Lean, optimised distributions aren’t just meant for reviving old hardware – they also make sense on newer, modern computers
Extract every gram of performance from your everyday desktop.
earlier we mentioned that mainstream distributions are all
about coverage and range. They are designed to be useful to a large number of people. The downside to this approach is that they’re bloated with lots of unnecessary components that might make them lethargic and slow on your hardware. This is exactly where slimmed-down distributions help you make best use of the available resources.
Get a ridiculously fast desktop
One of the best options for accelerating regular desktop Linux tasks is Linux Lite (www.linuxliteos.com). The latest version is built using packages from the Ubuntu
18.04 release and uses the Xfce desktop with aesthetically pleasing modifications.
The distribution offers a good compromise between speed and functionality, and exposes all useful desktop features while still being responsive and fast. The distribution will work blazingly well on anything with a processor faster than 1.5GHz and 1GB or more of RAM.
Linux Lite looks and feels like a regular mainstream distribution. Its list of preinstalled programs doesn’t include any of the traditional lightweight apps and is instead brimming with the usual suspects such as GIMP, Firefox, VLC and LibreOffice. On top of the this you can also easily pull in other popular programs such as Kodi, Skype, Steam, Spotify and more using the custom Lite Software application. In fact, the distribution includes several homebrewed Lite-branded tools for interacting and customising various aspects of the desktop and the installation.
There’s a welcome screen that enables users to install updates and drivers, and set up a backup restore point, a program to help upgrade to the latest release, and another to manage users. One of the most useful ones is Lite Tweaks, which helps users with common admin tasks. You can use it to free up memory, remove older kernels and install new ones. It also includes some performance-enhancing tweaks such as installing and enabling zRAM and Preload.
Another such lean distribution is MX Linux (https://mxlinux.org), which is based on Debian Stable and is a joint effort between the antiX and MEPIS communities. Its clean,
iconless Xfce desktop displays basic system information via an attractive Conky display. The USP of MX Linux is its user-friendliness and an array of customisation tools. Some of its noteworthy MX-branded tools are a snapshot tool for making bootable ISO images of the working installation, and a remaster tool to create your own customised version of the distribution. The desktop boots to a welcome screen that contains useful links to common tweaks and the distribution’s custom set of tools. Like
Linux Lite, MX Linux comes with a host of mainstream apps, many of which have been back-ported from Debian Testing.
Run entirely from RAM
Another way to speed up a contemporary computer is to run the operating system entirely from its RAM, which has a much higher I/O rate than a hard disk. Once the distribution has copied itself to memory, app launches are several times faster than with a traditional hard disk installation. The real trick here, however, is to find such a distribution that’s optimised to live in RAM yet which still provides you with a complete desktop environment.
One such distribution is SliTaz (www.slitaz. org), which has been chugging along for over a decade now. The rolling release distribution has a stable and a developmental version. It takes up less than 100MB RAM and yet offers a graphical desktop (along with some optional desktop effects), includes web browsers, audio and video players, several code editors and more, and you can install others using its graphical package manager. The distribution also has a bunch of custom tools such as SliTazPanel with which you can administer all aspects of the system. SliTaz is built with home-brewed tools known as cookutils and uses BusyBox for many of its core functions. You can also anchor SliTaz to your hard disk and Windows users can host it inside a directory without partitioning their disks. The distribution is available for both 32-bit and 64-bit platforms. If you aren’t averse to reading through some documentation and learning new tools,
SliTaz is an excellent option for powering a computer from RAM.
Another esoteric option that’s again optimised to run entirely from RAM is AUSTRUMI (http://cyti.latgola.lv/ruuni).
This Slackware-based distribution is only available for 64-bit computers. Unlike SliTaz, AUSTRUMI’s boot menu gives you the option to eject the Live medium after it has copied itself to RAM. There’s also another option to keep the Live medium in place, which helps the distribution perform on machines with less than 1GB of RAM.
AUSTRUMI doesn’t use a full-blown desktop environment and instead relies on a customised instance of the FVWM window manager that offers several tweakable options. The distribution uses an automatic wallpaper switcher and ships with several different themes. Unlike its RAM-only lean peers, AUSTRUMI’s live environment includes regular productivity apps such as Firefox, GIMP and even LibreOffice.
Another way to speed up a contemporary computer is to run the operating system from RAM, with a much higher I/O rate than a disk
above SliTaz is optimised to live in RAM and is easy to maintain since it’s a rolling release