One of the best things about Linux is that no matter what type of hardware you're using, there's a distribution for everyone. You can take an old laptop out of your attic, dust it off, install Linux, and go.
However, with so many Linux distributions available, finding the best option for your laptop can be overwhelming. So read on to find the best Linux distro for your laptop type, be it old, ultrabook, or anything in between.
Best Linux distribution for old laptops: Lubuntu
Let's start with these aging, venerable machines: your old laptop. Linux has a reputation for bringing old hardware to life, and Lubuntu is one of the best options.
As you can see from the name, Lubuntu is an Ubuntu derivative. It uses a different desktop environment than Ubuntu and instead of GNOME chooses the lighter and less resource-intensive LXDE desktop. The result is a lightweight Linux distribution that runs fine on an older laptop.
Lubuntu requires at least 1 GB of RAM for "advanced internet services" like YouTube and Facebook, while only 512 MB of RAM is sufficient for basic operations like LibreOffice and basic web surfing. In terms of CPU, you need at least an Intel Pentium 4 or Pentium M or an AMD K8.
Related: Lightweight Linux distributions that breathe new life into your old PC
Best Linux distribution for midrange laptops: Linux Mint
Linux Mint is one of the options for those new to Linux. It contains a wide variety of applications, is easy to use, stable, and does not require a large amount of system resources.
The nice thing about a distro like Mint is that you can customize it to suit your hardware specifications. The minimum system requirements are relatively low, requiring only 1 GB of RAM (2 GB for the best experience), a 2.0 GHz dual-core processor, and 20 GB of storage. These are the minimum requirements. When you have a more powerful machine, you get more out of the distribution.
After installation, you have a choice of different desktop environments and an app repository with tens of thousands of options, among other things.
Best Linux Distribution for High Performance Laptops: Solus
Solus is a versatile Linux distribution suitable for those with more powerful laptops. While Solus can run on a laptop with less powerful hardware, it glows brightest when it has a little more power to play.
It includes several editions of Solus, including Solus Budgie, "A Feature-Rich, Luxurious Desktop With State-of-the-Art Technology", and Solus Plasma, "A Sophisticated Desktop Experience For The Hobbyist". Solus also has a wide range of popular apps in its repository. While the base number of apps installed is relatively small, you can expand quickly without much of a problem. It comes with rolling updates and a decent enough package manager.
A minimum of 2 GB of RAM, a 64-bit Intel or AMD processor, and at least 10 GB of storage drive are required to try Solus.
Best Linux Distribution for Ultrabooks: Elementary OS
Ultrabooks are sleek, beautifully designed machines that require a large operating system to start. Enter Elementary OS, one of the nicest Linux distributions. It's a flashy alternative to Windows or MacOS, and offers a stylish aesthetic that will suit any ultrabook.
But enough of the looks, what about the substance? Well, Elementary OS has that too. It won't suit everyone, that's for sure. But it comes with a decent selection of drivers designed to support a wide range of laptops, old and new. That way, you can be sure that your ultrabook will work fine with Elementary OS (of course, check compatibility before downloading and installing a Linux distribution).
Like many Linux distributions, Elementary OS doesn't come with many preinstalled apps to keep the installation package small. You will find a browser, an email client, and some standard tools. However, it supports all major Linux applications and there are several installation options, including a package manager and an app center.
Elementary OS recommends using a "current Intel i3" or comparable 64-bit dual-core processor, 4 GB of RAM and a solid-state drive with 15 GB of storage. There is no minimum specification, but computers with older hardware may have issues with some of the visual styles and elements in Elementary OS. But those with a powerful ultrabook can visit the App Center and start installing and updating the operating system to create a beautiful Linux experience.
Best Linux distribution for gaming laptops: SteamOS
If you are looking for games, consider the official SteamOS Linux distribution.
SteamOS is a Debian-based distribution with extensive support for the Steam gaming platform. In the scope of delivery you will find drivers for controllers, display configurations and much more. Once it's up and running, the ease of use and access with your Steam library is superb.
The downside, however, is that SteamOS is only designed for Steam games, so you can't launch Wine and play anything else. Since you can dual boot your laptop, you are not limited to a single distro so you can work around the problem. However, if you are thinking about gaming on Linux, check out some of the other frequently asked questions and problems.
To run SteamOS, you'll need a laptop with a 64-bit Intel or AMD processor, at least 4GB of RAM, and at least a 200GB storage drive (though you'll need something larger for your games).
How do I choose a new Linux distribution?
With so many Linux distributions, figuring out which one will suit you and your hardware can be overwhelming. There are a few things you can do to narrow down your options:
- Hardware specifications: Check the hardware specifications for your laptop and the minimum or recommended hardware specifications for the distribution.
- Use: Think about what you are doing with the distribution and the laptop. If you only process text, check your e-mail and surf the Internet, you don't need a special distribution like OpenSUSE.
- Check different versions: Many Linux distributions are designed for easy installations and therefore offer several download options. If the main distribution is too heavy for your laptop, see if there is a lighter option. A prime example of this is Ubuntu, with its many derivative options such as Lubuntu, Xubuntu, and Kubuntu.
The best thing about Linux is that it's free and open source, so you can experiment to your heart's content.
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About the author
(617 articles published)
Gavin is the junior editor for Windows and Technology Explained, contributing regularly to the Really Useful Podcast, and was the editor for MakeUseOf's crypto-focused sister site Blocks Decoded. He has a BA (Hons) in Contemporary Writing Using Digital Art Practices Looted from the Devon Hills, as well as over a decade of writing experience. He enjoys plenty of tea, board games, and soccer.
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