Revive your old computer by installing Linux

Marcus
Linux Tux mascot emerging from egg shell

Can’t decide what to do with that old PC or Mac you have lying around? Is your computer so old you can’t update the Windows or Mac operating system anymore? Take control of your old hardware and give it a new life with Linux!

Support for older systems and hardware decreases over time—making it very difficult, or even impossible, to update or upgrade Window or Mac operating systems. Repurposing old laptops and desktops with Linux is a great way to streamline an older device without compromising on speed. And the best part? It’s free!

Why Linux? It’s private and secure!

It’s free, secure, and private—what’s not to like? But wait, what is Linux exactly? Broadly speaking, Linux is a family of free and open-source operating systems catered entirely to user customization. There are thousands of Linux distributions, each designed for a different purpose, and they tend to be much lighter than proprietary operating systems like Windows and macOS. Linux is also generally accepted to be the most secure and private family of operating systems available.

Every operating system listed in this guide is free of charge and free to use.

[Get more tech tips. Sign up for the ExpressVPN blog newsletter.]

Desktop environments

In your quest to transition over to Linux, you may come across terms like: Unity, GNOME, and KDE. What do they mean? These refer to different types of desktop environments on Linux—in other words, the look and feel of the graphical user interface. A good way to describe a desktop environment is to compare the look and feel of the Windows and macOS user interfaces. Some environments resemble Windows, with a taskbar and “start menu” style super-key. Some resemble macOS with a dock launcher. Many distros come with more than one default option for a desktop environment so it’s generally quite easy to switch to a different one if you desire.

Try before you install

Most Linux distributions can be run live from a CD, DVD, or USB so that you can experience the operating system before installation. That way, you can see how the operating system looks, feels, and operates with your hardware setup. Rest assured, this is for preview purposes only and will not alter any of the existing settings on your laptop.

We actively encourage you to give an operating system a test run before deciding on installation. To do this, you’ll need to create a live USB. The installation instructions linked to in this guide will walk you through the easiest way to create a live USB for each particular operating system.

This resource guide includes the following for the latest release for each operating system:

  • Minimum system requirements and links
  • Desktop environments
  • Installation instructions
  • Download links

Best Linux distros to replace Windows and macOS

Ubuntu logo

Ubuntu

One of the best known and used Linux distributions. Ubuntu is secure, user-friendly, and extremely easy to adapt to. Ubuntu is one of the best distributions for a first-time Linux user, along with Linux Mint, Elementary OS, and Zorin OS.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 2 GHz dual core processor
  • 4 GB RAM
  • 25 GB storage
  • 1024 x 768 display

Desktop environments

  • GNOME/Unity, but other environments are supported as “Ubuntu Flavors

Ubuntu installation instructions
Download Ubuntu

Kubunto logo

Kubuntu

Based on Ubuntu, Kubuntu offers all the same features as Ubuntu but utilises a KDE Plasma desktop environment instead of GNOME/Unity. This can be especially useful for users transitioning over from Windows.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 2 GHz dual core processor
  • 4 GB RAM
  • 25 GB storage
  • 1024 x 768 display

Desktop environments

  • KDE

Kubuntu installation instructions
Download Kubuntu

Elementary OS logo

Elementary OS

Based on Ubuntu, Elementary OS is a visually beautiful operating system designed to replace Windows and macOS. The comparison to the macOS look and feel is definitely noticeable. A lot of the applications that come bundled with Elementary OS are developed in-house at Elementary, Inc.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 64-bit processor
  • 4 GB RAM
  • Solid state drive (SSD) with 15 GB of free space
  • 1024 x 768 display

Desktop environments

  • Pantheon

Elementary OS installation instructions
Download Elementary OS

Linux Mint logo

Linux Mint

Based on Ubuntu, Linux Mint is slightly lighter than its forefather. Linux Mint comes with a streamlined software manager, more desktop environments to choose from, and a much easier transition to Linux for Windows users.

Minimum system requirements (Cinnamon, MATE, Xfce):

  • 1 GB RAM (2GB recommended)
  • 15 GB of hard drive space (20 GB recommended)
  • 1024 x 768 display

Desktop environments

  • Cinnamon
  • MATE
  • Xfce

Linux Mint installation instructions
Download Linux Mint

Pop!_OS logo

Pop!_OS

Based on Ubuntu, Pop!_OS is developed by hardware manufacturer System76 and has the added advantage of both Intel and Nvidia support out of the box. Pop!_OS also has drive encryption enabled by default for an extra layer of protection.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 64-bit x86 architecture
  • 2 GB RAM (4 GB recommended)
  • 20 GB of storage

Desktop environments

  • GNOME (modified)

Pop!_OS installation instructions
Download Pop!_OS

Zorin OS logo

Zorin OS (Core, Education, and Ultimate editions)

Based on Ubuntu, Zorin OS comes in three main editions: Core, Education, and Ultimate. The Ultimate edition, which is the only non-free edition at 39 USD, is especially cool with a Windows, Windows classic, macOS, touch, and Ubuntu environment built into it.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 1 GHz Dual Core 64-bit processor
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 10 GB storage (for Core & Education editions) or 20GB (for Ultimate edition)
  • 800 x 600 display

Desktop environments

  • GNOME

Zorin OS installation instructions
Download Zorin OS

Manjaro logo

Manjaro

Based on Arch Linux, Manjaro is easy to use and accessible. Unlike Arch, which requires a lot of customization and prior Linux knowledge, Manjaro has been developed to work out of the box with minimal setup needed.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 1 GHz processor
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 30 GB storage

Desktop environments

  • Xfce
  • KDE
  • GNOME

Manjaro installation instructions
Download Manjaro

Best lightweight Linux distros for older laptops

Ubuntu MATE logo

Ubuntu MATE

Based on Ubuntu, Ubuntu MATE is designed to be stable, easy to use, and low on system resources.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 1 GHz processor (1.6GHz recommended)
  • 32-bit i386 architecture—until 2021 (644-bit amd64 recommended)
  • 1 GB RAM (4 GB recommended)
  • 8 GB storage (16 GB recommended)
  • 1024 x 768 display (1440 x 900 or higher recommended)

Desktop environments:

  • MATE

Ubuntu MATE installation instructions
Download Ubuntu MATE

Xubuntu lkogo

Xubuntu

Based on Ubuntu, Xubuntu is a great lightweight distribution for older devices. Xubuntu uses the minimal Xfce desktop environment which is sleek and clean.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 1.5 GHz dual core processor
  • 512 MB RAM (2 GB recommended)
  • 8 GB storage (20 GB recommended)

Desktop environments:

  • Xfce

Xubuntu installation instructions
Download Xubuntu

Zorin OS Lite logo

Zorin OS Lite

Based on Ubuntu, Zorin OS Lite is streamlined to run quickly on devices as old as 15 years. Unlike its larger counterparts, the Lite edition utilizes the lightweight Xfce desktop environment.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 700 MHz Single Core – Intel/AMD 64-bit or 32-bit processor
  • 512 MB RAM
  • 8 GB storage
  • 640 x 480 display

Desktop environments

  • Xfce

Zorin OS Lite installation instructions
Download Zorin OS Lite

Puppy Linux logo

Puppy Linux

Probably the most lightweight distribution on this list, Puppy Linux is great for use on older hardware and won’t compromise on user experience. Puppy is perfect for the bare essentials like surfing the internet, editing documents, and watching videos.

Minimum system requirements:

  • Pentium 900 MHz
  • 300MB RAM

Desktop environments

  • JWM
  • Openbox

Puppy Linux installation instructions
Download Puppy Linux

Best Linux distros for extra privacy and security

Qubes OS logo

Qubes OS

An incredibly secure operating system, Qubes OS works by running different applications in isolation, i.e., each program runs in an independent, or isolated, window so that in the event a program is compromised, every other program/window is safe.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 64-bit processor
  • 4 GB RAM (16 GB recommended)
  • 32 GB storage (128 GB recommended)

Desktop environments:

  • Xfce

Qubes OS installation instructions
Download Qubes OS

Tails OS logo

Tails

Tails, or The Amnesiac Incognito Live System, is a Debian-based Linux distribution and designed for privacy and anonymity. All internet traffic in Tails is forced through Tor and any non-anonymous traffic is blocked.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 64-bit x86-64 processor
  • 2 GB RAM

Desktop environments:

  • GNOME

Tails installation instructions
Download Tails
Our review of Tails 2.0
Our interview with Tails

PureOS logo

PureOS

Developed by Purism, SPC and maintained for their Librem laptop computers, PureOS is built with security and privacy in mind. Its default browser, PureBrowser, is based on Firefox and the default search engine is DuckDuckGo.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 64-bit processor
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 15 GB storage

Desktop environments:

  • GNOME

PureOS installation instructions
Download PureOS

Whonix logo

Whonix

Based on Debian, Whonix functions of two virtual machines—one is a workstation, and one is a Tor gateway. All incoming and outgoing traffic is forced through Tor.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 64-bit processor
  • 4 GB RAM (16 GB recommended, 32GB for power users)
  • 32 GB storage

Desktop environments:

  • Xfce

Whonix installation instructions
Download Whonix

Parrot OS logo

Parrot OS

Based on Debian, Parrot OS is developed for use by penetration testers to determine security vulnerabilities that attackers could exploit. There are currently three editions, Parrot Security for cybersecurity use, Parrot Home for day-to-day use, and Parrot ARM for embedded systems like Raspberry Pi.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 64-bit processor
  • 2 GB RAM (8GB recommended)
  • 20 GB storage (128GB recommended)

Desktop environments:

  • KDE Plasma
  • MATE

Parrot OS installation instructions
Download Parrot OS

Kali Linux logo

Kali Linux

Based on Debian, Kali has been referred to as the “hacking OS.” It is designed for digital forensics and penetration testing and was featured in the popular tech noir thriller TV series Mr. Robot.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 512 MB RAM (2 GB recommended)
  • 2 GB storage (20 GB recommended)

Desktop environments:

  • GNOME
  • KDE Plasma
  • MATE
  • LXDE
  • Xfce
  • Enlightenment

Kali Linux installation instructions
Download Kali Linux

Free and open-source software

Free and open-source software, or FOSS, is yet another way to make a smooth transition to Linux. Whatever your need, there’s no shortage of alternatives to proprietary software available to Linux users. Because FOSS is open source, anybody can view the code and help to patch any security flaws.

     Linux productivity applications

Office and productivity suites

Linux email applications

Email clients

Linux design applications

Graphics and design

Linux media production applications

Media Production

Linux gaming applications

Gaming

Linux coding applications

Coding

Secure your laptop

There you have it! With this guide in tow, you now have a surefire way of turning an old and unwanted device into something new and secure. Want an extra level of security for your new privacy-focused Linux laptop? Be sure to use a VPN!

Have we missed a distro? Let us know in the comments below!

Read more: Ditch Android (and Google) and install LineageOS

Hi, you've reached Marcus. Dial '1' for privacy, '2' for point and click adventure games, and '3' for paranormal stories. For all other enquiries, please stay on the line and he'll be with you shortly.