What is the Best Linux OS for Old Computers
A lightweight Linux operating system or “distro” (short for “distribution”) can breathe new life into an old computer or make a newer one even snappier and more responsive. Dozens of these operating systems are available, but many of them are very barebones, outdated or potentially unstable. Of these options, three stand out as the only ones with advanced features packed into one lean download. They are all out of beta, have an ongoing release/update schedule, are smaller than a CD (700 MB) and most importantly receive generally positive reviews.
Primary differences between these three are their initial download size, the packages available to them, the lightweight window manager and desktop environment used within the system, and the user community surrounding each to help new users make the transition. Read on to find the best overall, best Debian based and best RPM based distro.
Best Linux OS for Old Computers Overall: Puppy Linux
Rating Universally praised for packing more functionality into each megabyte than any other distro, Puppy Linux is the favorite in head to head comparisons of lightweight distros on ZDNet, Tuxmachines, and On Becoming a Penguin. A download of around 100 MB that includes everything you’re likely to need from a distro out of the box, there’s little reason to not start with Puppy and then change to one of the other two below if you find it does not meet your needs.
Pros: Puppy is the smallest distro on this list, but still packs as much software as the biggest. Unlike other lightweight distros, Puppy has Flash support pre installed and is the only distro here that worked flawlessly as both a frugal install and a live usb. Finally, the most recent release of Puppy is fully compatible with Ubuntu’s massive repository of applications, and future releases will be able to access other repositories, thereby linking Puppy to the vast plethora of software available to other Linux distros.
Cons: Reviewer Darnell Anderson expresses concern that Puppy Linux might not be a good choice for “mom and pop” users. Other reviews point to some minor challenges with limited power management and concerns at being a single user distro (so you are always logged in as “root”) but remain ultimately positive. Firefox 3 can be unstable when using both Flash and Java,
but this has apparently been a problem in other distros as well, and Puppy’s default Mozilla based browser SeaMonkey is no slouch and actually has some advantages over Firefox.
If you find that the most recent release of Puppy Linux does not work on your hardware, try the Retro version or an older release, which is based on older Linux kernels.
Best Debian Based Linux OS for Old Computers: AntiX
Rating If software availability is your top priority for a lightweight distro, then AntiX is your best choice. It’s actually one of two favorite lightweight distros at Eric’s Binary World, which has reviewed a number of them.
Pros: Like Puppy, AntiX comes loaded with an incredible array of lightweight software. Perhaps the biggest advantage of AntiX is the fact that it is Debian based, so it has easy access to the largest wealth of software packages of the three distros.
Cons: At nearly 400 MB, AntiX is the largest download of these three distros, but the short term pain could be worth the advantages in the long run. In addition, I was unable to perform a frugal install on my hard drive, as AntiX insisted on booting from a CD when I restarted.
Another Debian based distro option that passed my seven filters is U Lite, which is based on Ubuntu, uses LXDE and OpenBox instead of fluxbox/icewm. Although it got a fairly positive review from DeviceGuru, I was unable to find any other substantial reviews and therefore am recommending the highly regarded AntiX instead.
Best Ubuntu Based Linux OS for Old Computers: Lubuntu
Rating Ubuntu is actually an outgrowth of Debian, but it has become so popular and its own descendants so pervasive that it’s worth looking at its lightweight varieties separately. With the most recent version of Puppy Linux (“Lupu”) fully compatible with Ubuntu packages, you could just stick with our overall top choice for a lightweight Linux distro. However, if you want something different or that feels a little more like Ubuntu itself, Lubuntu is the way to go.