Which Distro is Right for Old Computers

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  • DevynCJohnson
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    • @devyncjohnson

    As technology improves, new computers and operating systems are made. People then get the new computers and upgrade to newer distros or install new operating systems. However, old computers are still kept, but the newer operating systems may not work on the old hardware and need more memory and CPU power. Also, older operating systems may not support the newer software. Despite these problems, people may still want or need to use the old hardware. Thankfully, there are some Linux distros that work well on old machines. Now, the question is "Which Linux distro is right for my old computer?".

    The old computer can be reused for many purposes. The desired purpose/function helps to determine which distro is the right choice. Such old computers can be reused as firewalls, routers, proxy servers, cache servers, data storage, etc.

    General Usage

    There are many distros available if the computer is intended for general usage.

    AntiX (http://antix.mepis.org) is a Debian-based Linux distro for computers with Pentium III processors or better. The distro recommends 128MB of RAM, although some users claim that the system can do well with as little as 64MB.

    SliTaz (http://www.slitaz.org) is a Slackware-based distro that can run on computers with at least 256MB of RAM. The ISO image itself is about fifty megabytes.

    Absolute Linux (http://www.absolutelinux.org/) is a lightweight alternative to Slackware for old hardware.

    Puppy Linux (http://www.puppylinux.com/) is a Linux distro that supports Ubuntu repositories. The system runs well as a LiveCD, stand-alone install, and a USB-based installation. Puppy Linux needs at least 64MB of RAM, but 256MB is recommended.

    If you like Puppy Linux, but want something more lightweight than the standard Puppy Linux, try AnitaOS by Darren Hale (http://sourceforge.net/projects/anitaos/). AnitaOS is based on Puppy Linux.

    LegacyOS is another Puppy Linux system that is suitable for old hardware (Pentium III).

    Lubuntu (http://lubuntu.net/) is great for systems that need a lightweight system. However, one of the other distros discussed in this article may be a better choice for very old hardware. Lubuntu is perfect for modern systems and netbooks that have few resources (at least 512MB of RAM). However, some people claim that Lubuntu is usable with a minimum of 128MB of RAM.

    LXLE (http://lxle.net/) is a Ubuntu-based distro that is similar to Lubuntu. However, LXLE is only based on the Long-Term Support (LTS) editions of Ubuntu. LXLE supports the Pentium III and great and needs at least 512MB of RAM.

    WattOS (http://www.planetwatt.com/) is a Ubuntu-based system that would be suitable for netbooks and old systems.


    Old computers can be used to provide special network services to private networks within offices or homes.

    TinyCore Linux (http://www.tinycorelinux.net/) is very lightweight and can be used for general desktop usage, but its small design makes it perfect for hosting servers and providing other network services.

    Many router and firewall distros are suitable for old and lightweight systems - https://dcjtech.info/topic/which-firewall-distro-is-right-for-me/


    Many Linux server distros have a "minimal" edition that is suitable for systems with few resources. However, many minimal Linux server distros may not be suitable for old hardware. Some minimal server distros are listed below.

    Arch Linux (https://www.archlinux.org/) is a modern distro that would work well as a server for systems with few resources, but new hardware.

    When selecting a web server application for the chosen distro, select a lightweight program. Nginx (wiki.nginx.org) and Lighttpd (http://www.lighttpd.net/) are great web/HTTP servers. "vsftpd" is perfect for lightweight FTP servers.

    Make a Distro More Lightweight

    Just because a distro works and was installed on an old system or a computer with little resources does not mean the user can run any application. Some applications may not be able to run on systems with few resources. When selecting a distro for an old computer or a system with few resources, think about what the user or users wish to do on the system. Also, think of lightweight alternatives to the needed software. For instance, can Gedit or Mousepad be used instead of LibreOffice or OpenOffice? As for a web-browser, can Arora (https://github.com/arora/arora) or Midori be used instead of Firefox or Chrome/Chromium?

    When selecting a desktop environment, try to use a simple interface and program. For instance, Unity, GNOME, Mate, Cinnamon Plasma Workspaces (KDE) are not wise choices for lightweight systems. Rather, try to use window managers such as OpenBox, JWM, Fluxbox or IceWM. Razor-QT (http://razor-qt.org/), LXDE (http://lxde.org/), and Ratpoison (http://www.nongnu.org/ratpoison/) are also good choices.

    XFCE is another good choice, but only for modern systems that need to be lightweight. However, some people have had success using XFCE for old systems.

    To make a distro more lightweight, try the following tips.

    • Use wallpapers that are low resolution, or do not use a wallpaper
    • Uninstall all unneeded programs
    • If the GUI system supports themes, then use a generic or plain theme
    • Reduce the amount of files/icons on the desktop
    • Try not to use desktop widgets/gadgets
    • Disable/remove unneeded daemons and services
    • Use and enable swap space
    • Make sure to have a swap space twice the size of the RAM

    Of all of the listed systems for old computers and low-resource systems, I use Lubuntu for low-resource systems, Puppy Linux and AnitaOS for old hardware, and TinyCore and Ubuntu Minimal for server/network purposes. However, users may still find an old or slow system that will not run well with any of the suggested Linux distros. The suggestions in this article may not work for anything older than 1999 or slower than a Pentium III (450MHz). Modern Linux distros (to the best of my knowledge) will not run on anything slower than a Pentium II (233MHz).

    Further Reading

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