Intel’s Atom processor is a line of low-voltage microprocessors that first appeared in 2008. They power many ultra-portable devices, such as netbooks, net-tops and tablets. But the Atom, energy efficient, quickly showed its limits to stay in step with current software.
That doesn’t mean you should let your Atom-powered device collect dust in a closet! You can bring it back to life with a Linux distribution. Linux operating systems generally use less system resources than their Windows counterparts, and there are plenty of options.
Here are the best lightweight Linux distros for netbooks with Intel Atom processors.
Puppy Linux has a small memory footprint (or paw print). It is around 300MB and can live on flash drives and DVDs. You can even run the entire operating system from RAM. This gives a fast experience on any device, overcoming the hard drive’s slow read-write speed. This makes Puppy Linux one of the best Linux distros for old PCs and netbooks.
Puppy Linux versions are based on long term support releases of Ubuntu, so you can keep this desktop installed for a long time, making it an ideal Linux choice for netbooks with Atom processors.
To download: Linux Puppy
Lubuntu is presented as both light and fast. It comes with the LXQt desktop environment and provides a good Linux netbook desktop for people who don’t want to tinker with their computer too much.
The system requirements are not demanding. Lubuntu’s website recommends 1 GB of RAM for heavy-duty web applications like YouTube, Facebook, and Google Docs.
To download: Lubuntu
When it comes to Linux distributions, Mint is one of the more popular options. This distribution based on Ubuntu and Debian has a simple and modern elegance. It’s also quite user-friendly. Apps and multimedia codecs are easy to find.
There are several variations of Linux Mint available, with MATE and Xfce practically linked as excellent examples of Linux desktops for Intel Atom processors. Both are well suited for netbooks and most underpowered computers in general. Of all the distros on this list, Mint offers arguably the most functional and complete experience.
While we selected Linux Mint for its particular appeal to newcomers, pretty much any distro running MATE or Xfce will work, too. If you prefer Ubuntu, Fedora, or openSUSE, give them a try instead. Compared to the other options on this list, MATE or Xfce may perform better on netbooks with more RAM.
For more information, see our comparison of Mint and Ubuntu.
To download: Linux Mint
As lightweight Linux distributions go, BunsenLabs is one of the lighter weight offerings. It’s a continuation of CrunchBang, which eschewed the traditional desktop environment in favor of a revamped version of the Openbox window manager.
While this Debian-based distro is a Linux perfectly suited for Intel Atom processors, its spartan design may not be right for everyone. You won’t find the eye candy you see in Lubuntu or Linux Mint.
BunsenLabs isn’t the only distro carrying the CrunchBang torch, but they seem to be the most active. Another option is CrunchBang ++. If you are feeling adventurous, you can run a continuous version based on Arch Linux called ArchBang.
To download: BunsenLabs
Small, fast, and bootable from a variety of storage media, Porteus is one of the best Linux distros for Intel Atom netbooks. At less than 300MB, it’s super efficient, comes in 32- and 64-bit packages, and can run only from RAM.
Note that Porteus is modular, so rather than using a package manager and connecting to the Internet during the initial installation, Porteus provides precompiled modules that you can enable or disable before installation.
It all comes together in an efficient experience that can boot in under 30 seconds, making Porteus a superior version of Linux for netbooks.
To download: Porteus
Fancy a unique Intel Atom Linux experience? Meet Elive, a very small Linux distribution with its own custom desktop environment. A bunch of apps and a few games are preinstalled. They appear on a dock at the bottom of the screen.
Elive is not designed for newcomers or businesses. Who is it for ? Let the development team tell you:
“Elive is not for beginners. Elive is not for experienced people. Elive is not for businesses or personal users. Elive is art. It’s just for people. who appreciate it and want to use it. Don’t hesitate to try Elive, because only you decide what you want in this world! “
While it’s not clear Who Elive is for, we know What Elive is for old or underpowered machines. The minimum requirements for Elive are 500MHz processor speed, 192MB RAM, and 700MB hard disk space.
To download: desire
If your Intel Atom netbook is a secondary computer, why not use it to run software that you might be too nervous to run on your primary machine? Consider Bodhi Linux. This little Linux project has been around for years. It doesn’t have the manpower you find in big projects, but it is functional.
With Bodhi Linux running on a netbook, you can follow the work in progress on the quirky and relatively unknown Moksha desktop interface. It might convince you of comparable experiences like LXQt and Xfce.
Bodhi Linux requires at least a 500 MHz processor, 512 MB of RAM, and 5 GB of hard disk space. So you can easily install it on your netbook with Intel Atom processors like n270 series.
To download: Bodhi Linux
While you take a look at the lightweight and funky Linux distros, add wattOS to your list. The gist of wattOS is to remove Ubuntu from all non-essentials and then add the i3 tile window manager. The “Microwatt” edition only requires 192MB of RAM and 700MB of hard disk space.
If you prefer a more common interface, try the LXDE edition instead. It needs a bit more RAM, but even on Intel Atom netbooks that’s probably okay.
To download: wattOS
Will you be using Linux on your Intel Atom netbook?
When Intel Atom netbooks first appeared, the creators saw an opportunity for Linux to thrive on smaller devices. Ubuntu made a netbook edition. KDE too. Pretty OS was essentially a Chromebook before the arrival of Chromebooks. One of our favorites was a project called Moblin, which turned into MeeGo, but is now gone.
In the end, most manufacturers chose to ship the already outdated Windows XP desktop rather than take a chance on Linux.
Yet despite the number of years that have passed, the Intel Atom and Linux netbooks remain a good couple. If you need help installing any of the above options on your netbook, here’s a quick guide to installing Linux.
Want to install Linux but think it could be a disaster? Installing Linux on a PC or laptop is easier than you might think – here’s what you need to know.
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