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I found an old Asus K55N laptop with a ~2.5ghz processor and 4 gb of RAM. It has no graphics card. I found it with Windows 11 installed (poor thing) and it took me a hour and a half to just get an Ubuntu ISO from the internet. Then I spent another hour trying to download Rufus so I could burn the ISO to a usb stick. After another three hours of trying to install Ubuntu, I finally got it up and running. But there was one problem. It was as slow as mud. I have tried Ubuntu, Manjaro, Linux Mint, Deepin and Ubuntu with Cinnamon. Do you guys have any recommendations for a distro that runs like a beast (everything is fluid and responsive, no lag spikes) and has a desktop but still has that element of beauty you would find on, say, deepin. I just want a computer that doesn’t take an hour to open programs.

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In 2019 I found Lubuntu 19.04 not really a pleasure to work with, but it was sufficiently responsive and got the job done, effortless printing for instance. I've used Lubuntu during a field trip on an old (but robust) Laptop from 2010 with 9 inch screen,2 GB RAM, and Intel Atom processor.

The GUI however had limited support for certain encrypted enterprise-grade WLAN standards (GTC + MS-CHAP). Its WLAN-Network-Management icon in the bottom right corner (looked similar how Windows does it) could only display WLANs, but could not connect. Some textfields for input were simply not there. I had to make some WLAN connections with command-line tools. Disconnecting and displaying signal strength were possible. That was the major annoyance, maybe this has improved in newer releases.

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For the best compromise of speed/efficiency and features, I prefer Xubuntu (which is like Ubuntu, but it uses XFCE instead of whatever Ubuntu uses now).

Lubuntu, which knb mentioned uses LXDE instead, which should work on even slower computers.

You might also try Puppy Linux. It used to be really fast, but I haven't tried it since they became more Ubuntu-like.

There are probably zillions of others, but I haven't been trying new distributions for a while, now.

You might check out distrowatch.com to find more.

EDIT: For an updated take on it, I recommend using Cinnamon instead of XFCE (but Xubuntu is still fine); it's a lot faster on Xubuntu now than XFCE is. Other distros are more known for using Cinnamon, but I haven't tried those.

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MX Linux is my go-to distro to slap on very old laptops, it is designed to conjugate lightness with usability to stand out from the ultra minimalist arch-based TWM builds. It comes with XFCE as a DE but you are free to replace it, you might also like that it has APT the same packet manager as Ubuntu, although the init system is different from systemd which will require slightly different commands for things like suspending, etc from the terminal.

I already installed it on 4 different machines and it is very gentle on the hardware (sometimes <500MB RAM usage on idle). I would like to mention that it has worked well with installing/updating browsers, text editors, word processors and other widely used software.

Other recommendations are good too but this is my personal fave atm.

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