Maybe you just bought a brand new laptop. Or maybe you have an older laptop in your closet that you want to bring back to life. In either case, the best Linux distributions for laptops are those that have better driver support and can match most laptops' performance.
Whether you are using your laptop for software development, graphics, gaming, or office work, these distributions should work well for your computer.
The best Linux distributions for laptops
New laptops are equipped with processors that are just as powerful, if not more powerful, than many desktop computers.
Desktop computers have components that can be replaced if they are not compatible with a particular Linux distribution. This is not the case at all with laptops. Components are often soldered directly to the motherboard, so good driver support is essential.
The following Linux distributions have the best support for graphics and sound cards, webcams, wireless adapters, and more. Many are also very light, which is particularly suitable for older laptops.
1. Manjaro Linux
Manjaro Linux is one of the open source Linux distributions that is easier to learn. It's designed to work out of the box with a variety of preinstalled software.
The highlight of Manjaro Linux is that it is known for its excellent hardware support thanks to its hardware detection manager.
Manjaro is based on Arch Linux, one of the most famous and most customizable Linux operating systems. There are many good reasons to install an Arch Linux distribution like Manjaro. If you're a Linux expert who isn't afraid of the command line, Vanilla Arch might be a great choice. They even have a wiki page especially for setting up on a laptop.
You can easily change the kernel without complex troubleshooting. Arch Linux-based distributions also let you choose your own components. This means that you can customize it to suit the particular laptop you are installing it on.
And if you're ever looking for support, Manjaro has a great community. You have access to the Arch Wiki and of course the Manjaro forums.
Best of all, if you really want to go crazy with Manjaro, they have teamed up with several hardware manufacturers to offer laptops and even smartphones with Manjaro installed.
Download: Manjaro Linux
An obvious choice for the best Linux distribution for laptops is Ubuntu.
It's easily one of the most popular and well-known Linux distributions, which means it has a large user community as well as solid online support.
Ubuntu developer Canonical works with hardware manufacturers to certify machines for Ubuntu. Well worth looking through the list if you want to make sure your laptop will work with Ubuntu. If you are looking for a new laptop in the market, there are manufacturers like System76 and even Dell that offer laptops with Ubuntu pre-installed.
However, what makes it especially useful for new and old laptops is the fact that it is free, lightweight, and has great driver support for most hardware components.
Ubuntu usually accepts any hardware you plug into your laptop. Thanks to the fact that most manufacturers offer Ubuntu drivers.
The Ubuntu Software Center has free apps that you can use to do just about any task on your laptop.
It works fine on older laptops that are a few years old, but it's important to note that it takes up more RAM than many other lightweight distributions out there. If your laptop is very old, you can opt for one of the other Linux distributions on this list. You might consider the Xubuntu variant, which uses the Xfce desktop to run on less powerful hardware.
However, many people believe that Ubuntu does many things a lot better than Windows. It's also the distribution of choice for dual booting a Chromebook on Linux. All of these reasons make it a perfect alternative operating system for laptops. Here are some of the newest features from Ubuntu.
Download: Ubuntu desktop
3. Basic operating system
Elementary OS is a distribution based on Ubuntu. This gives you the beautiful, custom desktop environment Pantheon.
Aside from the fact that it's so aesthetically pleasing, it's also known as a powerful operating system that can do anything you need to do with a laptop, even an old one you've pulled out of storage.
The Elementary OS community made the operating system as light and efficient as possible. Because of this, it runs smoothly on a wide variety of low-end laptops (or even desktops if you tend to).
Elementary is unique in that it introduces a "Pay What You Want" model to fund the project. You download it by entering the desired amount on the home page.
As with the higher-level distribution Ubuntu, most drivers for low-end laptops will start working right away.
The viewer includes a night light feature if you use your laptop in low light environments such as a student lounge or library.
It also offers convenient scaling and the ability to mirror your display when using your laptop to give a presentation on a larger screen.
Elementary OS is considered to be one of the best alternative Linux distributions for anyone switching from Windows or MacOS. And if you're a Mac user, this is especially good thanks to the Mac-like appearance of the desktop.
We added Elementary OS to our list of the best Linux distributions to install for a reason. And if you ever run into problems, the Elementary OS community forum is a great help.
Download: Basic operating system
The Linux openSUSE distribution is sponsored by big companies like B1 Systems and AMD (and of course SUSE).
It's also popular with system administrators and computer science students. Why? Because you have control over many functions and services without having to learn complex commands or memorize them. It is available in both the latest tumbleweed version and the stable leap version. Leap is the one that you probably need for everyday use.
This is thanks to YaST, one of the best and most powerful system configuration tools of any Linux distribution.
This means that you can easily configure the operating system to match the particular laptop system on which you are installing it without having to edit the configuration files that are scattered across the network /etc Directory.
It has fantastic driver support and works out of the box. With the ability to handle even the latest hardware, you can be sure that openSUSE will work just as well installed on any of your older laptops.
And if you run into problems, openSUSE has a whole section of its wiki to help people install and use openSUSE on laptops.
Download: openSUSE (jump)
5. Linux Mint
Like Elementary, Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, but a lot of people choose to install it instead because it's so easy.
It also feels a little more familiar to people who have worked with the Windows UI. It comes pre-installed with some applications that Ubuntu doesn't install by default.
For example, it contains the codecs you need to play DVDs. Ubuntu has the option to install third-party tools during installation, but these options are not set by default.
The benefit you get by installing Linux Mint instead of Ubuntu is a lighter operating system that works on older laptops. However, you will still get access to Ubuntu software repositories to download any additional apps and tools you might need.
Download: Linux Mint
Choosing an Ideal Linux Distribution for Your Laptop
When trying to decide which Linux distribution to install on your laptop, it will depend a lot on what is important to you.
If you have an older laptop, you'll need a lightweight distro like Manjaro, Elementary OS, or Linux Mint. If you have more power to play with, Ubuntu and OpenSUSE are also good options. You can even buy laptops with Ubuntu preinstalled if you are against dual booting or paying "Windows Tax".
If you are also thinking of installing Linux on an older PC, desktop, or laptop, you can find several lightweight Linux distributions that offer great performance.
14 lightweight Linux distributions to breathe new life into your old PC
Do you need a lightweight operating system? These particular Linux distributions can run on older PCs, some with as little as 100MB of RAM.
About the author
(18 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
Subscribe to our newsletter
Sign up for our newsletter to receive tech tips, reviews, free e-books, and exclusive offers!
One more step …!
Please confirm your email address in the email we just sent you.