Top 10 of lightweight Linux distributions

In this post, I will introduce ten most useful and best known lightweight distributions. Eight of these distros are meant to be lightweight, and do not demand newest hardware. The rest two can be used as the basis of a custom lightweight system.

I will not present any detailed review of the distributions as I intend to present them later one by one in more depth. During the next few months I will install them on one of my computers. I have already during the last seven years used most them for at least some time as my main desktop system. It will be interesting to see how they have developed in the last years.

First four miniature distributions:
  • Damn Small Linux, a.k.a DSL is a popular extremely small distro. It is a 50 MB live CD, but it can also be installed on the hard drive. DSL can be run completely in RAM, and it can install more programs from an online repository. DSL recommends a P200 and 64 MB.

  • Puppy Linux is another installable live CD. It should run on any Pentium with at least 32 MB and boot under 60 seconds. It aims to be as easy to use as possible and assumes no technical expertise.

  • Feather Linux is a Linux distribution which runs completely off a CD. It takes up under 128Mb of space. It is just like DSL a Knoppix remaster (based on Debian), includes software which most people use every day. Feather can be installed on a USB stick, but AFAIK not on a hard drive.

  • DeLi is a Linux Distribution for old computers, from 486 to Pentium III or so. It's focused on desktop usage and it includes email clients, graphical web browser, an office programs with word processor and spreadsheet, and so on. A full install, including XOrg and development tools, needs only 750 MB of harddisk space.


The next four could be called mid-sized distributions:
  • Vector Linux. Vector Linux Standard GOLD is the freely downloadable distribution, which includes applications for every task. It is based on Slackware and specifically designed for use on older computers with slower processors and less RAM. It can be run effectively on a Pentium 200 with 128MB of RAM and 3GB of hard drive space. The forthcoming VL Light will take only 350 MB in full install and needs only 64 MB RAM to run.

  • Zenwalk is another distribution based on Slackware. It is designed to be fast and simple, with no redundant applications. It is optimized for i686, but is still compatible with i486. Zenwalk requires for comfortable use a Pentium III class processor, 128 MB RAM and 2Gb free disk space.

  • Antix is a lightweight, installable live-cd remaster of Mepis. It should run on most computers as long as you have a P266 with 64MB. antiX-M7 will not run on older processors such as Pentium I, AMD K5, and AMD K6 as it uses an i686 kernel.

  • PClos TinyME is a lightweight remaster of PCLinuxOS. It includes Abiword, Opera web browser, Audacious for playing music, Sylpheed email client and other famous programs. TinyME requires a Pentium processor and at least 64 MB RAM. Screen resolution 800×600 is recommended.


And finally two full-size distros which lend themselves especially well to custom lightweight installs:

These two classics should not need any introduction. These ten distros are of course not the only possibilites for installing Linux on an low end computer, but to make a list of ten I had to leave something out. Did I forget to mention Your favourite lightweight distribution?

42 comments:

rokytnji said...

Hello, My name is rokytnji and I just tested out ZevenOS today. Its a lightweight distro based on Ubuntu with a BeOS theme. Iso comes with 688mb of live cd,runs on PII,128mb ram comfortably and comes with wireless realtek PCI driver out the boxwith no configuring. I think it would make a nice distro to add to your list. Only draw back I saw was menu items in Favorite Applications menu were in German when english is selected at live cd boot but ater selecting menu item everything that came up was in english. Thank you for a nice blog, I liked it. Regards, rokytnji

Medievisti said...

I had never heard of ZevenOS, it certainly looks interesting. I have to download and try it.

Thanks for the hint!

Nbhat said...

Have you tried Ubuntu lite - http://ubuntulite.tuxfamily.org/ ? Looks like its still in beta ..

MikJP said...

No, I haven't tried it. But, to be honest, I don't quite see the point of making lightweight Ubuntu remixes, when one could just as well use Debian.

riegersn said...

What about CrunchBang linux and UbuntuBox!?

DarkAngel_3L1T3 said...

You've probably forgotten one, SliTaz.
Yes, the 25Mb Livecd which is also installable.

kreshna said...

Does ArchLinux also fall in lightweight category?
I do think it's rather complicated to install whereas you got to manually edit some of initial configuration files.

alienjeff said...

In re: Puppy Linux - the minimum RAM for Puppy to "run" on is version-specific. However, the 32M figure is not only stretching the definition of "optimism" but also is misinformation.

"Should" is a lousy caveat.

And "run" is subjective. With only 32M of RAM, if one does get Puppy booted to a desktop, about the only thing it's going to "run" like is a sloth. Opening a browser will be like the sloth dumping a couple of Valium.

Pankaj Kumar said...

Hi,
Can you please suggest me the name of a lightweight linux distribution which comes by default with all the packages necessary for development in LAMP(Linux Apache MySQL PHP) environment?

Best Regards ...
Pankaj Kumar
pankaj@glug4muz.org

Mikko said...

@Pankaj Kumar: Lightweight distros rarely install any development tools by default. Full installation of Slackware maybe?

Anonymous said...

Hello, I would (while not bothering to check if anyone has already) like to recommend Arch Linux as an additional lightweight distro.

Gentoo can be lightweight aswell when configured the right way (obviously it's 100% configurable, so you could just as easily produce the most bloated linux distro on the planet).

Anonymous said...

But can you imagine how much time will it take you to compile, for example, xorg with gnome and all libraries on a slow computer?

Anonymous said...

Sub: Required advise- which linux to choose.
Hi,
I am Sam from U.K.
I use to download and upload stuff 24x7 , 365 days and do some browsing. That's all... So I do not want costly PC dedicated to this work. I am looking for a powerfullight weight linux OS that features the following:
1. can work on old PCs like PII OR PIII.
2. is highly secure , must contain default,tightly configured firewall- because I would store login passwords to many websites for the above stated purpose.
3. should consume less resources.
4. Should come with basic GUI.


Looking for an early reply please....


Thanks,
SAM

Mikko said...

I would choose Debian (stable) or Slackware.

Maybe you should dedicate a box without monitor, keyboard and GUI for p2p usage and use a completely different box for desktop usage?

You'll probably find some ideas in K.Mandla's blog posting about rtorrent.

You have to take care of the configuration of firewall yourself with any Linux.

Sam Ahkuoi said...

Which linux/ubuntu is right 4 notebook?128 RAM
my notebook/laptop is NEC LaVieL (LL700R/7) 20 GB hard disk AMD Duron(m) Processor 697 MHz, 128 RAM this notebook was made for windows ME 2000 edition, this machine is too slow with windows updating goes more slow and i give up with microsoft , want to try linux but dont know which is good for this too many linux out there.

details of AMD processor ACPIA\UTHENTICAMD_._X86_FAMILY_6_MODEL_3…

1)also how can i run windows from USB along side linux is it possible to switch(toggle) between linux to windows and vice-versa during online
2)i prefer firefox as browser dont like seamonkey
3)downloaded DSL from floppy but after DSL splash screen comes on it says boot failed insert another media i always thought it needed only one floppy to boot
i appriciate a detail reply as i cant understand much of linux language

I thank you all in advance

God bless you all

Sam (sahkuoi@yahoo.com)

Mikko said...

Welcome to the world of Linux, Sam!

You might consider Zenwalk or Vector Linux, as they are pretty newbie friendly desktop oriented distributions.

The processor is certainly fast enough just about any distribution. The amount of RAM is the real problem. If you cannot add more memory to the laptop,

It is quite possible to install Linux alongside Windows using separate partitions. In this case, you choose the operating system at the boot time.

The computer really is too old for trying to use a virtual system that would allow you to use Windows and Linux simultaneously.

Guan said...

Nice work. I have a few old boxes I would like to make good use of. And would be interested in reading your blog as you perform these tests.

Question: I have an older laptop: Celeron 2GHz, 20G HD, 640MB RAM. I have a nice Netgear WG511T card that I upgraded many years ago. I would like to use this laptop to learn more about networking tools. Can you recommend a good distro for networking, wireless network support?

In case the distro does not come with driver for hardware, e.g. the Netgear card, where do you recommend to go search for drivers for Linux?

Many thanks in advance for your suggestion.

Mikko said...

I have never searched for any drivers with Linux -- all the distros I have used have supported all of my hardware out of the box.

You probably should try some of the most popular mainstream distros as the laptop is certainly recent enough to be used with openSUSE, Ubuntu or Kubuntu.

Guan said...

You are right. Old and new are all relative. It is relatively new compare to some of the boxes you guys are talking about.

Anonymous said...

I feel kind of funny even mentioning this since I have been using Linux since 1995. However, yesterday, I installed NetBSD to a machine that would not install the minimal Ubuntu. I have not configured X yet, but currently I have a fully networked command line machine running in 11Meg of ram.

It won't break me of my linux preference, but its nice to have a system that will run on virtually nothing.

cheap computers said...

Its good and it is based on Slackware and specifically designed for use on older computers with slower processors and less RAM.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the good information you are sharing.

What would you recommend for me?

I am currently trying to install a lightweight Linux on my PIII/128MB RAM/NO CD computer. (I used http://unetbootin.sourceforge.net/)

I installed kUbuntu thinking that it would be light enough if I do not install everything, but it did not turn out that way.

I am primarily interested in command line environment, specifically elm, lynx, some scripting with sed, etc.

Would like to be able to ftp to this computer to transfer files back and forth.

Years ago, I had a P1 with even less memory. I had RedHat on it. The computer would come up in the terminal mode. It worked great!

Mikko said...

With 128 MB you have to forget a graphical Ubuntu installation. Some recommendations in order of newbie friendliness:

* a minimal Debian system
* Slackware
* Arch

As you are mostly interested in command line, you might like to try NetBSD as well.

telinks said...

Hi. I'm very comfortable using DeLi Linux 0.7.2 (http://www.delilinux.de)
I also admire BBC Linux.

Rgds,
Chandra MDE
http://telinks.wordpress.com

Pido said...

Hi,
Could anyone advise me on a distro?
I'm a quite familar with linux, yet not with all the distro's.
I need a minimal distro to run under virtualbox on a laptop.
It needs an installer like yum and some development tools (glib) to run/extend nagios (C/Perl/PHP/MySQL) and uses httpd.
I'm thinking about DSL. Any better suggestions?

Pido said...

ps. text mode no problem

rokytnji said...

yum is the package manager for most RedHat-based Linux distributions,

I don't use rpm distros so have no experience with them. If looking at DSL (do you mean Damn Small Linux) you might check into http://tinycorelinux.com/

Pido said...

Thanx rokytnji,
TinyCore looks interesting as well.
I think I'll give it a go soon.

Mikko said...

Pido: I suppose there are no minimal distros using yum or rpm packages. I'll just mention my usual recommendations: Debian or Slackware. If you are willing to try something else, you might like to try NetBSD.

rokytnji said...

Howdy Mikko. Think I know you from the forums. My current distros right now are MNacpup Foxy 3, Puppy 4 Dingo, Puppy 4,31,Puppy 4.6, Antix 8.2 and 8.5 rc1. As soon as I recover from some health issues. I am going to see about doing a minimal 100 mb install of AntiX 8.5 on my internal 4 gig SSD on my Asus EEE PC 900. The goal is to keep the 4 gig SSD from filling up with unneeded stuff while still trying to use IceWM and Fluxbox Desktops with ROX and PCMaN File Managers also.I like the speed of AntiX and availability of Debian Packages and repositories in apt and synaptic package manager in Antix plus all the new tools like USB creator also.

Also waiting for Dpup and Upup which will be Debian and ubuntu based Puppy distros to be finally released though I know of the tersting versions are out there. Keep up the nice work Mikko.

creativesumant said...

It looks interesting.I had never heard about ZevenOS. I have to download and try it.

Thanks for the hint.


Don't forget to check out "Linux Tips and Tricks "

Sang Fajar said...

i had never heard ZevenOS?
can you post the screen shot?
http://video.gunadarma.ac.id

razi said...

nice info

crispy said...

Salix which is Slackware based is a very good lightweight distro. Debian isn't really that lightweight compared to Slackware. Another yet very very lightweight distro is tinycore

Anonymous said...

How about xPUD? The fastest booting distro i have met. Booting just in 10 seconds

Carpet Cleaning said...

Some of them are new to me. but some are totally unique. Keep sharing. And thanks for this knowledge.

Anonymous said...

Man, this is two years old. There are some super light, and fast distros out now.
This list needs an update!

Büyü said...

Hello, My name is rokytnji and I just tested out ZevenOS today. Its a lightweight distro based on Ubuntu with a BeOS theme. Iso comes with 688mb of live cd,runs on PII,128mb ram comfortably and comes with wireless realtek PCI driver out the boxwith no configuring. I think it would make a nice distro to add to your list. Only draw back I saw was menu items in Favorite Applications menu were in German when english is selected at live cd boot but ater selecting menu item everything that came up was in english. Thank you for a nice blog, I liked it. Regards, rokytnji

Waves of the Future said...

You should also check out Quelitu: A lightweight distribution based on Lubuntu:

New Version Release: Quelitu 2-11.04 Natty Narwhal--Release Notes and Screenshots--A Linux OS for the Environment

rokytnji said...

Since I last left a comment. I tried out Semplice Linux. A Open Box Italian Distro based on Debian Sid with a recent kernel.

I am also (one of these days) going to test run some distros from

http://extonlinux.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/cruxex-2011-linux-livecd/

and the rest on that page also. looks promising. I have since sold my low end hardware computers with Linux (antiX) installed to people who wanted a Linux computer on the cheap.

Anurag Baghail (anurag.baghail@gmail.com) said...

Hi, I am Anurag Baghail. I am using a 2000 model PC with celeron 466MHz, 120 MB Ram, 10GB HDD. I look forward to install a lightweight distro for a php development environment. So it would essentially have a apache server with mql. I am pretty new to LINUX wolrd so looking for help. May anyone list any program or website (like www.instalinux.com) for making a lightweight custom distro with packages i want.

Thank You

Anthony said...

One of the best lightweight installations is a Centos minimal as described at

http://minimallinux.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/centos-6-minimal-install.html

it is easily configurable and there are plenty of packages/progs avalable for it.