Old PCs cannot meet the requirements of modern operating systems and software. While upgrading hardware like memory can be helpful, the better solution is a lightweight operating system.
Many Linux distributions are lightweight and offer Linux versions under 500MB and even under 100MB.
If you're looking for a lightweight operating system for your PC, try these compact, resource-efficient Linux distributions.
Linux distros Less than 1 GB
Most PCs currently ship with 4 GB of RAM or higher. If you need an operating system for an older computer, these Linux distributions will run on computers less than 1 GB.
Xubuntu is an Ubuntu derivative that uses the Xfce desktop environment. While Xubuntu may not be GNOME's eye candy, it does provide a snappy experience. To test Xubuntu, you only need 512MB of memory. With the minimal CD, only 128 MB are required, making this the first Linux distribution under 1 GB.
A minimum of 1 GB of memory is required for a full installation.
As a branch of Ubuntu, Xubuntu has access to all canonical repositories. It's a fantastic distro that offers great features and uses while consuming little system resources.
Lubuntu aptly describes itself as "easy, fast, simple". As the name suggests, Lubuntu is an Ubuntu derivative and, like Xubuntu, allows access to the full canonical repositories. While Xubuntu uses the Xfce desktop, Lubuntu opts for the LXDE / LXQT desktop.
The Lubuntu website recommends 1GB of RAM for web services like YouTube and Facebook. If you're just browsing and using programs like LibreOffice, 512MB of RAM will be enough.
The minimum requirements for a CPU with Lubuntu are Pentium M or 4 or AMD K8. That means support for many older computers. In addition, Lubuntu includes numerous apps, including the LXTask system monitor, the GNOME disk utility, MTPaint and much more.
3. Linux Lite
Linux Lite is unsurprisingly a lightweight Linux distribution. Linux Lite is based on Ubuntu LTS and is described as "easy, fast and free". The memory requirement is low. The bundled apps include LibreOffice and VLC. Linux Lite may save system resources, but it has many features.
The minimum system specification for Linux Lite is a PC with a 1 GHz CPU, 768 MB RAM and 8 GB memory. Better performance can be achieved with a 1.5 GHz CPU, 1 GB RAM and 20 GB storage space.
With its balance between function and efficiency, Linux Lite is a lightweight distribution that is ready to use.
4. Zorin OS Lite
Zorin OS aims to make PCs faster while improving security and performance. Zorin OS Lite goes one step further and reduces the already lean system requirements of the main operating system.
You can install Zorin OS Lite on a system that is running a modest 700 MHz single-core processor (32-bit or 64-bit). The computer also requires 512 MB of RAM and 8 GB of storage. Zorin OS Lite can run satisfactorily on a display with a resolution of only 640 x 480 pixels.
If you're looking for something that performs well and has a Windows-like feel to your old PC, Zorin OS Lite is ideal.
5. Arch Linux
Photo credit: okubax / Flickr
Arch Linux adheres to the KISS mantra: keep it simple, stupid. Arch Linux is available in the i686 and x86-64 variants, light and easy to use. You need a PC with at least 512 MB RAM and 800 MB hard disk space. A Pentium 4 or higher is recommended, although some older CPUs can run Arch Linux.
Notable Arch Linux derivatives include BBQLinux and Arch Linux ARM, which can be installed on the Raspberry Pi.
While your PC hardware may be old, Arch Linux operates on a rolling release system for current, continuous updates.
Linux operating systems under 500 MB
If you are using a PC from the 2000s, you may not have enough RAM installed for a modern operating system. Try one of these operating systems for a computer with less than 500 MB of RAM.
Helium was released as a community-driven sequel to the popular CrunchBang Linux distribution with low specifications and based on Debian 9.
Helium uses the Openbox window manager and Conky system monitor and offers a selection of GTK2.3 themes and Conky configurations. This allows you to customize the look of the desktop and create a unique environment.
Helium is available for 32-bit, 64-bit and ARM architectures. Your PC should have at least 256 MB of RAM and a 10 GB hard drive. Note that different installation options result in slightly different disk usage. For example, installing from the live ISO uses 2.1 GB. Similarly, adding different applications will add different memory requirements during installation.
As with the Debian system requirements, the lowest CPU you can use is a Pentium 4 1 GHz chip.
Porteus is a Linux distribution optimized for use as a live CD to boot from a flash drive or CD. You can also install Porteus on a hard drive.
With 32-bit and 64-bit options, Porteus is one of the best Linux distributions for aging PC hardware. Porteus can start up in just 15 seconds and requires only 300 MB of storage space.
Porteus can even be loaded into memory and only run from system memory. Because Porteus is portable and modular, it can be used on a wide variety of types of computers.
8. Bodhi Linux
Bodhi Linux is known as the Enlightened Linux Distribution and comes from Ubuntu LTS. The main design principles revolve around minimalism and the moksha desktop. The standard application array only takes up 10 MB of storage space.
The minimum system requirements are 256 MB RAM, 5 GB hard disk space, and a 500 MHz processor. Even the recommended specs (512 MB RAM, 10 GB storage, a 1 GHz processor) are rather forgiving.
9. Trisquel Mini
Trisquel is an Ubuntu LTS derivative. The GNU distribution uses Ubuntu packages with a GNOME 3 Flashback-based desktop environment. Trisquel Mini is an alternative iteration designed specifically for netbooks and low-power PCs.
The LXDE desktop environment, the X Window System, and GTK + graphical displays ensure that Trisquel works properly on older hardware.
Trisquel Mini is small, but it is equipped with Linux apps like AbiWord, GNOME MPlayer and Transmission.
Any PC built since 1999 should run Trisquel Mini. For the 32-bit version (256 MB for 64-bit) and 3 GB of memory, only 128 MB of RAM is required. AMD K6 and Intel Pentium II processor architectures are the earliest supported.
Linux distributions under 100 MB
Do you have to use an old, humble computer, maybe from the last century? Try one of these amazing Linux distributions designed for systems with less than 100MB of RAM.
10. Puppy Linux
Are you looking for a fast, easy-to-use distribution? Puppy Linux is a perfect, lightweight operating system for an old laptop or PC. With a tiny footprint, Puppy Linux can be booted directly from a flash drive or CD. In addition, Puppy Linux can even live in memory.
Booting up usually takes less than a minute, even on older hardware. The standard ISO is approx. 100 MB, and with OpenOffice Puppy Linux is still under 300 MB (approx. 256 MB).
Puppy Linux works great as a full installation or simply as a live CD for guest PCs. There is even a version of Puppy Linux for the Raspberry Pi called Raspup.
11. Macpup Linux
Macpup, another version of Puppy Linux, is similarly small in size and is even small enough to run in RAM. Despite its small footprint, Macpup Linux is a full distribution. A nice selection of office, multimedia and graphics apps will transform your old PC hardware into a new computer.
The name "Macpup" is derived from the use of a macOS-like dock at the foot of the desktop. Other desktop elements are less Mac-like.
Macpup Linux is binary compatible with Ubuntu Precise packages. In addition to Firefox, Macpup Linux includes the same apps as Precise Puppy.
Photo credit: Linea / Creative Commons
If you want to rejuvenate that old PC and stay safe, check out the no-compromise SLiTaz. This Linux distribution, while lightweight, is powerful, and can run from both a live CD and a hard drive.
Install SliTaz on outdated PCs, servers, and even tiny ARM devices like the Raspberry Pi. You can even roll your own version.
The root file system is only 100MB and the ISO image is less than 40MB. Useful features include an FTP / web server with busybox, a Dropbear SSH client, SQLite and the Openbox desktop that runs under Xvesa / Xorg.
13. Absolute Linux
The longstanding Slackware distribution is the foundation for this simplified Linux approach, which can run on most hardware components. Absolute Linux bundles Kodi, Inkscape, GIMP, and other popular applications in the installer with a minimalist approach to the desktop.
This distribution is "version compatible" with Slackware, which means that software packages for Slackware should run on Absolute Linux.
Like Slackware, Absolute Linux can run on 32-bit and 64-bit systems and supports Pentium 486 CPUs. 64 MB RAM is supported (1 GB recommended), with 5 GB free hard disk space for installation.
This makes Absolute Linux ideal for older hardware, although pure Slackware is required for best results on old PCs.
14. Tiny Core Linux
The core project is a Linux project that offers a barebones experience that you can add your own elements to.
The TinyCore distribution is ideal for desktop users and offers the basic core system, X / GUI extensions for a desktop environment, and network support.
TinyCore is only 10MB in size and can be stored, installed, or simply run on a USB stick, embedded devices, or CD with very little space. In addition, it can run with just 48MB of RAM. From this humble starting point, you can add the software you need to get your old PC up and running.
While smaller versions of Core are available, TinyCore is ideal for desktop and laptop computers.
Amazing lightweight Linux operating systems!
While these are the best Linux distributions to breathe new life into your old PC, there is no shortage of alternatives.
In summary, the best lightweight Linux distros for an old PC are:
Linux distros Less than 1 GB
Zorin OS Lite
Linux OS Under 500MB
Linux distributions under 100 MB
Tiny core Linux
Whichever distribution you choose to install, don't forget to protect it with solid antivirus software. Here are the best free antivirus for Linux to choose from.
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About the author
(1415 articles published)
Deputy Editor for Security, Linux, DIY, Programming and Technology explains. He also produces The Really Useful Podcast and has extensive desktop and software support experience.
Christian is an employee of Linux Format Magazine and a Raspberry Pi hobbyist, Lego lover and retro gaming fan.
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