5 Linux distributions that will breathe new life into old hardware
If the hardware is long out of warranty, and the operating system that came with it stopped receiving security patches years ago, is there anything useful that can be done with the old computer? Install a version of Linux on it aimed at older, low-power hardware.
HowToGeek recommends five “lite” distributions for general use. For the tests, we used the oldest equipment that was at hand, namely Dell OptiPlex 790.
OptiPlex 790 was released in 2011. It has a 500GB hard drive, 4GB of RAM, and a quad-core Intel i3 processor clocked at 3.3GHz.
Each distribution was installed in turn. All available updates have been applied and all post-installation setup steps have been completed.
For many people, Linux Lite is probably the first distro that comes to mind when they think of lightweight Linux distributions.
Minimum specifications for Linux Lite: 1 GHz processor, 2 or more cores, 768 MB RAM and 8 GB hard disk. It is based on the latest long-term support (LTS) release of Ubuntu, which is 22.04, Jammy Jellyfish.
Linux Lite aims to support Linux beginners and Windows migrants. It follows Ubuntu’s philosophy of providing all the standard software that experts believe a user needs. Because of this, the download file is 2.4GB in size.
Most lightweight distributions achieve their lightness by abandoning GNOME or KDE and using an alternative desktop environment. Linux lite uses a customized version of the Xfce desktop and the xfwm4 window manager.
A clear and modern desktop is convenient. All the usual software was pre-installed, including Thunderbird, GIMP, VLC Media Player and LibreOffice.
Timing Linux Lite
- Power button to login screen: 1:04.
- Desktop login screen: 0:14.
Bodhi Linux was launched back in 2011. Like Linux Lite, it is built on the latest version of Ubuntu LTS – Jammy Jellyfish.
Previously, the focus was on providing easy distribution. The installation provided only the essentials, other applications were installed by the end user at their discretion. You can now download several different ISOs. One of them is the App Pack ISO.
For the test, a standard ISO was downloaded, which is a minimalistic version of Bodhi Linux. It was a 1.2GB download.
Minimum specifications: 1 GHz processor, 768 MB RAM and 10 GB hard drive.
Bodhi Linux uses the Moksha desktop and window manager.
It is based on the Enlightenment desktop environment and looks bright and polished. Moksha has the equivalent of a Start button at the left end of the taskbar, where Windows users can easily find it.
It was a simple matter of using the apt command to install additional programs. Interestingly, Neofetch identified the OS as Ubuntu.
Timing Bodhi Linux
- Power button to login screen: 0:43.
- Desktop login screen: 0:08.
The BunsenLabs Linux distribution emerged after the closure of CrunchBang Linux in 2015.
For its desktop, BunsenLabs Linux uses a customized Openbox window manager with the tint2 panel configured as the taskbar and a system menu courtesy of the jgmenu tool. This may sound complicated, but it provides a stable and resource-friendly interface and makes BunsenLabs easy to use.
Installed the latest version of Beryllium, which is based on the stable version of Debian 11 Bullseye. It was a 1.5GB download.
Minimum requirements: 2 GB of RAM and 20 GB of hard disk. There are no processor requirements listed.
Don’t be put off by the hideous gray default desktop background, it’s easy to change. Icons, color schemes, and other desktop elements are easy to customize.
A Conky system monitor is provided, which provides useful system statistics and reminds you of some key combinations.
In use, the BunsenLabs Linux desktop was impressively fast, despite the hardware, and intuitive. This is a distribution best suited for those who have at least a little understanding of Linux.
BunsenLabs Linux Timing
- Power button to login screen: 0:46.
- Desktop login screen: 0:10.
Q4OS is a Linux distribution. The latest version of Q4OS Aquarius is based on Debian Linux 12.2 Bookworm.
Q4OS is available with the Plasma desktop or its own Trinity desktop environment, which started as a fork of KDE version 3.
Minimum hardware requirements: 350 MHz CPU, only 256 MB RAM and 3 GB disk. The downloaded file was 1.1 GB in size.
The Trinity desktop is somewhat retro. It’s perfect for maintenance, seems fast, but looks like a computer of yesteryear: reminiscent of SUN workstations from the mid-1980s.
The system menu is accessed from the left edge of the taskbar at the bottom of the screen. Q4OS comes preloaded with packages such as VLC Media Player, Thunderbird and LibreOffice.
It’s amazing to look at, but surprisingly pleasant to use. Since it is based on Debian, you get a stable and well-maintained installation. Debian inside Q4OS is not muffled by obfuscation layers. Neofetch identifies Q4OS as Debian.
- Power button to login screen: 0:58.
- Desktop login screen: 0:16.
Xubuntu is an official version of Ubuntu that uses the Xfce desktop environment and the xfwm4 window manager, just like Linux Lite. It is based on the latest version of Ubuntu LTS 22.04, Jammy Jellyfish.
Xubuntu provides the full Ubuntu treatment, but with a lighter desktop. Minimum requirements: 1 GB RAM and 8.6 GB hard drive.
You get all the packages you’d expect to get with a regular Ubuntu installation, so it’s no surprise that the 2.83GB file is downloaded. It has all the features and instructions you get from regular Ubuntu, so it’s more accessible to beginners than, say, BunsenLabs Linux.
Xubuntu took a relatively long time to boot, but was as straightforward to use as other distros tested.
All five of them were limited by the bandwidth of the old OptiPlex physical drive, but before these understandable delays, Xubuntu provided as smooth a performance as any other distro.
- Power button to login screen: 1:34.
- Desktop login screen: 0:11.
Extending the service life of old equipment has a positive environmental impact.
As a reminder, support for Windows 10 will end in 2025, which has forced many Windows users to replace hardware that cannot run Windows 11. It is predicted that 240 million PCs and laptops may end up in the trash as a result.
According to HowToGeek, it would be better for the planet to modify these devices and install Linux on them.
Read also on ProIT: Linux will get “blue screens of death” like Windows.
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