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6 Excellent Lightweight Linux Distros for x86 and ARM

Presenting a nice assortment of lightweight yet fully-functional Linux distros for all occasions. All of these are full distros that do not depend on cloud services; four for x86 and two, count 'em, two for ARM hardware.

Elementary OS

Elementary OS is a beautiful, fast, lightweight Linux for 32- and 64-bit x86. It is built on an Ubuntu core, and Elementary's desktop environment, Pantheon, started out with some stripped-down GNOME 2 elements. But it is more than an Ubuntu respin or GNOME fork-- a lot of custom development goes into Elementary OS, including apps and its development toolkit.

 fig1-elementary os distro

A significant aspect of Elementary OS is the inclusion of accessibility features for hearing, sight, and motor-impaired users. The state of accessibility technologies in Linux is far behind where they should be, so it's encouraging to see a distro building them into its core system. Elementary OS has a bit of a Mac-like feel with a sleek, elegant appearance, subtle highlighting cues, minimal clicks to get from one place to another, and lots of useful super key shortcuts. I expect that even inexperienced Linux users could start using Elementary OS and be productive with just a little bit of poking around.

There is currently $5,755 of cash bounties available for bug-fixing some applications and base libraries. If you can't code, putting a few bucks in the bounty kitty is a great way to support Elementary OS.


LXLE takes Lubuntu LTS (long-term support), customizes the LXDE desktop, adds proprietary codecs and drivers and a thoughtful selection of default applications, and advertises it as a drop-in replacement for Windows. Me, I think anything is a good replacement for Windows, including an Etch-a-Sketch. But LXLE (Lubuntu eXtra Life Extension) really is an excellent choice for users who want to swap Linux for Windows.


LXLE is not amazing new revolutionary technology, but rather an excellently-crafted and refined enhancement of Lubuntu 12.04 and 14.04. The last 5 percent is the hardest, and LXLE goes all the way and finishes that last 5 percent. Installation is fast and simple, and it boots up very quickly. LXLE has five desktop looks to choose from: Unity, Windows XP, GNOME 2, Mac OS X and Netbook. Its most fun feature for me is the 100+ included beautiful wallpapers, and the Random Wallpaper button to cycle them automatically. Windows refugees, or any casual user, will find their way around easily. It also includes the full capabilities of Linux for power users. That is why I love Linux: we can have it all. (32- and 64-bit x86)

Arch Linux ARM

arch linux logoArch Linux is the choice of fine nerds everywhere who want a simple yet versatile, up-to-date, lightweight rolling distribution. Arch calls itself simple because it comes with a minimum of bells and whistles, and is for users who want maximum control of their systems with no backtalk from "helpful" utilities.

Arch supports x86, and also has an excellent ARM port. ARM devices are everywhere thanks to single-board computers like Raspberry Pi, Beagleboard, and Arduino, smartphones, tablets, and netbooks like the Samsung Chromebook. Arch is extremely customizable, so you can pare it down to fit even the smallest SBC and make it into a router, a special-purpose server, or even a tiny but useful portable desktop computer. Just like x86 Arch, ARM Arch is well-documented and has active community support.

Point Linux

Point Linux is a baby, barely a year old. It is based on Debian 7 and the MATE desktop, which was originally forked from GNOME 2. So it has a traditional system menu and panels-- nice and clean, and everything easy to find with no dancing icons, no hidden things that appear only when you luck out and hover your cursor over the exactly correct spot, and virtual desktops that stay put. It runs well on old feeble hardware, and comes with a good basic selection of applications. Point Linux is based in Russia, and has good comprehensive localization. If you miss the Ubuntu of old, when it had the best GNOME 2 implementation of any distro, then you might like Point Linux. (32- and 64-bit x86)

pointlinux distro


Porteus was originally named Slax Remix. Porteus is a combination of "portability" and "Proteus", the god of the sea who could change his form. This is a reference to Porteus' flexibility; it weighs in at less than 300MB, and is optimized to run from a USB stick, CD, Compact Flash, or hard disk. It's a great way to get a prefab version of Slackware all ready to go to work.

fig5 porteus

You get a choice of five, count 'em, five desktop environments: KDE4, Razor, LXDE, MATE, or Xfce. Porteus includes a package manager, so you can install and remove packages to your heart's content. In my un-humble opinion it is the best portable Linux.

Fedora ARM

Fedora's ARM port has finally been promoted to primary architecture status, as of the Fedora 20 release in December 2013. This is a significant step because it now gets equal priority with the x86 releases, and no packages are pushed into repositories if they fail to build. In typical Fedora fashion, ARM support is broad and pushes into the bleeding edge with support for 64-bit ARM, all the popular ARM SBCs, and a nice selection of unofficial remixes for unsupported devices including the Samsung Chromebook. Which I keep mentioning because it looks like a perfect travel notebook once you clear the Google gunk off and install a good proper Linux on it. Visit the Fedora ARM wiki page to learn everything.

fig6 fedora unity desktop




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  • jymm Said:

    That is only your opinion. I disagree. I have been using Point for over a year and I would call it the best OS I have every used. Great replacement for XP. I have it on a 12 year old PC that originally had XP on it and it runs great, better than XP ever did.

  • anthony Said:

    One of my favorite lightweight distros is Slitaz. The x86 install image is only 30MB in size, which then expands out to ~300MB (base install). It is built from scratch, and has a custom GUI built on top of openbox. I currently have it installed on an Asus Eee PC 900--the Xandros edition, with the original 4GB IDE SSD and the RAM maxed out at 2GB. It boots quickly, is more responsive than anything else I've tried, and if I don't use a swap partition there is still ~3.7GB of usable space left without having to add an SD card. There is also an ARM port. I haven't tried it, but it runs on the raspberry pi (

  • nlvivar Said:

    The best one in my opinion is Crunchbang: But I don't think it has ARM support.

  • azimir Said:

    I've been living on Crunchbang for a couple years now and I find it perfectly functional for a desktop Linux system. It does very well on old x86 netbooks and those old towers everyone has floating around. Sadly, there's no ARM version for those Chromebooks and RPi users.

  • dwss5 Said:

    I agree with nlvivar about Crunchbang as one of the better lightweight distros. A CB-similar distro is MicroWatt. They are similar to one another in that they're both based upon Debian and they both have the lightweight Openbox window manager. In my opinion, though, a possible nitpic for n00bs is the seeming difficulty of having Openbox show desktop icons as do MATE, LXDE and the GNOMEs. If Debian itself could slim down the MATE beta, then we'd have the best worlds of an easy-to-use desktop (with desktop icons) plus a great base distro!

  • Saul Nunez Said:

    The only distro here I can say it works for me is Elementary, is simple and fast.

  • Dinos Said:

    Can we talk about this? I am currently running elementary 0.2 on my laptop (HP Pavilion dv7) and would like to find ways to make it faster.

  • L501X Said:

    ManjaroLinux OpenBox is the best in terms of lightweight distro. New linux users (migrating from windows) who feel a bit daunting to go with Arch in the beginning can install Manjaro. Its simple to install, fast and very much customizable.

  • L501X Said:

    ManjaroLinux OpenBox is the best in terms of lightweight distro. New linux users (migrating from windows) who feel a bit daunting to go with Arch in the beginning can install Manjaro. Its simple to install, fast and very much customizable.

  • Ari Torres Said:

    article is about right on eOS (elementary) is the best distro i have come across in years,linux lite and porteous are also light and fast but eOS has the beauty in it and modern look :)

  • sotmo Said:

    I've tried Ubuntu, ManjaroLinux, Lubuntu, Linux Deepin and eOs; and Elementary Os is the fastest for me. Followed by Manjaro and Lubuntu. Linux Deepin is really heavy.

  • enzzo Said:

    Elementary? WTF? LXLE? What's the difference between Lubuntu and LXLE? Gentoo have awesome support to ARM and also have a good documentation(maybe better then arch). An advantage of Gentoo is that you compile packages, optimized for your ARM.

  • Jens Staal Said:

    One addition to the list that I would do is the Alpine linux distribution. It is very Arch-like but musl libc and busybox- based.

  • archuser Said:

    I use archlinux with no DE, works very fast.

  • Travis Said:

    Xubuntu is the best. You get a Debian based distribution that supports .deb packages, and the frequent updates from Ubuntu, with the lightweight Xfce user interface. With a little bit of tweaking, you can make it look like Windows XP, which in main opinion had the best desktop-task bar-start menu functionality.

  • aguador Said:

    I had not heard of Proteus, but in evaluating some possible replacements for XP tested a live version of LXLE that I thnk is an excellent choice for those making the switch -- and I say that as someone who will not personally use Ubuntu-based distributions. LXLE is both polished and surprisingly fast -- and should be even better when LXQt is ready for prime time. I am running Manjaro on a netbook now and like it very much, but it is not for Linux novices or those afraid of tinkering with their systems. For example I have a Brother printer which means no readily available driver in the Manjaro respositories, although one in the AUR that I am trying to figure out how to install correctly. Great distribution, but I wouldn't start someone there. What about Slax itself?

  • Paul Said:

    Debian,.Crunchbang,.Puppy linux,Tails,Slax.....

  • fisheater Said:

    antiX -- -- is excellent on resource-limited PCs, to a point where Puppy steps in as a better alternative, IMHO. #! is ver similar - and both are true Debian based distros, allowing for use of the smxi script to help make post-install tweaks easier. Either.

  • Larry Cafiero Said:

    A glaring omission here, as others have pointed out, is Crunchbang, a Debian-based distro using the Openbox window manager.

  • seeking406 Said:

    I really like the mint 17 i have only been using linux since mint 13 still learning. i like all i get from mint 17 but feel a little bulked up ,it seems pretty heavey but i don't want to lose it. I kept up with nearly everyone of windows from 98se through windows 7, switched over to linux and learning more each day. my question is i want a lite weight os with the freedom of mint 17 is their any such thing.

  • Lucas Zanella Said:

    Pantheon and Gnome in a desktop with less than 1Gb of RAM? Are you sure? I have Xubuntu installed on my mom's old computer and it still runs pretty slow!

  • Jenerwin Salamero Said:

    well i love all this distros..

  • Jenerwin Salamero Said:

    well i love all this distros..

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