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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

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.

fig2-lxle-distro

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

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 (arm.slitaz.org).

  • nlvivar Said:

    The best one in my opinion is Crunchbang: http://crunchbang.org/ 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.

  • EvanEvans Said:

    Linux is a lot better than Windows in a lot of ways. That being said, Xubuntu is my preferred flavor of Linux. Fast and lightweight, I've moved over 30 customers to Xubuntu Linux this year with the death of XP. It is also my preferred distro because of its speed.

  • Tonny Said:

    Running Xubuntu on my ThinkPadT42 and it's super slow :/ I need something even lighter. Laptop is old and has 1.6GHz processor and 1GB RAM. Ubuntu was worting on this laptop without problems but latest 12.04.5 LTS is really heavy for my laptop.

  • 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 -- http://antix.mepis.org/index.php?title=Main_Page -- 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.

  • Grant Said:

    For linux mint they do have a XFCE version which is lighter than their other versions like cinnamon. Check Mint's download page. There's another Linux distro called Zorin Lite and Zorin Educational Lite, but both are 32 bit. Zorin does have other versions that are 64 bit. I do enjoy Zorin Lite on my netbook.

  • 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..

  • ScrappyLaptop Said:

    And if you want to try something a little different (or need a bulletproof solution for grandma & kids), try Ubermix Linux. It's a distro created by California school teachers. Originally intended for re-purposed netbooks, it's highly optimized for failure recovery, ssd's and minimal hardware. If you "over-optimize" (ie screw up) the read-write User partition, a reboot selection refreshes it back to stock. The distro is also optimized for SSD's (or in my case, an HP 3115 w/ ssd-to-sata adapter & a cheap eBay 16 GB 'msata' ssd resulting in 8-10 hrs of battery life on an E300 w/ 8GB ram). The default install applications are ostensibly geared toward education (and a lot of fun for techie grownups, too), but include the expected basics of (libre) office, firefox/chrome, programming, sound, video, etc.. Remixing the read only 'system' & master/restore user partitions is quite easy, btw, as are updates.

  • RTK Said:

    Hi, thanks for the list, but I am trying to get Linux to work on a Centrino / Pentium M HP Pavilion dv 1000 series laptop. Unfortunately, PAE is disabled on the Pentium M, and so newer and supported Ubuntu and Debian based distros don't work without forcing a parameter in the kernel which the distros don't like and don't want. The machine has 1 g of ram, and it is from around 2003. Any suggestions? The distro doesn't have to be too light, but it's got to run on that darned Centrino. Has anybody had any luck with this kind of problem?

  • Chuck Said:

    Have a look at SolydX linux. Similar to linux mint xfce but will work with non-pae processors.

  • cybersleuth Said:

    No mention of tinycore linux, the smallest distro is 9mb I think, I remaster all my versions linux, [mainly puppy] am tweaking a snowpuppy at present. Am from windows environment myself, so wine + dosbox are essential addons. There are a myriad of 'small' distros out there, too many to mention here, I try all of them at one point or another, proteus ay? I'll give it a try, ta for the informative read people.

  • ScrappyLaptop Said:

    I ran into that with an older...(T40? maybe?) laptop. Misc findings: Mint: http://www.linuxmint.com/rel_qiana_cinnamon.php (& I think there's a 'regular' Mint-Debian version that works) Linux Lite (supported to 2017, but this version *only* is nonPAE): http://sourceforge.net/projects/linuxlite/files/1.0.0/beta2_nonpae/ How to force Lubuntu (& derivatives) 14.04 to load a non-PAE kernel: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/PAE "A number of older Pentium M processors produced around 2003-4 (the Banias family) do not display the PAE flag, and hence a normal installation fails. However, these processors are in fact able to run the latest (and PAE-demanding) kernels if only the installation process is modified a little. The problem is not missing PAE, it's about the processor not displaying its full capabilities. Pentium M's of the Dothan family display the PAE flag correctly and support the latest Buntus without modifications. The same distinction (Banias versus Dothan) goes for the lower performing Celeron M processors. "

  • cybersleuth Said:

    I have seamonkey running on a transmeta TM5800@1Ghz clock speed. This chip has a software layer to 'convert' x86 mnemonics to its' own dialect, I must say it is an EXTREMELY problematic pig of a chip, but I appear to be able to source these boxes for free, so I've had to come to terms with it. I had freedos on it before this, and svga / sound / memory management was problematic to say the least. I am, by the way, a member of KolibriOS.org, and a realmode assembler.....

  • ferran Said:

    Hi, I use awbian (http://awbian.com) is a Lightweight gnu/linux distro based on Awesome window manager. Thanks

  • svgt Said:

    Hi, ever since three years I hope for a Linux distro running on my netbook HP Compaq AirLife 100. Inside is a ARMV7 snapdragon QSD8250 cpu. But I had never found a serious candidate.

  • cybersleuth Said:

    I was given a raspberry PI, what a hunk of JUNK with a capital J!!. God damn it, if this is where computing is headed then we are all in TROUBLE. It too, is an ARM processor, I found that there is a dearth of operating systems, it stutters with video / sound, and since I have so many issues with this type of crapware, it is now gone, junked into the bin. For god-sakes, keep at least one x86 / amd32 / 64 in your inventories, as if they are fazed out for the arm, you'll be sorry. Go back in time to the amiga, and guess what, risc OS ran on the arm, it was always a cobbled cpu, that is why it went so fast, if you read up on the mnemonics it uses, there-in is the problem, just simply NOT up to the task of a serious power-user such as my self. I'd suggest svgt, to junk your laptop, go amd, even if they have an overheating problem,which they do, I have had 3 amds' tell me cpu is over temperature, and in one box the psu caught fire. Never-the-less, I am mostly running amds. damnsmall linux [knoppix] runs on my dell xeon server. I have to say, I have BeOS on a p4, and it blows linux away for speed, boot-up speed, shutdown speed and is FAR more stable. I know it is an old OS, but well worth a try, get the xbeos version, and the PE win95 boot files, cobble the 2 together on hdd, and wah-lah, then you can put the missing stuff into it, ie, software valet, image etc. Just great. That's my own hack of it by the way. cool page, quite a good read.

  • Ratnesh Said:

    I think elementary OS is a good deal, i works great on my old PC, got both look and performance but a bit slow sometime.

  • Dorian Said:

    But very OS X like... For me: Arch+Awesome WM. Fast, stable and solid.

  • penguin2233 Said:

    My personal best is Ubuntu but as Unity(default desktop) is getting worse, I am running XFCE or LXDE. I have it installed on a Acer Travelmate 230(old as) and it works fine.

  • christo Said:

    I had some issues installing Slitaz to hdd on an old PC with 512M ram and DamnSmallLinux development seems halted so I tried Porteus from this list and was very impressed. Thank you

  • jlcolon13 Said:

    This is what makes linux the best damn OS ever, since there is a flavor for everyone. Even Google flavor their Android; and Apple incorporated in the X and Windows still copies its features. But for windows (not 8) replacement best is one that mimic it's desktop, highend system = KDE, lowend = LXDE, otherwise choice is endless.

  • Josh Said:

    If you are a power-user, why the hell are you using a hobbyist mini-computer, it's designed to do small jobs, like control a set of motors, host your grandmothers website, cache your internet traffic or play music in the living room. I didn't read half the shit you wrote because it's unbearable to read, but what I gather, you're using the wrong devices for the wrong jobs. There is nothing wrong with ARM, there are some high spec processors available. But they are geared towards lower power tiny form-factor devices like phones and tablets. They will never be as powerful as a desktop because that is not the market they're targeted towards, we already have desktops for that. I also can't believe you mentioned Windows 95 at all, that is a terrible system, and boot files? How old is your system? You also compared a Pentium 4 to a Raspberry PI. What?? But cool comment, good read.

  • Sebastien Said:

    Best distro ??! WTF ? There is no best distro in linux, there only the needs you have Eyecandy ? go ubuntu or EOS Performance ? Go Archlinux Stabilitty ? Go Debian Et caetera Talking about best distro is a stupid fuckin' troll and doen't help people to free themselves from W$ or Apple...

  • cybersleuth Said:

    howdi, I was given the pi by a mate who wanted me to program it up to be a box under the tv that does all multimedia, both hardware ie disks / cards and streaming.....I'm an assembler programer and he thought I might like to have a crack with the pi, view to forming a company....this fellow I talk of, wired the space shuttle, the polaris missile and the trident submarine to name a couple of his accomplishments. I'm sorry my post was not up the right alley.....I like that you commented, I was perhaps not too clear, I am a member of KolibriOS.org, I run in house, winxp, only for orion studio [am a songwriter], linux versions I write and modify myself, and BeOS which I have got running on P4 hardware. I agree, there is NO best linux, I have a large repository of various flavours, anyway...cool chattin' with you....

  • truongthx Said:

    Hi, I am a newbie in using linux. However, I would like to setup a small linux system which can run NetBean, jdk8 and MPLabX. Those things support linux, but I don't know whether I can install them on any linux based system. So, any recommendations can be appreciated.

  • Rodrigo Said:

    I will try Archlinux soon, I'm sick of Linuxmint because my laptop heats to much!

  • JoeCool Said:

    I am brand new to Linus and fairly new to computers in general. I have tried Ubuntu on a live flash drive, but am looking for the fastest Linux i can find. I've read most of the posts here and will take a look at several that you've mentioned, but I'd like to here if you had any specific flavors that come to mind.


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