LXDE vs. Xfce vs. MATE

Sometimes you need to get the most out of an old PC. In other cases, you have a high-performance system and want to use all of this performance for the task at hand. In any case, the key to better computing is to keep everything as lean as possible.

When you install Linux, there aren't many things that you can easily change to cut down on raw material except for one thing: your desktop environment. If you want a lightweight Linux desktop, you need to choose the right environment.

What is a desktop environment?

A desktop environment is the interface you see on the screen, including the control panel at the top and bottom, and the way you switch between apps and manage windows.

Some desktop environments have special features that require more system resources, such as: B. Animations and transparent windows. Others try to provide a lightweight Linux desktop that affects system resources as little as possible.

The best lightweight Linux desktop environments

There are several desktop environments available that do not require a lot of memory or CPU speed to run properly. Let's look at some of your best options.


Xfce is the oldest of the most popular lightweight Linux desktop environments. It uses the GTK + Toolkit, just like the more popular GNOME interface that serves as the standard for Ubuntu and Fedora.

Xfce is an environment that you can zoom in or out to suit your taste. You won't find animation here, but if you like transparent windows, shadows, and similar nuances, you have the option.

This desktop environment has not changed much over the years. Therefore, increased system requirements are more often due to the size of the standard apps than to the desktop environment. Web browsers like Mozilla Firefox may be more functional than they used to be, but they also take up more memory.

Related: Xfce Explained: A Look at One of the Fastest Linux Desktops


MATE is a branch of GNOME 2 that was created during the transition from GNOME to version 3.0. If you've ever used a version of GNOME prior to 2011, you essentially used MATE. Although some things have changed, the basics remain the same.

MATE is a little brighter than Xfce, but not by much. Back in the GNOME 2 days, Xfce was seen as a lightweight alternative. GNOME 3 has changed and added so much since then that the gap between Xfce and GNOME 2 seems to be much smaller.

Related Topics: MATE Explained: A Look at One of the Most Enduring Linux Desktops

LXQt (formerly LXDE)

A few years ago, LXDE was considered the lightest graphical desktop environment. It started up in seconds and only used a few hundred megabytes of RAM. You can revive a Windows XP computer with an interface that feels very similar.

LXDE is so lightweight that the Raspberry Pi manufacturers used this code to create Raspbian, the device's official operating system.

LXDE uses the now very outdated GTK + 2 library, so the main developer decided to switch to Qt instead. He combined his efforts with the RazorQt team to create LXQt to replace LXDE.

LXDE and LXQt use interchangeable components with very few dependencies (background components that are required for software to work). A light app with a lot of dependencies can still slow your system down. Because of this, the apps you run are almost as important as choosing a desktop environment.

Related: What is LXQt? The lightest Linux desktop made with Qt

Head-to-head comparisons

Need help deciding between two of the above desktop environments? If you want the lightest Linux desktop, it's hard to beat LXQt or LXDE. But there are reasons why many people prefer one of the alternatives. Note the following when comparing two of these interfaces directly.

LXQt / LXDE vs. Xfce

LXQt and LXDE are lighter than Xfce, but that's only part of the story. LXDE looks more basic compared to Xfce. With enough effort, Xfce can feel like a more modern desktop environment. The main difference between LXQt and Xfce is that LXQt uses Qt instead of GTK +. If you prefer GTK + then it is better to use Xfce.

Installing GTK + apps on LXQt requires downloading some dependencies that are part of Xfce and are not already part of LXQt. Your package manager will usually install these automatically.


LXDE is lighter than MATE, but MATE is a desktop with more functions. Newbies may find MATE easier to understand. While none of the desktops are difficult to use, MATE presents apps and information in such a way that less technical knowledge is required to find your way around.

Also with LXQt vs MATE, the main difference is Qt vs GTK +. What kind of apps do you prefer? If you prefer Qt software and want a lighter desktop, LXQt is a no-brainer.

Xfce versus MATE

After unpacking, MATE has a few more bells and whistles than Xfce, but it's also a little less customizable. You may find that it feels a little more together. Xfce uses fewer resources, but that benefit gradually fades as you install and run apps that depend on GNOME libraries. Really, when it comes to MATE vs Xfce, you split your hair.

Your lightweight Linux desktop could be even lighter

If you are familiar with Linux, you can build your own system with the components you want. Instead of installing a full desktop environment, you can opt for a window manager like Openbox or Fluxbox. If you want to try a tile window manager, consider i3, Xmonad, and awesome. Then there is dwm, which is more of an all-rounder.

But there is only so much you can do. LXQt uses Openbox and you will have a hard time finding lighter background components than those provided by LXQt. Your machine won't get much lighter if you don't fully adhere to the terminal.

The easiest option for the less technical or busy user is to install a lightweight Linux desktop distribution on their computer. In addition, downloading only the packages you need can help improve your system's performance.

The 8 Smallest Linux Distributions That Are Minimal and Lightweight

Buckled up for hard drive space? Install one of these small and lightweight Linux distributions to make your PC usable again.

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About the author

David Delony
(15 articles published)

David is a freelance writer living in the Pacific Northwest but originally from the Bay Area. He has been a technology enthusiast since childhood. David's interests include reading, watching quality TV shows and movies, retro games, and collecting records.

By David Delony

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