Maybe you’ve just purchased a brand new laptop. Or maybe you have an older laptop sitting in your closet that you’d like to bring back to life. Either way, the best Linux distros for laptops are those that offer better driver support and can accommodate the performance offered by most laptops.
Whether you’re using your laptop for software development, graphics, gaming, or office work, these distros should be well-suited to your machine.
The Best Linux Distros for Laptops
New laptops come with processors that are just as powerful, if not more so than many desktop computers.
Desktop computers have components that can be replaced if they aren’t compatible with a certain Linux distro. That isn’t the case with laptops at all. Components are often soldered directly to the motherboard, so good driver support is imperative.
The Linux distros below have the best support for graphic and sound cards, webcams, wireless adapters, and more. Many are also very lightweight, which is especially suitable for older laptops.
1. Manjaro Linux
Manjaro Linux is one of the open-source Linux distros that is easier to learn. It’s designed to work right out of the box, with a wide variety of pre-installed software.
The highlight of Manjaro Linux is that it’s well known for having amazing hardware support, thanks to its hardware detection manager.
Manjaro is based on Arch Linux, one of the most well-known and highly customizable Linux operating systems. There are plenty of great reasons to install an Arch Linux distro like Manjaro. If you’re a Linux expert who’s not afraid of the command line, vanilla Arch might be a good bet. They even have a wiki page specifically on setting it up on a laptop.
You can easily change the kernel without any complex troubleshooting. Arch Linux-based distros also let you choose your own components. This means you can customize it to suit the specific laptop you’re installing it on.
Best of all, if you really want to go full-out Manjaro, they’ve partnered with several hardware manufacturers to offer laptops and even smartphones with Manjaro installed.
Download: Manjaro Linux
An obvious choice for the best Linux distro for laptops is Ubuntu.
It’s easily one of the most popular and well-known Linux distributions, which means it comes with a large user community as well as solid online support.
Ubuntu’s developer, Canonical, partners with hardware manufacturers to certify machines for Ubuntu. It’s worth looking through the list if you want to make sure your laptop will work with Ubuntu. If you’re in the market for a new laptop, there are manufacturers such as System76 and even Dell who offer laptops with Ubuntu pre-installed.
But what makes it especially useful for laptops both new and old is the fact that it’s free, lightweight, and offers excellent driver support for most hardware.
Ubuntu will usually accept any hardware you connect to your laptop. Thanks to the fact that most manufacturers provide Ubuntu drivers.
In the Ubuntu Software Center, you’ll find free apps to accomplish just about any task on your laptop.
It works fine on older laptops that are a few years old, but it’s important to note that it does require more RAM than many other lightweight distros out there. So, if your laptop is very old, you may want to opt for one of the other Linux distros on this list. You might consider the Xubuntu variant, which uses the Xfce desktop to run on less powerful hardware.
However, many people do believe that Ubuntu does a lot of things much better than Windows. It’s also the distro of choice for dual-booting a Chromebook with Linux. All of these reasons make it a perfect alternative OS for laptops. Here are a few of Ubuntu’s latest features.
Download: Ubuntu Desktop
3. Elementary OS
Elementary OS is a distribution based on Ubuntu. With it, you get the beautiful, custom desktop environment known as Pantheon.
Beyond the fact that it’s so aesthetically pleasing is the fact that it’s also well-known as a powerful operating system that can accomplish anything you’d need to do with a laptop, even an old one you’ve pulled out of storage.
The Elementary OS community developed the OS to be as lightweight and efficient as possible. Because of this, it runs easily on a large assortment of low-end laptops (or even desktops if you’re so inclined).
Elementary is unique in that it institutes a “pay what you want” model to financially support the project. You download it by entering the desired amount on their home page.
As with its parent distro, Ubuntu, it also comes with most of the drivers low-end laptops will need to start working right out of the box.
The display utility includes a night light feature for when you’re using your laptop in those low-light environments like a student lounge or a library.
It also provides convenient scaling, and the ability to mirror your display if you’re using your laptop to give a presentation on a larger screen.
Elementary OS is considered one of the best alternative Linux distros for anyone switching over from Windows or macOS. And if you’re a Mac user, it’s especially good thanks to the Mac-like appearance of the desktop.
Download: Elementary OS
The Linux openSUSE distro is sponsored by major companies like B1 Systems and AMD (and of course, SUSE).
It’s also popular among system admins and computer science students. Why? Because it puts you in control of many functions and services without the need to learn or memorize any complex commands. It’s available in both the bleeding-edge Tumbleweed version and the stable Leap version. Leap is the one you’ll probably want for day-to-day usage.
This is thanks to YaST, one of the best and most powerful system configuration tools of any Linux distro out there.
This means you can easily configure the OS to suit the particular laptop system you’re installing it on without having to edit configuration files scattered across the /etc directory.
It has fantastic driver support and works well right out of the box. With the ability to handle even the latest hardware, you can be sure openSUSE will work just as well installed on any of your older laptops.
And if you do run into any issues, openSUSE provides an entire section of their Wiki devoted to helping people install and use openSUSE on laptops.
Download: openSUSE (Leap)
5. Linux Mint
Like Elementary, Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, but many people opt to install it instead because of how lightweight it is.
It also feels a bit more familiar to people who have worked with the Windows user interface. It comes pre-installed with some applications Ubuntu doesn’t install by default.
For example, it includes the codecs you need to play DVDs. Ubuntu has the option to install third-party tools for this during installation, but those options aren’t set by default.
The benefit you get by installing Linux Mint rather than Ubuntu is a more lightweight OS that works on older laptops. But you still get access to Ubuntu software repositories to download additional apps and tools you might want.
Download: Linux Mint
Choosing an Ideal Linux Distro for Your Laptop
When you’re trying to decide on which Linux distro you should install on your laptop, it very much depends on what’s important to you.
If you have an older laptop, you’ll want a lightweight distro like Manjaro, Elementary OS, or Linux Mint. If you have more power to play with, Ubuntu and OpenSUSE are also good options. You can even buy laptops with Ubuntu pre-installed if you’re dead-set against dual-booting or paying the “Windows tax.”
If you’re also thinking of installing Linux on an older PC, desktop, or laptop, you can find several lightweight Linux distributions that will offer great performance.
Need a lightweight operating system? These special Linux distros can run on older PCs, some with as little as 100MB of RAM.
About The Author