The Best Linux Distributions for an Old Desktop

Last Edited: January 20, 2018 | Published: January 20, 2018 by

The Best Linux Distributions for an Old Desktop

Most of us have an old desktop computer sitting around our houses collecting dust. So how are you using your old desktop? As a doorstop? While your old desktop may be too slow for a modern version of Windows, Linux is a perfect alternative for that old desktop. While there are many different Linux distributions out there, some of these distros are designed to run on older hardware.

These distributions are made to run efficiently on older hardware, so with a simple reformat you could transform a slow machine into a machine that you could use on a daily basis. With just a few minutes of your time, you could create yourself a second machine to use for whatever reason you want.

Why Use Linux on an Old Desktop

There are many reasons why you may want to install Linux on an old desktop. Here are a few of the top reasons that can think of right off the top of my head:

  1. Not ready to upgrade – Your desktop may be getting old but for whatever reason you aren’t ready to invest in something new. That could be due to the cost or just the hassle of shopping. Whatever the reason, you don’t have to with Linux, even if your machine is really old.
  2. Want to learn Linux – An old desktop is the perfect choice for Linux if you want to learn it but you aren’t quite ready to give up macOS or Windows just yet. You can install it on your old desktop and play around without having to set up dual boot systems or virtual machines to do it.
  3. Repurpose an old machine – If you have an old desktop just sitting there collecting dust, you could find other uses for it. For example, you could set up a file server in your home, or transform an aging desktop into a media center connected to your television. These are both great examples of how you can give your aging desktop new purpose without having to invest anything more than just a little of your time.

Best Linux Distributions for an Old Desktop

Now that you understand the why, let’s get into the best Linux distributions for an old desktop. All of these Linux distributions are designed to be lightweight so they can easily install on older machines and bring them back to life.


Lubuntu is one of the official flavors of Ubuntu. This means that it shares a similar release schedule and is, of course, based on Ubuntu. But, instead of the Unity desktop, Lubuntu uses the LXDE desktop environment along with different default applications that aren’t resource hogs. As such, it is probably the most efficient flavor of Ubuntu in existence. While it does need a little more RAM than some of the options on this list, the specs for using it are still very low. Even a machine that is five years old or more can easily best its minimum requirements. The LXDE desktop is smooth and gives you just enough bells and whistles to work like many of the more advanced graphical user interfaces out there while still being stripped down enough to run great on older hardware. If you are familiar with Ubuntu, this is a great option.

Minimum System Requirements:

  • Pentium II or better
  • 256MB RAM

Linux Lite

As its name suggests, Linux Lite is designed to be a very lightweight Linux distribution. Linux Lite is based on the long-term (LTS) release of Ubuntu, so it shares many of the same repositories as Ubuntu. Each release gets you five years worth of support for the system which includes security and other software updates, and more. It also incorporates some of the more popular software such as Firefox, VLC, and even Dropbox right from the get go, so you won’t have to spend a lot of time tracking down all the apps you need. Probably the most interesting part of this distribution other than how small it is, is its interface. It has been designed to function a little like Windows. The goal is to get Windows users used to Linux while still remaining very efficient. This means it’s a great choice if you are a Windows user who want to try Linux on an old desktop you have sitting around your house.

Minimum System Requirements:

  • 700MHz CPU
  • 512MB RAM

Bodhi Linux

Chances are, if you do a search for lightweight Linux distributions, Bodhi Linux will come up. They’ve made a name for themselves in the lightweight category, and their reputation is well deserved. Using the Enlightenment window manager, this distribution is very fast and looks rather slick. In fact, it’s probably my favorite look of all the lightweight Linux distros on this list. While it doesn’t come pre-loaded with a lot of applications, it is based on the Ubuntu LTS release, so software installation will be a breeze. Remember, some applications could slow down your system, so be careful what you load. But it does come with some basic applications that will take care of the basics without having to install anything. If you want lightweight and you want it to look good, Bodhi Linux is one of the best choices for you.

Minimum System Requirements:

  • 500MHz CPU
  • 128MB RAM
  • 4GB of Storage

BunsenLabs Linux

BunsenLabs Linux rose from the ashes that was CrunchBang Linux, and it shares much of the same look and design of that former Linux distribution. It comes configured with OpenBox, which is a very lightweight GUI. In face, it’s so lightweight, most of your commands and even your app access will come from the right-click menu. There are many different lightweight themes built-in so you can customize your experience, and it includes the Conky system monitor so you can see how many resources it’s actually taking. It’s very lightweight, but it will take a little more hard drive space than some of the other choices on this list. Still, it’s easy to use and perfect for older machines. However, not everyone will appreciate using a contextual menu for their navigation. Still, if you have an older machine, it’s a great choice.

Minimum System Requirements:

  • 1GHz CPU
  • 256MB RAM
  • 10GB of Storage

Peppermint Linux

Peppermint Linux is a little different from other Linux distributions. It specializes in the cloud. The distro is based on Ubuntu, and thus it shares many of the same sources and repositories. But it was designed with a web-centric approach in a somewhat similar fashion to Chrome OS. Peppermint even has developed the ICE application that will allow you to turn any website into a desktop app. On top of that, it’s a nice distribution to use. It’s smooth and lightweight and needs very little in the way of hardware to run well. If you like the idea of Chrome OS but don’t want to be limited by it and you have an old machine handy, this is a great option for you.

Minimum System Requirements:

  • Intel x86
  • 1GB RAM
  • 4GB of Storage

Tiny Core Linux

This is one of the most impressive Linux distributions I have ever seen. There are three editions of this distribution – Core, Tiny Core, and CorePlus. The Core edition is the most stripped down, giving you a command line interface and nothing more, but it’s only 9MB! For better functionality, I would go with CorePlus. It takes a whopping 72MB of storage so you can load it on pretty much anything and use it. Designed to be very lightweight, it’s a great OS for really old machines that don’t have much use anywhere else these days. It’s also kind of fun to use something that’s only 72MB. Heck I have PowerPoint presentations that take up more space. Designed to be used on a USB stick so it can go with you anywhere, you really only need the basics if you want to use it.

Minimum System Requirements:

  • Pentium II
  • 46MB RAM, 64MB recommended
  • 72MB of Storage

Making Your Choice

Now that you know what options you have, it’s time to decide which Linux distribution you will load on your aging desktop. By following these steps, you can select the perfect lightweight Linux distribution for you.

Examine your Specs

You first need to look at the specs of your old computer. While all of these distros are lightweight, some are more lightweight than others. So, the older your hardware, the lighter weight you want to go. The end result will be even better performance of your older system.

The Graphical Interface

Next you need to look at the graphical interface. Now this, in many ways comes down to personal preference. My personal favorite is Bodhi Linux for the look. However, you may prefer Linux Lite for the more Windows-like experience. Try and match up your specs with the right requirements and then the right look.

The Applications

Next you need to look at applications. First, the different distributions come with different apps out of the box. These apps are designed to run efficiently on the distribution you chose. Remember, Linux gives you freedom to install whatever application you want regardless of the distribution you choose. However, different apps have different system requirements, so you must keep that in mind if you plan on loading other applications that don’t come with the distribution by default.


Once you make your decision, you will need to test it. The good thing is, Linux is free. So if you choose one that you don’t like, then you can always replace it with a different one. Give each one you try a good chance before you decide it won’t work for you.

Final Thoughts

Just because your desktop is getting old, that doesn’t mean you have to give it up. Sure, it may not run the latest version of Windows 10, but Windows isn’t the only operating system out there. Linux is a great alternative, and there are even lightweight Linux distributions designed specifically for older desktops. If you have an older desktop, then don’t just throw it away. Breathe new life into it with Linux. After all, you may find you even like Linux better. At the very least, you will be able to use your old desktop for even longer before you finally have to retire it for good.

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