We list the best 32-bit Linux distributions that still support ancient systems.
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What is happening with 32-bit Linux Distros?
Linux always supports older hardware, thanks to the community. But more and more Linux operating systems are dropping support for 32-bit systems mainly because it takes additional testing effort to keep another build apart from 64-bit, and the number of 32-bit systems is reducing daily.
Most of the older hardware manufactured before 2007 has 32-bit architecture-based CPUs, which we mostly know as i386, i586, i486 and x86. However, the hardware manufactured after 2007 are primarily 64-bit and may term as modern.
Recently, many famous and lightweight Linux distros dropped support for 32-bit architecture. But some projects are still strong and provide users with an option to run the older machines with full functionality.
I will list the ten best Linux distros that still support 32-bit systems.
Top 10 32-bit Linux distros in 2023
Debian Linux is the foundation of hundreds of Linux distributions across multiple architectures. Millions use it as a desktop and server operating system. Debian is a “universal operating system” because it supports x86-64, arm64, armel,armhf, i386, mips, mipsel, mips64el, ppc64el, s390x architectures with work in progress for riscv64.
In addition, it supports a wide range of hardware and includes free and non-free packages. On the desktop side, all the major desktop environments are available for you to install on your older hardware.
Perhaps, it is the safest choice if you are looking for a vanilla 32-bit Linux distro experience.
Why is Debian the best 32-bit distro?
- Most popular and widely used
- Dependable and used by millions
- Well documentation, tutorials and user guides
- Proper framed future roadmap
- Support for all architectures and platforms
2. MX Linux
MX Linux is a systemd-free distro based on Debian stable branch. It is recently trending among users who want a clean system that supports older to modern hardware.
MX Linux is popular because it’s carefully created to give you a perfect and stable system with its native applications and tools.
The team behind it gives a lot of thought while packaging the applications in this distro. Besides that, it is also based on antiX components and comes with KDE Plasma desktop, Xfce and Fluxbox.
MX Linux is probably the best choice in this list because it is easy to download and use in older systems.
Why is MX Linux the best?
- Systemd free, hence faster
- Based on Debian stable, it gives a more stable system
- Unique in-house applications to help users with generic tasks
- 3 desktop flavour options to choose from
- Well-supported community and user-base
The third 32-bit Linux distro in this list is Q4OS. Q4OS is a unique Linux operating system based on Debian and brings KDE and Trinity desktop environments. It comes with a 32-bit installer which can be used to install. In addition, Q4OS also features a Windows installer where you can parallel run this distro inside WIndows.
An exciting and related trivia about Q4OS is that it was created as an alternative to Windows XP when Microsoft discontinued it on 2014. And it’s still going strong and providing a stable 32-bit alternative to many users.
Here are some of the critical advantages of Q4OS
- Well-defined roadmap and unlikely to be discontinued
- Based on Debian and long-term support has been available for more than five years
- Provides KDE and Trinity desktop both (for those who like KDE 3)
- The unique installer gives the ability to install it inside Windows and take advantage of the entire hardware (not like in VM)
- Themes, Software centre, and third-party app installers are available
The fourth Linux distro in this list of 32-bit distributions is NixOS, built on top of the Nix Package manager. This independent Linux distribution is perfect for DevOps and deployment pipeline tasks and supports atomic updates. It uses a configuration script for several tasks, including installation.
That said, NixOS is not for beginner or average Linux users, although it functions like other Linux distributions. It’s not designed to be an end-user Linux operating system.
However, since it provides a 32-bit variant, it’s perfect for some use cases where you need to set up a remote server or pipeline in older hardware. You can learn more and download using the below link.
5. Void Linux
Void Linux is an independent Linux distro (not depending on Debian or Fedora, etc.) which follows a unique rolling release model. It comes with X Binary Package System (XBPS), which helps you to install apps and packages directly from sources. In addition, it uses runit as init system, instead of systemd.
Void Linux provides a 32-bit installer with the latest packages alongside the usual 64-bit and ARM installation methods. Hence, you can quickly try it out on your older hardware. Moreover, Void Linux also support all major desktop environments, such as Xfce, Cinnamon, LXDE, LXQt and more.
Here are some of the advantages of Void Linux
- Independent distribution and free from Debian, Ubuntu or Fedora base
- Well-defined path for future updates and continuity
- Excellent XBPS package management system
- A rolling release-based distro which is stable
- All major desktop environments supported
6. Zorin OS Lite 15.3
Zorin OS is an excellent and popular Linux distribution, a fusion of Xfce and GNOME 3 desktop. It comes with a Pro and Lite version. The Zorin OS Lite version provides a 32-bit installer at the moment.
But there is a catch. Currently, the Zorin OS 15.3 Lite version only supports the 32-bit version. And its support ends on April 2023.
After that, Zorin OS will not be supporting the 32-bit version anymore. The reason is it is based on Ubuntu LTS. And Ubuntu discontinued the 32-bit image from Ubuntu 20.04 LTS Focal Fossa version.
Hence, you can use Zorin OS 15.3 Lite until April 2023 and take advantage of its beautiful desktop and additional features.
If you are a fan of the Old-KDE desktop and looking for a 32-bit operating system, then you can try Porteus Linux. Porteus is a Slackware Linux spin that features a KDE 4.0+ desktop environment. It is based on bleeding edge Slackware Linux and provides a fast desktop experience. Moreover, it can run from a Live USB/CD. The installer size is 300 MB, perfect for CD-based older hardware.
The reason why Porteus can be an ideal 32-bit Linux OS
- Based on bleeding-edge Slackware Linux
- Enjoy the simplicity of Slackware
- Installer size can fit into a CD (300 MB only)
- Legacy KDE 4.0 Desktop support
- Can run off a USB or CD
The antiX Linux is slightly different on the desktop level than other 32-bit distros in this list. It is a lightweight Linux distribution based on Debian stable branch and brings some exciting features. First and foremost, it comes with a 32-bit installer, which has four variants – Full, Core, Base and Net. Secondly, it features famous primarily Windows Managers and Not desktop environments. Hence it is faster.
The antiX Linux features IceWM, Fluxbox, and ROX desktop options. In addition, it is free of systemd and uses sysVinit & runit as init system.
A perfect 32-bit Linux distribution that brings window manager, sydtemd-free and Debian base.
Why is antiX an excellent 32-bit distro?
- Provides stability with Debian stable branch
- Provides a 32-bit installer with four variants
- Systemd free distribution
- Window manager support, rather than desktops
9. BunsenLabs Linux
Remember the famous Crunchbang project? The BunsenLabs Linux is a successor of the Crunchbang project based on the Debian stable branch. Like antiX, it also features Windows Manager rather than desktop environments. It brings Openbox Window manager with an excellent tint2 panel at its core. In addition, some goodies such as Conky presets, jgmenu makes it a well-designed 32-bit distro for that ancient hardware.
Why is BunsenLabs the best?
- Powered by Debian stable branch
- Openbox Window manager is for the desktop experience
- Pre-configured Concky with tint2 panel, jgmenu
- A good amount of help and support is available
10. Alpine Linux
A list of 32-bit Linux distributions is incomplete without Alpine Linux. Alpine Linux is an almost two-decade-old Linux distro created for developers and power users. It’s unique and provides a 32-bit variant among other architectures.
At its core, it uses musl and BusyBox instead of GNU tools and packages. Also, Alpine uses OpenRC as init system.
This independent Linux is perfect for containers and hypervisors and boasts about its security. Perhaps, not so suitable for usual desktop usage. However, the popular PostmarketOS mobile Linux OS platform is based on Alpine Linux.
Alpine Linux advantages
- Independent Linux distro
- Not based on GNU toolchain (uses musl and BusyBox)
- APK package manager
- Suitable for containers and Hypervisors
- Well secured at the core level
List of significant distros that dropped support of 32-bit recently
Since you went thru the above list, it’s always to remember that a bunch of distros which depended on Ubuntu dropped their 32-bit support. From the version Ubuntu 20.04 Focal Fossa, Ubuntu officially closed the support for 32-bit. Hence all the Ubuntu-LTS variants are also forced to follow this decision.
Here’s a brief list of awesome distros which unfortunately discontinued the 32-bit support in the recent past.
- Linux Mint 20 and above
- Ubuntu 20.04 LTS Focal Fossa and above
- All the official Ubuntu flavours (such as Lubuntu and Xubuntu) from 20.04 onwards
You can rest assured that there will always be support for 32-bit Linux distributions to support older hardware. If a day comes when all distro stops support, Debian will always support all hardware possible. That’s the beauty of Debian.
Also, other niche distros, such as Puppy (with Slackware) and Void Linux – will continue to support 32-bit hardware in the coming days because they are built for this purpose only.
Finally, I hope this list helps you to pick the best 32-bit distro for your PC or hardware. Also, don’t forget to check out the best lightweight distros for older hardware which contain 64-bit distros for older hardware.