Got an Old Computer? How about Installing Linux

Why Consider Linux for Your Old Computer? Are you watching your once speedy computer sluggishly drag through tasks it used to handle with ease? Before you consider throwing it out, there’s a transformative option you might not have explored yet—installing Linux. This section will walk you through several compelling reasons why your old machine could benefit greatly from this change.

Old computer reborn as Linux powered

Revitalised Performance

Many modern operating systems, including the latest versions of Windows and macOS, demand high system resources that can tax older hardware. In contrast, Linux generally has lower system requirements, which can significantly boost the performance of your old computer. With a variety of distributions specifically designed for lighter loads, such as Lubuntu or Xubuntu, you can experience a smoother, more responsive computer without the need for hardware upgrades.

Security Updates

One of the major challenges with older computers is that they often run outdated operating systems, which no longer receive critical security updates. This can leave them vulnerable to all kinds of security threats. Linux, however, is renowned for its regular security patches and updates. Most distributions continue to support older hardware with these updates, thus significantly enhancing your system’s security without any additional cost.


Opting to install Linux can be a highly cost-effective choice. Unlike many other operating systems that require you to purchase a license, Linux is open source and completely free to download and install. This makes it an economical option to revitalise old hardware while also avoiding the cost of buying new software.

Choosing the Right Linux Distribution

Selecting the appropriate Linux distribution is crucial for getting the most out of your old computer. Each distribution offers a different mix of features, system requirements, and user interfaces. This section will guide you through understanding these differences and help you make an informed choice.

Understanding Distributions

A Linux distribution, often called a distro, is a version of Linux that includes the Linux kernel, a set of core utilities and libraries, and usually a graphical desktop environment. Each distro is tailored for specific needs—some are designed for beginners, while others might focus on experts or specific uses like servers or minimal resource computers.

Best Distributions for Old Hardware

For older hardware, you’ll want to look for distros that are lightweight and require fewer resources to run effectively. Here are a few recommendations:

  • Lubuntu: This is a lightweight version of Ubuntu that uses the LXQt desktop environment. It is designed to be fast and light on system resources, making it ideal for older hardware.
  • Xubuntu: Also based on Ubuntu, Xubuntu uses the XFCE desktop environment, which is known for its efficiency and modularity.
  • Linux Lite: Designed for beginners with old computers, this distro provides a very intuitive experience and comes with all the essential tools you’ll need.

Factors to Consider

When choosing a distribution, consider the following factors:

  • Hardware Compatibility: Ensure the distro supports your computer’s hardware, particularly if your hardware is very old.
  • Ease of Use: Some distros, like Ubuntu and its derivatives, are particularly user-friendly for those new to Linux.
  • Support and Documentation: Consider whether the distro has active community forums, comprehensive documentation, and good support channels.

Preparing for Installation

Once you’ve chosen the right Linux distribution, it’s time to prepare your computer for the installation. This preparation is key to a smooth transition and successful installation.

Checking Compatibility

Most Linux distributions provide a list of system requirements on their websites. Check these to confirm that your old computer meets the minimum requirements for the distribution you’ve chosen. Some distributions also offer a “Live” version, which you can run from a USB drive to test compatibility without installing it.

Backing Up Your Data

Before making any changes to your system, it’s crucial to back up your data. This ensures that you don’t lose any important files during the installation process. You can back up your data to an external hard drive, a cloud storage service, or both.

Creating Installation Media

You will need a USB drive or a DVD to create installation media. Download the ISO file for your chosen Linux distribution and use a tool like Rufus or Etcher to create a bootable USB drive. This drive will then be used to install Linux on your computer.

Installing Linux on Your Old Computer

Now that you’ve prepared your installation media and backed up your data, you’re ready to install Linux on your computer. This process involves several steps, from booting from the installation media to completing the setup.

Booting from Installation Media

  1. Insert your bootable USB drive or DVD into the computer.
  2. Restart your computer. Upon startup, enter the BIOS or boot menu (usually by pressing keys like F2, F12, Delete, or Esc immediately after turning on the computer).
  3. Change the boot order so that the computer boots from the USB drive or DVD first instead of the hard drive.

Installation Process

Once your computer boots from the installation media, you will see the Linux distribution’s welcome screen. From here:

  1. Choose to install Linux. Most distributions offer a ‘Try Linux’ option alongside ‘Install Linux’. Select ‘Install Linux’ to proceed.
  2. Follow the on-screen instructions. You will be guided through several screens where you can:
    • Select your language and region.
    • Choose installation type: You can usually choose to install Linux alongside your current operating system (dual boot), or erase the disk and install Linux only. For old computers, a full installation is often recommended.
    • Partition your hard drive if necessary. For most users, the automatic partitioning is sufficient.
    • Create your user account: Enter your name, the name for your computer, a username, and a strong password.

Setting Up Your Environment

After the installation completes, your computer will prompt you to restart. Remove the installation media and press Enter. Upon rebooting, you will log in with the username and password you created.

  1. Update your system: Open the terminal or use your system’s update tool to ensure all your software is up-to-date.
  2. Explore the settings: Familiarise yourself with the system settings where you can configure your desktop, manage network settings, and adjust system preferences.

After Installation: Getting Started with Linux

Congratulations on successfully installing Linux! Now let’s get you started with your new operating system.

Updating Your System

First things first, make sure everything in your system is up-to-date. This can usually be done through a software updater application or via the terminal using commands like sudo apt update and sudo apt upgrade.

Installing Essential Software

Your Linux distribution might come with some software, but here’s how to install additional applications:

  • Use a Package Manager: For Ubuntu-based distributions, you can use the Ubuntu Software Center. Alternatively, you can use command-line tools like apt in the terminal.
  • Search for software: Whether you need office software, web browsers, or media players, your distribution’s package manager will have a variety of applications available.

Finding Help and Resources

Linux has a strong community presence online. If you encounter issues or have questions:

  • Visit community forums such as the Ubuntu Forums or
  • Read the official documentation provided by your Linux distribution.

Making the Most of Your Linux System

Now that you have Linux installed and your basic applications set up, it’s time to explore what else you can do to enhance your experience and further benefit from the capabilities of your new operating system.

Customising Your Setup

Linux is highly customisable, which is one of its most appealing features. You can change almost every aspect of the desktop environment to suit your preference.

  • Themes: Change themes to alter the look of your windows, icons, and cursor.
  • Widgets: Add widgets to your desktop for added functionality like weather updates, clocks, or system monitors.
  • Desktop Environments: If you are not satisfied with your current desktop environment, consider trying others like GNOME, KDE, or Mate.

Exploring the Command Line

While Linux GUIs are powerful and user-friendly, using the command line can greatly enhance your ability to manage your system.

  • Basic Commands: Learn commands like cd (change directory), ls (list directory contents), cp (copy files), and rm (remove files).
  • System Monitoring: Use commands like top for real-time system monitoring.
  • Installing Software: Become familiar with installing software via the command line, which often provides more control than graphical installers.

Educational Opportunities

Using Linux can be a learning journey that enhances your understanding of how operating systems work.

  • Learning Resources: Utilise online tutorials, free courses, and books aimed at beginners to Linux.
  • Experimentation: Try setting up a home server, programming, or using Linux for hobbies like digital art or music production.

Tweaks and Further Options

As you become more comfortable with Linux, you may want to delve deeper into what it can offer.

Advanced Customisations and Software

  • Scripting: Learn basic scripting to automate tasks and make your workflow more efficient.
  • Advanced Software: Explore advanced software options for professional use such as graphic design programs, video editors, and more.

Security Best Practices

Maintaining the security of your Linux system is straightforward but essential.

  • Regular Updates: Always keep your system and software up to date.
  • Firewall and Antivirus: Configure your firewall settings and consider an antivirus to protect against malware.

Community Engagement

Engaging with the Linux community can provide support and further your knowledge.

  • Forums and Social Media: Participate in forums, attend meetups, and follow Linux-related social media accounts.
  • Contributing: Once you’re comfortable, consider contributing to the community through code, support, documentation, or translations.

This section provides a comprehensive guide on how to maximally leverage the new Linux system on your old computer, from customising your user experience to deepening your technical skills and engaging with the wider Linux community.

Enhancing Your Linux Experience

As you grow more accustomed to your new Linux setup, you’ll discover that it’s more than just an operating system; it’s a gateway to understanding more about technology, enhancing your privacy, and engaging with a community of like-minded enthusiasts. Linux is not only a practical solution for rejuvenating an old computer but also an enriching learning experience.

A Platform for Continuous Learning

  • Customisation and Experimentation: The flexibility to customise your Linux system allows for a personal and optimised computing experience. Explore different setups and configurations to match your workflow.
  • Skill Development: Every task you undertake on Linux, from installing software through the terminal to customising your desktop, contributes to your skillset, particularly in understanding core computing principles.

A Commitment to Privacy and Security

Linux distributions are often designed with privacy and security in mind, which is a significant advantage in our increasingly digital age. By regularly maintaining your system and practising good security habits, you can ensure that your data remains safe and your computing experience is secure.

Joining the Global Linux Community

Perhaps one of the most significant benefits of adopting Linux is becoming part of its global community. This community is a tremendous resource for support, knowledge, and continuous improvement. Engaging with other Linux users can help solve problems, learn new skills, and even contribute to the development of the distributions.

Final Thoughts: Reap the Full Benefits of Installing Linux on an Old Computer

Installing Linux on an old computer is more than just a way to extend the device’s lifespan. It’s a journey into a world of customisation, enhanced security, and active learning. Whether you’re looking to improve your technical skills, reduce software costs, or simply breathe new life into aging hardware, Linux offers a robust, community-supported platform that’s well-suited to these goals.

As you embark on this journey, remember that the Linux community is both diverse and welcoming. No matter your level of expertise, resources and help are readily available, making Linux not just a software choice, but a smart investment in your digital literacy.

With all these benefits and resources at your disposal, there’s never been a better time to explore what Linux can do for your old computer. Dive in, experiment, learn, and most importantly, enjoy the process of discovery.