stack of old laptops

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As someone who’s been around the block a few hundred times with technology, one of the things that have always bugged me the most is what is called “planned obsolescence.” What this means is that software and hardware vendors seem to make sure consumers are going to have to eventually purchase new hardware because the software they need won’t run on old systems. 

Consider this: When Microsoft released Windows 11, it became all too clear that a lot of hardware (capable of running the previous iteration) wouldn’t support the new version of Windows. That was problematic (at best) and expensive (at worst). A lot of people wound up having to purchase new systems (if they wanted to stick with Windows). For some, that wasn’t an option, so they had to keep using a Windows operating system that would eventually fall out of support. 

On top of this, several modern operating systems aren’t exactly friendly to older hardware. If you’ve found yourself in such a situation, there’s hope by way of a handful of Linux distributions that have been designed specifically for older hardware. With these operating systems, you can revive old hardware and make it run as though it were new.

Let me introduce you to five such Linux distributions, each of which is perfectly at home on new and older hardware. 

Also: How I revived three ancient computers with ChromeOS Flex

Bodhi Linux

For about five years, Bodhi Linux was my go-to operating system. It’s not just perfectly suited for older hardware, it also offers a unique take on the desktop. The Moksha Desktop is similar to that of Enlightenment (another old-school fav of mine) and includes plenty of features to make it a full-fledged desktop operating system. 

The default Bodhi Linux desktop.

The Bodhi Linux desktop offers a unique way of interacting with your computer.

Image: Jack Wallen

The one caveat to using Bohdi Linux is that you will have to rethink the way you interact with the desktop, as it’s quite different than anything you’re used to. That doesn’t make it challenging (it’s not) but know that Moshka will take a bit of getting used to. 

The recommended system requirements for Bodhi Linux are:

  • 64bit, 1.0GHz processor
  • 768MB of RAM
  • 10GB of drive space

With just a minimal system, you’ll have a desktop computer that not only runs like a champ but looks really cool as it does.

Linux Lite

If you’re looking for a more standard desktop interface, Linux Lite might be just up your alley. Linux Lite uses a custom XFCE desktop environment to create an interface that should be immediately familiar to all user types. 

The default Linux Lite desktop.

The Linux Lite desktop includes all the features to which you’re accustomed.

Image: Jack Wallen

Even better, Linux Lite was designed, from the ground up, to be very user-friendly. So even if you aren’t familiar with Linux, you should be able to get up to speed with the operating system very quickly. Linux Lite comes pre-installed with the Chrome web browser, Thunderbird email client, GIMP image editor, VLC media player, the LibreOffice office suite, and more.  

The minimum system requirements for Linux Lite are:

  • 1 GHz CPU
  • 768 MB RAM (recommended 1 GB)
  • 8 GB of drive space (minimum)

Puppy Linux

Puppy Linux is a bit of an outlier here as it’s not nearly as easy to install as the other distributions. In fact, Puppy Linux is rather challenging on this front, so it’s often best to simply use it as a Live distribution. With that, you can “install” it to a USB flash drive (and even do so with persistent file storage) and boot as needed. With this, you can carry Puppy Linux around with you and boot it on any machine you like, without making a single change to what’s installed on the local drive.

You’ll find more than enough installed software, such as the Palemoon web browser, Claws Mail email client, AbiWord word processor, Gnumeric spreadsheet tool, and plenty more. The Puppy Linux desktop is a bit cluttered but it’s still very straightforward to use.

The default Puppy Linux desktop.

The Puppy Linux default desktop.

Image: Jack Wallen

The minimum system requirements for Puppy Linux are:

  • CPU : Pentium 900 MHz
  • RAM : 300 MB RAM
  • Hard Drive : Optional
  • DVD-ROM : 20x and up or USB

Tiny Core Linux

Tiny Core Linux couldn’t have a more apropos name. It’s small. Very small. Tiny Core is another distribution that you don’t really need to install to your hard drive. You boot it, add only the applications you need (using a GUI installer), and interact with the bare minimum desktop (based on BusyBox and FLTK).

The default Tiny Core desktop.

The Tiny Core Linux default desktop offers side title bars similar to those you can configure with AfterStep.

Image: Jack Wallen

I don’t recommend Tiny Core Linux to those who are new to Linux, as it’s not nearly as straightforward as you might think. 

Tiny Core does support virtual desktops, sticky windows, and includes a Control Panel for configuring the likes of backup/restore, services, date/time, mouse, network, and more.

The minimum system requirements for Tiny Core Linux are:

  • i486DX CPU
  • 46 MB of RAM

Of all the lightweight Linux distributions, Tiny Core can run on the oldest hardware.

LXLE Linux

LXLE Linux is built on the most recent version of Ubuntu Linux and uses the LXLE desktop environment to create an operating system that’s very lightweight, simple to install, and easy to use. LXLE offers quite a nice desktop (especially for a lightweight distribution) that includes all the software you need to be productive or entertain yourself. 

The one thing I’ve found about LXLE Linux is that the installation is a bit slower than the rest of the entries here (mostly because of downloading issues), while at the same time being one of the easiest.

The default desktop, should be quite familiar to anyone who’s used any kind of desktop interface.

The LXLE Linux default desktop.

The LXLE Linux desktop interface makes using Linux a breeze.

Image: Jack Wallen

The system requirements for LXLE are about as minimal as you can get with:

  • 512 MB RAM
  • P3 CPU or better

Yes, you read that correctly, a Pentium 3 CPU.

With these five different lightweight Linux distributions that can help give old computers new life, you can save some money and the environment by keeping hardware around that cannot run the most modern operating systems, and feel good about doing a good deed for the planet and yourself.