Best Linux distributions to revive an ancient laptop

If you have an old laptop gathering dust, many lightweight Linux distributions can make it functional again.

While many older laptops can still run Windows 10, Microsoft’s latest operating system comes with more demanding hardware requirements.

Windows 11’s minimum requirements include a version 2.0 trusted platform module (TPM), 4 GB RAM, 64 GB storage, and a dual-core processor.

Microsoft’s TPM 2.0 requirement is controversial as it limits Windows 11 to devices with processors newer than Intel’s 8th generation and AMD’s Ryzen 2000 series.

Intel released its 8th generation processors in 2017, and AMD launched the Ryzen 2000 series in 2018.

If your old laptop does not meet Windows 11’s requirements and struggles to run Windows 8.1 or 10, a Linux-based operating system could give it a new lease on life.

A Linux distribution (distro) is an operating system based on the Linux kernel.

Operating systems require many programs other than the kernel to be functional, and Linux distributions typically rely on tools released by the GNU Project.

GNU founder Richard Stallman has long contended that Linux distros should be referred to as GNU/Linux systems.

However, his suggestion never caught on, and “Linux” remains the widely-used shorthand for these operating systems.

Linux distros are attractive because they are free to use, open-source, and often have lower hardware requirements.

Many Linux distros also allow users to preview the operating system by booting it from a USB drive before committing to installing it.

Here are some of the most lightweight Linux distributions that could breathe life into even some of the oldest laptops.

Linux Lite

Linux Lite user interface (click to enlarge)

Linux Lite is ideal for users transitioning from Windows since it includes a similar desktop environment and familiar applications like Skype.

The development team behind Linux Lite boasts that no additional software is required after your initial installation.

Some pre-installed applications include Firefox, VLC media player, GIMP, and LibreOffice.

Linux Lite is based on Ubuntu, which is based on Debian, and uses a customised Xfce desktop environment.

If your laptop’s processor runs above 700 MHz, has 512 MB RAM, and has 5 GB of storage capacity, it can run Linux Lite.

Puppy Linux

Puppy Linux user interface (click to enlarge)

Puppy Linux is unique because it is a collection of multiple Linux distributions.

Since Puppy Linux is not a single operating system, the minimum requirements can vary depending on which distro you install.

Some of the default applications that come with Puppy Linux distros include AbiWord, VLC media player, and Firefox.

If your laptop has a 1 GHz processor, 512 MB of RAM, and 8 GB of storage, it should run most versions without any problems.

TinyCore Linux

TinyCore Linux user interface (click to enlarge)

TinyCore is the least demanding Linux distribution on this list and can run inside a device’s RAM.

The entire distro is only 16 MB and comes in an even smaller variation, Core, at 11 MB.

While this operating system is extremely lightweight, it is also very barebones and is therefore not recommended to the average laptop user.

“It represents only the core needed to boot into a very minimal X desktop typically with wired internet access,” the Core team said.

While it does not include a browser or word processor, you can install additional software using the command-line interface.

Tiny Core’s minimum system requirements are 46 MB of RAM and an Intel i486DX processor.

Considering Intel’s i486DX chip was launched in 1989, it is fair to say that any modern computer can run Tiny Core.


antiX Linux user interface (click to enlarge)

antiX is a Linux distribution based on Debian Stable.

The full distro is 1.4 GB, with a “base” version at just over 800 MB. The basic “core” version is 440 MB but includes fewer pre-installed applications.

Another reason some consider antiX less demanding than other Linux distributions is that it does not rely on systemd as its system and service manager but uses sysVinit or runit instead.

The minimum requirements to run antiX are a single-core 1.3 GHz processor, 256 MB RAM, and 5 GB storage.

Zorin OS Lite

Zorin OS Lite user interface (click to enlarge)

If you favour functionality but still want a good-looking Windows-like operating system, Zorin OS Lite is an excellent choice.

However, Zorin is the most demanding of the operating systems listed here.

Zorin OS Lite is based on Ubuntu but does not use the GNOME desktop environment — which has been criticised for becoming increasingly bloated and resource-intensive.

Instead, it uses the Xfce desktop environment.

The minimum specifications your laptop needs to run this Linux distro is a 1 GHz processor, 1 GB RAM, and 10 GB storage.

Bodhi Linux

Bodhi Linux user interface (click to enlarge)

Bodhi Linux uses the Mokshah Desktop graphical user interface, and the 64-bit version is built on Ubuntu 20.04.

The 32-bit version is based on Ubuntu 18.04 and can run on processors older than Intel’s Pentium II, which launched in 1997.

Bodhi Linux’s minimum system requirements are a 500 MHz processor, 512 MB of RAM, and 5 GB of storage.

The team behind Bodhi has explained that although the recommended amount of RAM is 1 GB, the installer will still run on 512 MB, albeit slower.

Now read: Old iPads could soon run Linux

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Best Linux distributions to revive an ancient laptop