Which OS to install on an old computer: an overview of the best solutions

I’ll tell you how to bring an old computer back to life by replacing the familiar operating system with something new.

Why look for an alternative OS?

The demand for lightweight operating systems is constantly growing. It is understandable, because modern operating systems are devouring more and more resources, not really expanding the functionality or adding those features that, although they can be useful, lead to the appearance of “brakes” and “freezes”. In addition, technology is not getting cheaper, buying a new more or less tolerable computer is not an easy task (especially in our difficult time). 

Since users do not want to put up with low performance, they go in search of alternative operating systems that can bring their “ancient” PCs back to life.

Is it possible to speed up a computer without changing the operating system?

This is an unlikely scenario. Most of the really old laptops and system units are obsolete and can’t handle the load in the new operating systems. 

However, you can try to fix a number of bugs, crashes and freezes by reinstalling the system. That is, you can take the same Windows or macOS and install it again without restoring data from a backup. After that, the computer will definitely work faster. 

Also, applications like CleanMyMac and CleanMyPC help in this matter. You can clean up all the rubbish and make even new versions of Windows work fast enough. 

But this works only in cases where the computer can still cope with modern software and slows down due to incorrect operation of programs, and not due to lack of hardware resources.

Is it possible not to part with Windows?

This would be possible if Microsoft did not limit support for older versions of the system. You can’t legally install Windows 7 or Windows XP right now. In addition, both operating systems do not support many modern programs, etc. It is almost impossible to work with them. Using Windows on older PCs, while maintaining adequate performance, will also fail. 

Therefore, the search for more or less adequate speed for your PC leads most people to the world of Linux and other alternative operating systems. There you can still find developers who adhere to 256 MB of RAM, releasing software that does not require expensive equipment to solve simple tasks such as accessing the Internet. 

So we’ll take a look at the popular and low resource Linux distributions, as well as look at other systems (that you’ve probably never even heard of). 

Lightweight Linux distributions

Let’s take a look at several popular distributions for older computers. If you want to dive deeper into the topic, you can read a  separate article  on the topic.

Linux Lite

If you know about the Ubuntu distribution, then you will understand what Linux Lite is, since it is based on Ubuntu and borrows almost all software from it except for the desktop shell. 

Ubuntu developers offer users a stable version of the operating system with support for all the necessary software (work programs, games, etc.), but the graphical interface of this OS is rather “gluttonous” and does not work very well on older PCs. 

The creators of Linux Lite offer the same stable and powerful platform under the hood, but overlaid a simplified interface that reduces the overall load on the processor and other hardware components. No intrusive updates, minimum virus threats. 

At the same time, in terms of functionality, Linux Lite users get everything that Ubuntu fans get. Support for common browsers (Firefox and Chrome), the ability to run games from Steam or develop software using tools popular among developers.

To run you will need a dual-core processor with a clock speed of 1 GHz and 768 MB of RAM. Pretty modest by today’s standards. 

Fedora LXDE

This distribution is suitable for those who like the minimalistic LXDE shell, but at the same time do not like the package manager built into Ubuntu. 

Fedora is a modern Linux distribution that almost always contains the latest packages. Because of this, Fedora is less stable, but it provides users with new technologies and the latest releases of development software. Fedora is used by Red Hat as a testing ground for technologies that will form the basis of commercial versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux in the future. 

To install third-party programs and update system tools, a package manager that works with the RPM format is used. 

Fedora has several important software solutions that make life easier for application and web service developers. For example, convenient built-in operating system virtualization mechanisms. If you’re a developer in need of a nimble OS, then Fedora with an LXDE desktop can be a good alternative to Windows and Ubuntu. 

Installing Fedora LXDE will require a dual-core chip and a minimum of 512 MB of RAM (for a basic installation). 

Slax

One of the most compact distributions in our selection. The beauty of Slax is that it doesn’t even need to be installed on your computer’s hard drive. You can burn the distribution to a USB flash drive and use it on different devices.

Yes, the distribution is, of course, extremely minimalistic and contains the absolute minimum of necessary applications (there is a text editor and a basic terminal), but for many this will be enough. 

If you wish, you can download a version with a built-in Chromium browser. Then the system requirements of Slax will increase, but you will have a full-fledged browser that allows you to do web development using Google’s DevTools. 

To run a primitive version of Slax from a flash drive, you need no more than 128 MB of RAM and an Intel or AMD chip. But if you want to enable Chromium, you will need to get a system with at least 512 MB of RAM (and even this amount seems optimistic for Chromium). 

Damn Small Linux

Another distribution that has become famous throughout the world as the minimum set of software to run a full-fledged operating system on very old laptops. DSL weighs only 50 MB and can be run directly from a flash drive. At the same time, such restrictions in system requirements did not prevent developers from accommodating a bunch of useful software into DSL. There is a text editor, an FTP client, a web browser, an SSH client, and more. 

Perhaps DSL will be too limited for ordinary people, but developers with old devices will definitely be able to appreciate the local minimalism. In particular, this applies to administrators. 

If desired, DSL functionality can be extended by installing generally accepted graphical utilities in the spirit of the same Firefox, because Damn Small Linux is exactly Linux, and there will be no problems installing supported applications. 

No more than 128 MB of RAM is required to install and run DSL. 

Arch Linux

Experienced Linux users have a unique opportunity to choose the right set of software for themselves in order to achieve maximum performance. Arch Linux allows you to install a minimal version of Linux. It does not have a graphical interface, not even basic drivers and other delights of modern operating systems for the average person. And thanks to this approach, if you set a goal, you can easily create your own version of the system, removing all unnecessary and leaving the necessary minimum of software. 

Naturally, Arch Linux can also be turned into a bulky and barely working distribution, but this is more difficult to do due to the developers’ initial focus on minimalism and lightness. 

If you want to tinker with installing a WiFi driver using the command line and want to learn more about Linux, then Arch Linux can be a great choice. If you do not overdo it with installing additional packages and choose the conditional OpenBox as a graphical shell, then your old laptop will definitely thank you. 

Arch Linux will require any 64-bit chip and 512MB of RAM to run. 

Other interesting and lightweight OS

We immediately warn you that the OS described below is unlikely to suit 100% of users. These are quite specific systems. Some are popular among developers and administrators, but this is still a rather narrow circle, and some remain an experiment at all, which will be appreciated by two and a half geeks on the whole planet. 

But these operating systems are minimalistic and will run without problems even on ancient computers. 

FreeBSD

A rather old OS, still used to manage servers and embedded systems (software platforms “embedded” in hardware.

FreeBSD has been known for its stability and continuous development over the past 30 years. The FreeBSD developers throughout the history of the OS have constantly improved its internal components, providing developers with reliable and powerful tools for working with servers. Where extreme stability is required, FreeBSD is usually remembered.

At the same time, no one bothers to use this system as a desktop platform. You can even download a graphical interface and work with it like other software solutions (be it Linux or Windows), but it’s important to be prepared for a lot of limitations and lack of support for many popular applications. 

MenuetOS

An operating system written in FASM assembly language. The OS is in the testing phase, although it has been around for more than 20 years. The last release was released in February 2022, that is, the OS is being developed and improved. 

It is an extremely lightweight OS. It requires only a processor with a clock speed of no more than 200 MHz to run it, it loads MenuetOS in just 5 seconds. MenuetOS itself easily fits on a 1.44 MB floppy disk. 

At the same time, MenuetOS has a graphical interface and even video games. Among other things, the system supports the Russian language and screen resolution up to 1920 by 1080 pixels. They have already played Doom and Quake on it. 

Here it can definitely be installed even on the most ancient PC. 

FreeDOS

An OS for those who want to go even deeper into the past and experience what it was like to be a software developer and Internet user before the advent of Windows. FreeDOS is a copy of MS DOS with a free license. 

It should be noted right away that there is no graphical interface in its usual sense, so get ready for the fact that you will have to deal with an ugly terminal (and in general, all utilities will be ugly). 

But enthusiasts manage to develop both FreeDOS itself and third-party software for it. Why people do this is not very clear. Definitely a solution for geeks with a capital letter. 

TempleOS

A system created by religious fanatic Terry Davis. He single-handedly developed a full-fledged thematic OS, which (in his own words) should become the Third Jerusalem Temple. 

Davis came up with TempleOS after experiencing a series of episodes of mania that he perceived as a divine coming. According to Davis, God himself ordered him to create such a system with exactly the characteristics that were used in the end. The development community warmly reacted to Davis and his product in connection with the “features” of Terry. 

The system itself, although it deserves attention, is hardly suitable for everyday use.

Best Candidate: Google Chrome OS Flex

This is perhaps the most promising alternative to any existing OS. Chrome OS has always been famous for its simplicity and low system requirements. At the same time, the Google product does not limit the user’s capabilities, like many Linux distributions, but expands them. 

The Google operating system is interesting in that it provides access to convenient, compact and fast web applications, coupled with a proprietary voice assistant and a lot of nice interface details. 

And if earlier Chrome OS was a system for those who just need to go online and work with Google Docs, now it is a full-fledged OS into which you can download software created for Linux. That is, you can download VS Code and do web development. Also, Chrome OS has support for Android applications, which means that you can even download TikTok and install the mobile version of Todoist.

You can read more about how the alpha version of Google Chrome OS Flex works in  my review . 

Instead of a conclusion

As you can see, even if you have an old computer, there are enough operating systems on the market that can revive it and turn it into something workable. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try alternative operating systems. Perhaps one of them will be a much more convenient option for you than Windows.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.