I won a netbook several years ago (1 GHz, 1GB RAM*, 8GB SSD) with Windows XP pre-installed. After a few weeks, the disk gets filled with Windows trash. I have tried latest version of Ubuntu, but the hardware requirements were to high. The only OS that the netbook could handle was Jolicloud, but I don't like the whole online stuff.

The netbook is not for me, but for a casual user. So I want to avoid that this user will face problems which can only be solved using a console (e.g., install a program).

Daily use:

  • Web browsing
  • Emails
  • Facebook games
  • Word and Excel
  • Skype
  • A lot of YouTube (now with Ubuntu videos are lagging)

I will have access to the netbook once, so if terminal is obligated for the first time only, it's not a problem.

*The initial Ram was 512MB and I upgraded to 1GB the first month.

  • Is it possible to upgrade the laptop's RAM and hard disk space? I have a 2006 Macbook that I refurbished by putting in 1GB ram and a 320GB HD. Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 7:52
  • @GustavBertram Basicaly, my mistake. I have already updated the Ram to 1GB. I forgot about it :(. But hard disk? I don't know. It won't be easy and the cost is high. I don't know if I can add something different than SSD.
    – Tasos
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 7:55
  • It is very likely that the SSD is in the standard 2.5-inch form factor. If that is the case, replacing it with another SSD or even a standard laptop hard drive is as simple as popping it out, and putting another one in. This is something to keep in mind, if none of the distros work well on an 8GB drive. Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 8:45

10 Answers 10


EDIT (2017-10-17): Since I originally made this post, the ArchBang project has taken off in a direction that I don't know much about. I'm not sure it still meets the requirements of the original question or keeps any of the promises that I made here.

StackExchange doesn't let me delete answers after they've been accepted, so in order to follow the spirit of that rule, I'll leave the original answer below instead of editing it away.

ArchBang is made for this stuff! It's all the goodness of Arch Linux...

  • Practically zero system requirements
  • Insanely huge repository of Software in the AUR - including software for your needs:
    • Google Chrome, Chromium, Firefox, Opera or many more browsers for internet browsing.
    • Any of the above browsers, or Mozilla Thunderbird for email.
    • Any of the above browsers for Facebook games
    • Any office program will use a lot of storage - more than you may want. But there are options: Abiword for a very lightweight MS Word alternative. LibreOffice for a full suite.
    • Skype for Skype!
    • Any of the above browsers for Youtube.
  • Super dynamic community
  • Bleeding-edge software

Without the hassle that's usually involved when installing Arch. You still get Pacman, and you can still install Yaourt.

Since you mention that you don't want the user to be locked to a console, you can install any of the large group of Pacman Frontends.

  • 2
    Probably sweet distro with ugly page ;) Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 18:19
  • 2
    @MariuszS indeed. Arch is my favorite distro by far.
    – dotVezz
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 18:19
  • 1
    If I skip the ad copy, your answer reads: “ArchBang… You still get Pacman, and you can still install Yaourt.”. This doesn't really meet our minimum quality guidelines. Please explain how your answer relates to the requirements in the question. In particular, which programs would you run for web browsing, emails, etc.? Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 12:49
  • 1
    I have been an archbang user and won't recommend it to newbies. Archbang makes it insanely easy to install Arch which is a bad thing, arch repo doesn't deliver stable software, if you don't read the docs, you're system gonna break arch forum users don't help archbang users, archbang forums are inactive and you'll end up on your own, even unix.se users will have a laugh at you because you installed arch without reading the docs, and if you have time to read the docs you would have gone for arch, only the lazy choose archbang, I recommend manjaro, more stable, friendly users, good forum
    – Lynob
    Commented Jun 3, 2014 at 23:46
  • 1
    The first link is broken. It opens an obsolete page. Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 6:52

You could try XUbuntu or LUbuntu (http://lubuntu.net/). I installed the later on a netbook, which has the same specs (more or less) as yours.

The advantage here is that you have, again more or less, the same comfort as with Ubuntu but it is more lightweight.

Update: The specification of the netbook I own and which runs Lubuntu:

  • CPU: Intel Atom 1,6 GHz
  • 1 GB RAM
  • Boot-time: around 45 seconds

Without any additional programs installed it needs 11,5 GB space. I really thought it would need less than 8GB. Sorry.

  • Web browsing and YouTube is no problem.
  • I have not tested Skype and Facebook-Games, but I would not expect any difficulties.
  • Word and Excel: Running the original applications via Wine is not possible. I would also not recommend Open/LibreOffice. But the lightweight alternatives AbiWord and Gnumeric are pre-installed.
  • 1
    could you elaborate a bit more about the requirements of those? How much RAM do they consume, how long does a startup take etc. to get an idea about whats possible and what not with them? Commented Feb 9, 2014 at 17:48
  • 1
    I have also read that kubuntu is another lightweight alternative.
    – MrWhite
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 0:10
  • 1
    11.5 G for Lubuntu looks like a lot I more then once run full Ubuntu on 8 GB with no issue and tested Xubuntu and Lubuntu on 5 GB. @w3d Kubuntu is there too with more or less same specs as regular Ubuntu
    – danijelc
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 20:47
  • I was also astonished. I probably missed something.
    – gillesB
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 20:51
  • 1
    When I installed Lubuntu on a netbook with 4GB disk space, I had 1GB left...
    – wb9688
    Commented Dec 28, 2015 at 21:15

My choice would be Xubuntu, wich is basically ubuntu striped down with Xfce Desktop Environment instead of Unity. I installed it on my wife’s Lenovo IdeaPad s10 netbook which have quite limited specifications (1.6-GHz Intel Atom N270, 1 G RAM, integrated Intel graphic card and resolution of 1024x600). Netbook is now 4 years old and was preloaded with Windows XP (prior to installing Linux netbook was taking something like 45 minutes to boot XP). With Xubuntu boot time is approximately 11 seconds.

Worth mentioning that before installing Xubuntu i tested Lubuntu, Kubuntu, Fedora on same specs and Xubuntu was the most complete in my tests (fastest, less tweaking)

Xubuntu file manager

Xubuntu comes preloaded with

  • Firefox (Web browsing, Facebook games, Youtube Web based email)
  • Thunderbird (emails, calendars, to-do lists)
  • Abiword and Gnumeric (Word and Excel)
  • Skype (installable from Ubuntu software centre, or by .deb package however would suggest to install it yourself so end user, if not handy with computing would not need to learn how to install it)
  • Ubuntu Software centre offer a choice of apps to install so end user does not need to play with CLI

Minimal requirements to install Xubuntu are 256 MB of memory. Installing with the Alternate CD (for 12.04 only) requires only 64 MB. Once installed, it is strongly recommended to have at least 512 MB of memory.

When you install Xubuntu from the Desktop CD, you need 4.4 GB of free space on your hard disk. The Alternate CD (for 12.04 only) requires you to have 2 GB of free space on your hard disk.

Xubuntu Abiword & Gnumeric

Now in my case I ditched Abiword and Gnumeric installed full Libre office suite, Chrome, Chromium, Opera and a number of other apps. Still Xubuntu is lighting fast. Only quirk I had was Broadcom wireless driver which was not working properly and I solved it by installing Linux firmware but that was a hardware issue and not OS itself issue. My wife who is using this box says that now is almost twice faster than with XP loaded.

The most important thing fort me was I didn't need to tweak much things to make it usable for my wife (average user). Spent more time to explain her why anti-virus is not needed :)

Get it from here

  • How does Xubuntu compare with Lubuntu? Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 12:50
  • 2
    Both are derivatives of Ubuntu, Xubuntu with Xfce and Lubuntu with LXDE desktop environment instead of Unity. Both are lightweight and run better on low specs boxes, performance wise they're similar and choosing which to install is based upon which one visually you like more, at end it's highly personal opinion.
    – danijelc
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 14:06

The real question is not what distribution to use, but what software to run. The same software requires the same resources no matter who packaged it. Any general-purpose distribution will do, and for a “user bellow the average” you might as well go with Ubuntu and its tightly integrated core.

The first choice to make is the desktop environment. First, make sure not to run Compiz as it requires a lot of resources (especially a fast GPU). Unity and Gnome, which are the default on Ubuntu, are a bit on the hungry side for this hardware. LXDE is the usual recommendation for a full-featured but lightweight desktop environment. There are even lighter environments that provide less integration — where you pick your own window manager, and your own desktop panel, and your own file manager, and so on — but I wouldn't consider them fare for a “user bellow the average”.

If you install the Lubuntu release of Ubuntu, it comes with LXDE as the default environment. (The default GUI environment and corresponding set of preinstalled packages is the only difference between Kubuntu, Lubuntu and Ubuntu.)

Lubuntu comes with a default set of applications (some might not be installed by default) for general-purpose usage. Many of these applications won't do everything that larger applications do — you don't get the smaller size for free. I don't know how Sylpheed compares with other email clients.

Skype isn't included but can easily be added.

When it comes to web browsers for the general public, there are only two choices: Firefox and Chrome. (Also Chromium, which tends to be a little less polished and optimized than Chrome. I'd go with Chrome over Chromium here.) Chrome tends to be faster than Firefox, but to consume more memory per tab. You should be able to install both in 8GB.

A difficulty that you may run into is that Chrome spends a lot of time updating its history file; on the kind of slow SSD that you find on netbooks of this vintage, it can be a killer. On a netbook with 2GB of RAM, I ended up putting the history file in RAM (on tmpfs), but I don't think it will fit in 1GB. It's possible that things have improved since I last looked at this a few years ago, so I recommend to try Chrome and prepare to renounce it if it becomes too slow.

  • 1
    This is how good answer looks!
    – danijelc
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 15:58
  • 1
    Concerning Sylpheed - I use it and its great, but not for a "below the average user". Its very powerful, but you need brains & time to figure out the UI for filtering etc. Commented Feb 9, 2014 at 17:53
  • 1
    LXDE for sure! Kicked the other candidates a year ago. Lightweight and still comfortable. Hasn't all the bells-and-whistles of KDE, but also lacks the bugs (and memory-eating) of Plasma :) So I second that recommendation definitively!
    – Izzy
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 21:19

CrunchBang is a Debian GNU/Linux based distribution offering a great blend of speed, style and substance. Best is, it is quite successful with limited memory and CPU.

In the office, we have a light CrunchBang setup that we use as a Media Player. Operating System + Music Player Deamon uses a total of 45 MB of RAM.

What CrunchBang offers:

  • Uses Openbox Window manager. Lightweight but useful.
  • Iceweasel (Firefox) browser. You can use Icedove as Mozilla Thunderbird
  • Comes with mp3, DVD playback and Adobe flash support, but you can install packages to widen the list.
  • You can install Skype. Community is quite active and you can find answer to many software questions.
  • AbiWord and Gnumeric came with default installation, but you can wish to install Libre Office too.
  • With the exception of a few packages, CrunchBang is built entirely from packages available from the Debian repositories. So you probably will not have problems about software.
  • Comes with the only required packages installed. Can be configured as reqired with installing additional software. That makes you got rid of unnecessary software that you will never need from the beginning.

Generally, CrunchBang is the choice for those who wants a fast and clean OS for old PCs.


I would recommend elementary Luna

The distribution is based on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (long term support) and ships with linux kernel 3.2.0.

Luna is it light and very fast (way faster than Ubuntu on which it is based) with a focus on design and ease of use.


The official hardware requirements are :

  • 1 GHz x86 processor
  • 512MB of system memory (RAM)
  • 5GB of disk space
  • Graphics card and display capable of at least 1024x768
  • CD/DVD drive or ability to boot to a USB drive

The distribution is in maintenance mode (meaning it will only receive security updates).

note: the new elementary version is Freya (currently in beta) and has steeper hardware requirements.


Puppy Linux

I guess Puppy Linux would best fit your system.

Puppy Linux is designed to be extremely lightweight. When installed to a USB flash drive, it consumes only ~100 MB of space — ~256 MB if you want the version with a full OpenOffice office suite instead of more lightweight office applications. Puppy Linux can optionally be loaded into your computer’s RAM when you boot it up. This way it will run entirely from RAM and be as snappy as possible. The computer’s old, slow hard drive won’t be a factor - moreover, you don't even need a hard-drive installed. You can even save your files and customizations to the USB drive containing Puppy Linux — there should be plenty of space considering how small Puppy Linux is.

Puppy Linux has very low minimum system requirements and requires only 128 MB of RAM, although at least 256 MB of RAM is recommended. It offers the most basic applications you’d expect — an extremely lightweight web browser named Dillo, and other programs like an email client, media player, text editor, and image editor. It uses the Openbox window manager by default.

There are two main forks, one based on Debian Linux (the Precise Puppy version) and another based on Slackware Linux (the Slacko Puppy version). Note there is an earlier Debain based version (Lucid Puppy) that predates the Precise release that is still in heavy use.

To solve the OP's problems, I would recommend:

  1. Download the preferred Puppy Linux distro (I use Precise, but they're both high quality)
  2. Install the .ISO to a USB-Drive
  3. On boot, select the load to RAM option, if not default
  4. On first-boot, create a personal puppy-save-file so that changes can be saved to the USB-Drive.
  5. Install firefox and skype 2.3 (older, less resource intense version)
  6. Enjoy

Precise Puppy (Download)

Puppy Linux Precise version screenshot found online

Slacko Puppy (Download)

Puppy Linux Slaco Version screenshot found online

  • 2
    Dillo is useless browser, can you open youtube with Dillo? Are you used this distro? Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 12:16
  • 3
    Puppy Linux and Raspbian are good for computer fixing and basic OS use on non-embedded devices, but for everyday use it just won't work. Most web features won't be there, for example. If you install Chrome (not sure if it is possible) or some other mainstream youtube-supporting browser, the Puppy Linux memory model will make life hard for you. Though it should work on Raspbian. Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 18:27
  • 1
    I use Puppy-Linux daily and can vouch for it's usability. To solve the OP's problem, I would recommend installing Firefox the older skype 2.x series. Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 19:20
  • @MᴀʀɪᴜsᴢS Dillo is very useful for non-bloated, non-Javascript webpages, and opens so much faster than Firefox/Chrome/... browsers, so it is not useless. But indeed, it won't load much of the essentials of modern life web surfing. Youtube videos are totally out of question in Dillo.
    – LoremIpsum
    Commented May 16, 2021 at 17:24

I'm a bit late to answer this question, I have used so many distros, currently xubuntu 14.04 64 bit, my laptop is hp pavillion g6 which is kinda old.

I'd rather criticize the answers given, then try to answer the question.

I don't recommend the Ubuntu family, the good thing is you get long time support release. the bad thing is the distro is bloated, even xubuntu, which is supposed to be fast, still slower than manjaro or crunchbang or any non ubuntu based distro on my machine at least. Sometimes it freezes, many bugs and so on. High possibility that many things will go wrong when upgrading.

the good thing is that you can ask on askubuntu, which is your number one priority. It's important to choose a distro that has a big community, especially when installing it on old machines, because you are going to have problems, no doubt.

I don't recommend Fedora simply because the release cycle is so short, upgrading is a bad habit when on old machine as I stated above.

As I stated above, I used archbang and won't recommend it to newbies. Archbang makes it insanely easy to install Arch which is a bad thing, arch repo doesn't deliver stable software, if you don't read the docs, you're system gonna break arch forum users don't help archbang users, archbang forums are inactive and you'll end up on your own, even unix.se users will have a laugh at you because you installed arch without reading the docs, and if you have time to read the docs you would have gone for arch, only the lazy choose archbang.

Recommending Archbang is like buying Lamborghini as your first car, so beautiful but so dangerous. Besides if you dare to ask an archbang question on arch forums, the admins will ban you, and tell you to contact them if you ever install arch so they can reactivate your account. Happened to me. They say Archbang is not Arch. And they are right about it, many differences between the two.

Never used puppy linux, can't judge.

I love crunchbang but don't recommend it to newbies, openbox is not for newbies, the forum users expect you to be good at Linux. you could install another DE, but then if you want to do so, why not going for another distro, crunchbang is meant to be used with openbox.

On old PCs you want either a stable distro that will never break and that has long term support, or a rolling release distro that is relatively stable so you won't have to upgrade it

I would recommend 3 distros, Debian, long term support and stable, maybe linux mint debian or any debian OS.

Debian Sid, it's a rolling release but it's relatively stable. There are many distos that are based on that distro

Manjaro, based on arch but more stable, they kinda test the software before pushing it to the repo, sometimes they wait for 2 weeks before pushing something to the repo so they make sure it's relatively stable. They have a friendly community that will not punish you if you did not do your homework: reading the endless arch wiki.


Fedora LXDE

The Fedora aim is is to provide a Fedora O/S that is lighter on resources and more suited to older/low specification hardware.

Why LXDE desktop?

LXDE, the "Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment", is an extremely fast, performant, and energy-saving desktop environment. (..) LXDE is not designed to be powerful and bloated, but to be usable and slim. A main goal of LXDE is to keep computer resource usage low. It is especially designed for computers with low hardware specifications like netbooks, mobile devices (e.g. MIDs) or older computers.


  • 64-bit Intel-compatible PC
  • 1GB memory (RAM)
  • At least 10 GB hard drive space (only required for installation)

The hardware requirements of LXDE are similiar to Windows 98 (Maybe a little bit higher). An old Pentium II CPU is enough.


Some comments from A Tour of the Fedora LXDE Desktop:

One thing you notice with Fedora - at least when running in live CD mode from a USB Stick - is that the speed to boot is about the same as the Gnome version - and much longer than the comparable version of Ubuntu. The response time to commands is good compared to the Gnome distribution and - personally speaking - the look is crisper and more pleasing than Lubuntu 12.04.


Ubuntu Mate 16.04 LTS

For a retrospective Future

This distro(v16.04) came out just a few weeks ago. It is fast User friendly classic and quite stable. It uses minimal resources and can really bost the speed of your laptop(netbook).

My mate install

Note that >> I have customized the install and the screenshot is of v15.10.

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