There are many different free Linux distro's available online, but finding the best Linux for old computer that performs well can be a time consuming task. I have took some of my oldest computers and tested just about every well known Linux distro to make this page as helpful as possible for new Linux users who are interested in finding out what may be the best Linux solution for their old computer.
I should mention that there have already been various articles online were Linux users have provided their own views and suggestions on what they believe to be best Linux for old computers, but I found that most of these reviewers where testing Linux distro's on PC's that had 1GB of RAM and medium to high processors.
I have my own personal problem with this (mostly due to my geeky nature) but also because I really wanted to see if I could find a targeted group of Linux distro's that I could use on a couple of complete crap-dinosaur computers I had lying around.
After visiting many different linux sites and comparing each distro's recommended system requirements, I compiled a lengthy list of the best Linux for old computers I could find. Afterwards, I tested out each distro to see how well they performed on my old PC's with very limited hardware.
In my experiment I used three very old computers -- one being a Desktop with 64mb of RAM, another being a Desktop 128mb of RAM, and the last being a Laptop with 256mb of RAM.
The following Linux distro's I have listed below are the one's that performed the best during my test.
Best Linux For Old Computer #1 - Puppy Linux
Lucid Puppy 5.2.8 Screenshot
Puppy Linux has already been mentioned more times than I can think of online. If you Google the best Linux for old computers, you will probably find Puppy Linux to be mentioned in someone's review or brought up in discussion at least once.
After trying out more Linux distro's then I can count twice over again on both hands -- and distro's that were geared more toward my old computers specs, I have to say that 99% of the Linux distro's I tried in my experiment didn't perform as well or offer as much for the user as Puppy Linux. Obviously other (more heavyweight) distro's would have competed better against Puppy Linux if I had been using computers equipped with more RAM and larger processors. But testing these distro's on higher spec computers would of defeated the purpose of this article. At the time of writing this, I was only interested in distro's that I could get to run on my really old computers with limited RAM.
Most of the other Linux distro's I tried were still in need of some bug fixes, and just wouldn't run very stable or perform very well at all with the low computer specs and hardware I was using.
In terms of the more complete linux distro's that I tested, I feel that Puppy Linux was the best. And after using Gparted to partition my hard drive, I was able to easily install Puppy Linux without headaches, by using the easy to follow install wizard it comes equipped with.
Puppy Linux has a lot of good things going for it that make it very beneficial to new comers to linux. One, being a easy to use, somewhat-like windows interface. Two, being a install wizard that holds your hand through the installation process (perfect for noobs wishing to install Puppy on their hard drive). And three, being that a person could find plenty of info online about Puppy Linux in case they were to come across any unforeseen problems.
How well did Puppy Linux hold up on my really old computer with only 64mb of RAM?
Amazingly, Puppy booted up and ran OK for the hardware it had to work with. It exceeded my expectations with such low system specs. But it wasn't perfect. I wouldn't recommend using it on computer with only 64mb of RAM - Update the RAM then give it a try to get better performance.
Obviously, with such limited RAM to spare, I noticed some hang ups and freezes while trying to use simple everyday task and functions. None the less, I'm a bit amazed that Puppy could run on this dinosaur aged computer at all since it had such low system specs.
How well did puppy Linux hold on my next old computer with only 128mb of RAM?
Surprising, Puppy did pretty well on 128mb of RAM. The 128mb computer I tested it on ran Puppy pretty well. I didn't think a small 64mb increase in RAM would affect the performance too much, however it noticeably did. Although Puppy didn't run perfect, it still ran better then just about every Linux distro I tried on a computer with only 128mb of RAM.
How well did Puppy Linux run on an old computer with only 256mb of RAM?
With only 256mb of RAM Puppy Linux ran extraordinary well, and I couldn't say the same for a lot of the other Linux distro's I tried. There were a few hang ups, but this is only expected on a machine as old as this. I made the decision to put Puppy on this machine as the primary operating system because it ran so well.
If Puppy Linux isn't one of the best Linux for old computers (and beginners), then honestly I don't know what is.
There is a Slacko version of Puppy Linux and Precise Puppy Linux and a Lucid Puppy Linux. So far out of three, I personally feel Lucid Puppy is the best and recommending giving it a try.
RAM Recommendation: Preferably 256mb of RAM or higher. 128mb is fine, but you'll eventually want to upgrade your RAM to take full advantage of Puppy's speed and usability.
Best Linux For Old Computer #2 - AntiX
I tested AntiX on all three of the old computers mentioned above (64mb, 128mb, and 256mb) and AntiX performed pretty close to the same as Puppy Linux did on all three machines.
Though, AntiX ran as good as Puppy Linux, it took a little more getting use to it's menu's and navigation then Puppy's -- and I didn't think AntiX looked as good, (my own personal taste) but none the less, it was an excellent Linux distro.
AntiX is the only other Linux distro that I could find (excluding the well known Damn Small Linux) that ran as good as Puppy Linux on my old machines. That doesn't mean you shouldn't give other linux distro's a try, but I do recommend trying AntiX if you haven't already and have a old crap computer that you would like to test it on.
AntiX was able to boot on three of the computers I tested with 64mb, 128mb, and 256mb of RAM. Obviously it ran the smoothest on the computer that was equipped with 256mb of RAM, and it ran fine on my 128mb equipped computer. When I tried it on my computer with 64mb of RAM, it surprisingly ran okay, though I did experience multiple hang-ups and lag time when performing certain task. I'm surprised it was able to run on this machine at all do to it's lack of hardware.
AntiX is definitely one of the best linux distro's for old computers. RAM Recommendation: 128mb of RAM or higher. Preferably 256mb or more. 64mb still operable, but lagging.
Best Linux For Old Computer #3 - Slax
Slax 7.0 Screenshot
The first time that I booted up Slax and the desktop loaded up, I knew I was in for a treat.
Slax is by far one of the best looking light weight Linux distro's that I have seen that doesn't require a large amount of RAM to run stable on. You can see that it's developer took a lot of care in developing it and making it highly polished, professional, and stable distribution.
If I had to pick the best looking Linux distro for old computers out of all the Linux distro's I have discussed here, then Slax would definitely be one of them.
I was surprised how professional Slax looked, and how well it ran on the old computer I had that only had 256mb of RAM. I did experience some very minor lag though, but this usually only happened when I was browsing online and performing more than one task. However, I should mention that I was using the most current version of Slax, which is Slax 7 at the time of writing this, (it's possible that earlier versions of Slax - like Slax 5 - may run better on 256mbs of RAM - you'll have to test his out yourself though, as I could be wrong.
I couldn't get Slax to run well enough on my 64mb and 128mb computers, but both of them did boot up without any problems, which quite frankly I didn't expect to happen, but lag times while doing certain task were starting to become somewhat of a nuisance. I felt pretty let down when I couldn't get Slax to fully perform on my 128mb's PC , but I was shooting for the impossible with such limited specs.
Slax is my most favorite light weight distro to date. It looks the best. It has a very easy to understand user interface (easy to use / as in somewhat like windows) and run's pretty quickly. I ended up liking Slax so much, that I updated my 256mb computer with 512mb of RAM (which is it's maximum) and it ran beautifully. Slax will be on this computer permanently now because it is one of my favorite Linux distro's.
Out of all the lightweight distro's I tried, Slax impressed me the most. However, it obviously isn't the best solution for computers with extremely low RAM. I recommend 256mb at the lowest,(expect a bit of minor lag during some task) 512mb or more preferably.
If you got the extra bit of RAM, try Slax. I guaranteed you won't be disappointed, and it's stability and professional style will surprise you. Not only that, but Slax gives you the impression of having a high quality expensive operating system installed on your machine -- which is feat that a lot of lightweight distro's have yet to accomplish.
Slax is definitely one of the best Linux for old computers - if not the best - if you have 256mb or RAM or more. I could go on all day about it, but I'll save my breath and just let you check it out!
RAM Recommendation: 256mb of RAM OK (may experience a little lag) / 512mb of RAM or higher preferred.
Best Linux For Old Computer #4 - Slitaz
Slitaz 4.0 Screenshot
One look at Slitaz and it may not seem like everyone's cup of Joe. The dark orange and black desktop may not look like the most welcoming choice of wallpaper. But don't let the lack of visual appeal influence your decision. It has a lot of snap and is a very good Linux distro that I can't wait to see future releases of.
Slitaz is one of the most smallest Linux distro's you can find. The distro seems to be focused around with speed and minimalist in mind. I tried Slitaz on my old computer that ran 256mb of RAM and I was completely surprised how extremely fast it was.
Though I did face a problem while using Slitaz. My browser would crash sometimes while using Firefox, but I expect this to be because of the low amount of RAM I was using or a bug that has yet to be fixed. Most likely the RAM. I didn't have a chance to test it Chrome, which I imagine would run somewhat better since Chrome is more light weight than Firefox.
Another problem I faced is when I tried to get Slitaz to boot on my 64mb and 128mb machines. It failed to load correctly and stall at boot. If it wasn't because of these issues, Slitaz would have been placed higher on my list, because of it's tiny size, and how quickly it ran on one of machines with such limited hardware.
Unfortunately, since Slitaz hasn't been around that long, there isn't that much support online for it, and I found that some other users were having the same problems getting it to boot up on their machines. Because of this issue, it just couldn't make the top two in my list which is real shame. I really like this distro. However, just because Slitaz has a few problems, doesn't mean you shouldn't try it at least. If you can get it to boot on your machine, then it will probably be one of the fastest Linux distro's you can use on your computer and you won't be disappointed.
Despite a few problems that leave room for improvement, Slitaz is one of the best linux for old computers.
RAM Recommendation: 256mb of RAM or higher. I couldn't get it to run properly on my 128mb and 64mb RAM based computers, but I don't think this had to do with the RAM and it was more then likely caused by some other conflict/issue.
Best Linux For Old Computer #5 - BrowserLinux
BrowserLinux originated from Puppy Linux, was developed by it's developer as extreme lightweight (puplet) or linux distro. It doesn't have all the excess programs and whatnot that Puppy has. Instead it is a really small distro that focuses only on linux system that allows you to browse on the web.
This distro booted on all three of my old computers, but ran the best on my computer with 128mb of RAM, and laptop with 256mb of RAM. This is a very excellent linux for those looking for a distro without all the fluff, bells, and whistles, that simply allows them to browse online. There are two versions to select from that I tested. One was equipped with Firefox and the other was equipped with Google Chrome. It seems that based on my own testing that, Google Chrome has became the faster browser over the past year, so I recommend giving the version that includes Google Chrome a try if you are wanting the ultimate lightweight and speed performance.
BrowserLinux is one of my favorite little distro's . I installed it on my jump drive -- which I pack around with me, in case I ever need a quick little operating system solution to get online with. Kudos to the people that made this. It gets the job done and serves it's purpose very well!
It's definitely one of the best linux for old computers if all you're really needing is a simple O.S. that will allow you to boot up your computer and browse online.
RAM Recommendation:128mb or higher (preferably 256mb or higher)
Best Linux For Old Computer - Honorable Mentions
Damn Small Linux
Vector Linux LITE
Do you know of a Linux distro that you think belongs here or is worth mentioning? If you do, then please leave your comments below.