at 1:34 am

    openSUSE ( doesn't have the spin disc, but you can pick it from the installer. You can also use susestudio ( to create a disc with only the LXDE software, use on seven different formats. openSUSE has a better track recorder with older hardware.

    Terror Pup a.k.a Chuck Payne

  9. jkendal
    July 8, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    By far the best Linux distro for older hardware is Puppy Linux. Just my 2 ¢...

    • helamen
      July 9, 2013 at 1:17 am

      I prefer Puppy myself, using it for years. And its Ausssie with so many variants to suit your needs!