Good Linux Distro for Old Laptop


Many of us Linux enthusiasts are known for trying to squeak as much mileage as possible out of our old or aging laptops. I hear about it all the time, and its true. Us Linux geeks will hand down a laptop, or repurpose an old desktop PC and (with Linux) morph it into something else or simply just extend its lifespan and usefulness.

I’m typing this post using an old HP G60 laptop purchased in 2009. Originally issued with Vista, it was soon updated to Windows 7. It performed OK when it was new, but of course over time, it began to get slower and slower. There’s a lot of useful information and instructions on basic upkeep (file cleaning, temporary cache and internet clearing) that seemingly never ship with the machine or come in the box when you buy it at a retail outlet? Why?

If I had to take a guess, it’s because the OEMs don’t really want you to keep a clunker around past its expected 3-year lifespan. They want you to refresh your machines and plunk down the money on that new Macbook or that slick-looking Lenovo laptop. It’s marketing without the aggressive tactics. They simply allow you to use your machine and run it into the ground so that you come to the conclusion on your own, that it’s time to upgrade.

When the machine was “handed down” to me it was originally intended as a gaming machine for my kid. Then he tried to play minecraft on it. Even with newer hardware (I maxed the ram to 4GB and put in a Solid State Drive) – the Minecraft experience was still less than ideal and the machine likely came close to overheat temperatures I’m sure.

Hence the machine got pushed forward back up to me. Ok no big deal. As a development machine it works ok. It can run XAMPP without issue, but its BIOS has no virtualization support, so no vagrant/oracle virtualbox…. oh well, it can still run docker, which I mainly use this machine for. Writing emails, and learning Docker. Not bad.

Now on to the main topic… what distro should I put on this old, underpowered rig? I tried several.
For a good long time I ran Ubuntu Mate and it was great. I then wanted to try something else so I went to the BSD side of the world, but on this machine… it just didn’t seem to do well. I guess I wasn’t accustomed to the way it would look and feel on this old machine. Maybe someday I will use this machine as a simple server with FreeBSD and not have any graphical expectations.

I then tried Solus, which was very nice. Very polished distro. I like how it works, until… until I turned off compositing. This PC (I feel) does not need compositing, it needs simple. Within a few days Solus was erased in favor of an experimental spin with Lubuntu. That wasn’t great either. Lubuntu in my opinion just didn’t perform or keep consistent on this machine, so what’s the point. Stuff kept changing, especially with the monitor situation. I use an external monitor (in addition to the laptop screen).

Finally I revisited an OS I used to use a long time ago… crunchbang. Only now crunchbang is no more. There’s Bunsenlabs, and also a counterpart called Crunchbang++. Crunchbang++ is very much the same as Bunsen or Crunchbang in that it uses the Openbox window manager. It responds very fast. And of course I’m used to the configuration (via files) that is provided by openbox, tint, and conky. I’ve invested a fair amount of time overcoming some of the quirks in terms of desktop placement and other things here and there. The Audio is always muted at login. I’ll solve that issue soon. It’s not critical so I let it ride…. for now.

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