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 Going Linux

   for computer users who just want to use Linux to get things done


Choosing a Distribution for an Older Computer

Updated: 20-Apr-2016

We've talked quite a bit, on the podcast, about revitalizing old computers with lightweight Linux distributions. A couple of questions have been raised by our listeners. We address both of them up front in this article, and in episode 297 of the podcast:

  1. What if we ran a lightweight Linux on more modern computer hardware?
  2. When we compare Linux with the operating system that came pre-installed on a computer, shouldn't we be making our comparison that way?
Computer hardware

Why an older computer?

Any self respecting Linux user would agree that the fairest comparison of a modern Linux distribution with other operating systems is on the latest hardware. Linux simply out performs other operating systems in so many ways. The best way to run any modern Linux distribution, lightweight or not, is on new computer hardware. Let's not forget, though, that lightweight distros do extend the life of older hardware -- older hardware that is just too underpowered to run the advanced features of the most demanding software. Another consideration is, that when you buy a new computer with Windows or OSX pre-installed, you have to deal with planned obsolescence, a "feature" that is so common with proprietary software. When you replace that limiting OS with Linux, you will have a powerful, modern computer that can be used, updated and upgraded for years without trouble and without cost. Let's look at what it takes to run a lightweight Linux on a computer you already have, whether it's old or new.

Lightweight Linux distributions

With that in mind, let's consider a few questions you might ask in choosing a lightweight distro: What are the minimum system requirements? Sure, a new computer will meet those requirements, but does my older computer have the horsepower to run Linux? What about ChromeOS? Can I run it, instead? What about Linux distros that look like ChromeOS? Is Unity really as much of a resource hog as it seems from the reviews?

Distribution

Minimum RAM (recommended)

Connectivity

Minimum Storage (recommended)

Minimum CPU (recommended)

Minimum Display Resolution (recommended)

Ubuntu-MATE 15.10
(MATE desktop)

512MB
(2GB)

Wifi (wireless) or Ethernet (wired)

8GB
(16GB)

Pentium III 750-megahertz
(Core 2 Duo 1.6-gigahertz)
PC 32-bit, 64-bit (supports UEFI)
Mac (64-bit & PowerPC)
IBM-PPC ARM
Raspberry Pi 2 aarch32 (ARMv7)

1024x768j
(1366x768)

Xubuntu
(XFCE desktop)

512MB
(1GB)

Wifi (wireless) or Ethernet (wired)

5GB
(20GB)

A PAE Processor

800x600
(1024x768)

Linux Mint 17.3
(Cinnamon or MATE desktop)

512MB
(1GB)

Wifi (wireless) or Ethernet (wired)

9GB
(20GB)

The 64-bit ISO can boot with BIOS or UEFI.
The 32-bit ISO can only boot with BIOS.
The 64-bit ISO is recommend for all modern computers

800x600
(1024x768)

Cub Linux
formerly Chromixium (ChromeOS themed desktop)

512MB
(32-bit: 1GB, 64-bit: 2-3GB)

Wifi (wireless) or Ethernet (wired)

4GB
(8GB)

1GHZ Processor, Intel/AMD (dual core preferred)
32-bit and 64-bit available. 64-bit supports UEFI

800x600
(1024x600)

CloudReady
(ChromeOS desktop)

1GB

Wifi (wireless) or Ethernet (wired)

8GB

Desktops & Laptops: Introduced on or after May 2007
Netbooks: Introduced on or after June 2009

1366x768

Ubuntu 15.10
(Unity desktop)

512MB
(2GB)

Wifi (wireless) or Ethernet (wired)

20GB-44GB
(500GB)

700MHz
PC 32-bit, 64-bit
Mac (PowerPC) and
IBM-PPC ARM

1024x768
(1280x1024)

Conclusions

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