My machine has limited RAM capacity. Newer Linux distributions seem to require more memory (often 1 GB or more) and seem to consume more than 500 MB on itself.

Is it safe to use an older version of Linux? Are there risks to installing old Linux distribution without updating? What are the risks? What might be the best way forward?

  • 1
    Just use a distro designed for low resource machines. Like Puppy It's between 100-256MB and was last released in May. Aug 2 '12 at 18:47

Yes, it is a risk to install an old OS with known bugs. That goes for any OS, GNU/Linux. Windows, BSD's, OS/X, ...

This does not matter if you use the system as a stand alone host, with no network connection and preferably no USB pen drives etc. If you do connect it to a network then you really want to install all security updates.

As for memory use: A lot depends on how you use the computer. A simple GNU/Linux install without a graphical interface should run fine on 16MB or 32MB of RAM. That is the OS, without any applications.

If you add X / KDE / Gnome then you want a lot more. And if you subsequently start a browser with a dozen open windows then you want even more. But even with a graphical interface you still should be able to get away with 256MB (as demonstrated by the recent raspberry pi's which only have 256MB and still run a graphical interface).

Lastly, RAM is there to be used. In normal use almost all RAM will slowly get filled. That is not a problem. (Example: disk cache).

Now if something get this RAM and does not free it when asked then you have a problem. But that is usually due to a leaky application (e.g. flash).


There's almost no risk if you don't connect the computer to a network and keep it in a safe place.

However older Linux distros may lack drivers for the latest hardware & peripherals

Note that modern Linux distributions do exist for computers with little memory

One claims

  • Run light enough to power a 486DX with 16MB of Ram
  • Run fully in RAM with as little as 128MB (you will be amazed at how fast your computer can be!)

TechRadar reviewed a few

Ubuntu's requirements are only

  • 700 MHz processor (about Intel Celeron or better)
  • 512 MiB RAM (system memory)
  • 5 GB of hard-drive space

If you have an old or low-spec computer or want to get the most out of your hardware, using a medium-lightweight desktop system such as Xubuntu or a lightweight such as Lubuntu is recommended

  • it's always connected to the Internet, I tried lots of distro and my laptop got stuck after one day of using Internet only !! RAM get full can't know how !
    – wisdom
    Aug 2 '12 at 18:48
  • 1
    RAM should get full. If it is not used then you could just as well leave it in a box outside your system.
    – Hennes
    Aug 2 '12 at 18:50
  • @wisdom: I'd see how well Ubuntu works on it. Aug 2 '12 at 18:52
  • @RedGrittyBrick: with ubuntu 10.10 & 10.04 it goes well but newer version can't run as well !, is it may be hardware problem ?
    – wisdom
    Aug 2 '12 at 18:57

It should be OK if you don't connect that system to a network. Otherwise, you are exposing the system to security holes which will never be patched.

Also you might not have support for more recent hardware - but this might not matter if you're installing in an old machine.

The best way would be to use a lightweight Linux distro which still has support (Arch Linux, Slackware, a basic Debian install etc...) and lightweight apps (a window manager like Openbox, with mostly terminal/text-only applications).

Or, if possible, just upgrade the RAM on that machine to the maximum that the motherboard allows. This will give you more headroom.


i would suggest the latest xubuntu, its modern, fast and functional.

  • 2
    Welcome to Super User. We generally expect answers to go into a bit more detail than a simple recommendation :) Please explain how Xubuntu will help the user with his specific requirements. Aug 2 '12 at 20:05

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