In case you haven't heard, many Linux distributions have dropped support for devices with 32-bit architectures left and right. Fortunately, some distros remain strong for older devices, and we'll be looking at them today.
What happens to 32-bit support?
Many older PCs have processors with something called a 32-bit Architecture, sometimes referred to as i386, i486, or x86. Most modern machines, on the other hand, work with a 64-bit architecture. For this reason, many popular distributions have stopped supporting 32-bit in recent years.
Even certain distros that advertise as being lightweight and ideal for older machines follow suit. Both Xubuntu and Linux Lite retired their 32-bit versions in April 2021.
Worried about your trusted 32-bit computer being left behind? Fear not, there are a couple of distros that you have covered.
The best 32-bit Linux distributions
As the list continues to shrink, we've rounded up a few distros below that are still waving the 32-bit flag. These distributions receive all official support from the developers. No "Community Editions" here.
Do you want something that is absolutely solid, that has been around for ages and that is still actively developing? Debian is the tried and tested distribution to which many other distributions can trace their roots. It can be used either as an everyday desktop or as a server.
Debian is not the lightest Linux distribution, so you can be careful if your hardware is really struggling under a lot of pressure. Debian, however, gives you a choice of trash when it comes to desktop environments. When it comes to downloading, you can choose between GNOME, Cinnamon, Xfce, KDE and more.
2. Zorin OS Lite
Zorin OS is a sleek and modern distribution based on Ubuntu that advertises itself as a serious alternative to Windows or MacOS. It's one of the few distros that asks you to pay to download the full distro called Zorin OS Ultimate. It comes with a ton of additional software that a professional can use.
For users of older computers, including 32-bit devices, Zorin OS Lite can be downloaded for free. You get the same basic operating system but without the additional apps. It has a highly customized Xfce desktop environment that gives you a Windows-like experience.
3. Bodhi Linux
Bodhi Linux is a distribution that values minimalism and ease of use. It's intended for people who want a fast and efficient desktop, even on older computers, and don't want a lot of preinstalled software. The standard installation of Bodhi contains only the bare minimum of apps a desktop needs, and you can expand this collection as you wish. This fact makes Bodhi an excellent choice when your device is tight on hard drive space.
If you choose the 32-bit edition of Bodhi Linux, you will not receive any kernel updates. However, you get the aesthetically pleasing Moksha DE with the controls that you can customize to your heart's content or apply one of the pre-made nature-inspired themes.
4. Alpine Linux
Alpine Linux will appeal to users who want a minimalist user interface and a safe environment. With the standard ISO of only 133 MB, this distribution fits comfortably on the most modest drives.
One example of Alpine security is storage management. It uses a positionally independent executable to make exploiting memory quirks too difficult for opponents. You will feel as safe as if you were hiding in the Alps.
Alpine is not for Linux newbies, however. Configuring and maintaining Alpine Linux is no easy task. Prepare to manually create users, learn a new package manager, and install a desktop environment yourself (if you want more than just a command line). Follow our Alpine Linux guide to make these tasks easier.
5. BunsenLabs Linux
BunsenLabs Linux gives users the Debian experience with the minimal and highly customizable Openbox window manager. It is meant to continue the legacy of the late CrunchBang Linux.
You can choose BunsenLabs Linux if you value functionality over Flash in your operating system. You won't get Ubuntu or Bodhi's sense of style, but you will get a dumb-fast, out-of-the-box experience with minimal setup.
Note that the 32-bit version of BunsenLabs Linux no longer contains many of the functions of the 64-bit version for reasons of space. However, you can add these features yourself after installation.
6. openSUSE (Tumbleweed)
The openSUSE distribution is a popular choice for developers and system administrators. However, you can also use it as a normal desktop environment if you prefer. It includes many developer-oriented tools such as YaST and openQA.
You can get openSUSE in two different forms: Leap and Tumbleweed. Leap provides users with a stable experience with regular point releases, but is only available for 64-bit computers. Tumbleweed, on the other hand, works on a rolling release basis and offers 32-bit support.
7. SliTaz GNU / Linux
The SliTaz distribution is designed to be both simple and versatile and able to be used as an everyday desktop or server. It's extremely fast, even on older computers, and can run entirely in memory. If ease of use and speed are your priority, SliTaz might be your choice.
The ISO image only weighs a tiny 40MB. If you're really looking for space, SliTaz can be booted from a CD-ROM or flash drive, removed, and then kept working while your data remains on the local hard drive.
8. AntiX Linux
AntiX Linux values speed and efficiency and promises to be usable by both new and experienced Linux users. It is based on Debian and is supposed to be useful as a live-only distribution if you want to avoid a full installation. It can even operate in "persistent" mode so you can start live while you save data to the file system on your hard drive.
The antiX project places particular emphasis on supporting old machines, and the developers are proud to work without them systemd Suite together with other distributions. You choose a collection of Lean Window Managers in any complete desktop environment. While Window Managers may not be familiar to the less experienced Linux user, antiX includes several for you to familiarize yourself with.
9. Trisquel GNU / Linux
Trisquel GNU / Linux is based on Ubuntu and stands out from the crowd with its focus on accessibility and free software. While distributions like Arch and Ubuntu contain proprietary software in the kernel and in their repos, Trisquel makes a point of breaking free of non-free code. That's why it's one of the few distributions supported by the Free Software Foundation.
If you have educational purposes in mind for your device, Trisquel might be for you. Trisquel's commitment to accessibility is evident in the numerous languages it contains, as well as an audio walk-through of the installation for visually impaired users.
Porteus is all about speed. Apps are uniquely managed as "modules" that do not need to be installed. Instead, you simply switch between active and inactive. This lack of permanent installation allows you to reach new heights in terms of speed.
The Porteus distribution also values progress, so you can always stay up to date with the latest updates as you run older devices. If you want to allow public use of your computer, you can also run the "kiosk" version of Porteus, which launches straight into a web browser that does not store persistent data.
11. Linux Mint
Linux Mint is a popular choice for users new to Linux and for users who want a desktop for everyday use that just works. For the regular Ubuntu-based version, you have the choice between three desktop environments: Cinnamon, MATE and Xfce.
However, Mint is the last on this list as only Mint versions are available 19th by 19.3 32-bit processors are still supported, and support is planned to be discontinued in April 2023. Until then, if it's not too late, you can safely use Mint 19.
If time is up or you don't want to use a distro that is about to expire, try Linux Mint's LMDE Edition. This version is based more on Debian than Ubuntu and still has a 32-bit version. LMDE is also only available with the Cinnamon desktop.
Distros with the 32-bit flashlight
As you can see, there are a number of ways to keep your 32-bit computer going. Continuing to use it with one of these solid Linux distributions will allow you to recycle old hardware and keep materials out of the dumps.
Defeat the planned obsolescence and accept the right to repair
Planned obsolescence means hardware won't last as long as it should. On this week's show, we take a look at how to claim your right to repair.
About the author
(46 articles published)
Jordan is a MUO employee who is passionate about making Linux accessible and stress-free for everyone. He also writes guides on privacy and productivity.
By Jordan Gloor
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