The best Linux netbook distro?

Even with the rise of tablets and smartphones, many people still prefer netbooks as their portable computing devices. However, with so many Linux distros out there, choosing the right Linux distro for the netbook can be a tough task for a lot of people. In my opinion, there are three factors to determine the right Linux distro for your netbook:

- It must be light-weight

Most netbooks (if not all) use weak, low-voltages Atom processors and less RAM than normal laptops. When this hardware specification is very friendly to the battery life, it is not designed to be heavily taxed. That's why the linux distro you use on the netbook should be simple and light-weight and not use too much memory.

- It should not use too much desktop screen

The screen of netbooks is usually around 10 inches or even lower so it would be a bad idea if you choose a distro that put too many fancy stuffs on the desktop screen.

- It must be compatible with the hardware

Netbooks come with additional stuffs like wifi, bluetooth, 3G sim slot ... and many special function keys so it is very important that the distro must be compatible with the netbook hardware.

With the above things to consider, my choice for the best Linux netbook distro is Arch Linux with a tiling window manager.

Arch Linux is well known for being minimalistic and all tiling window managers are very light-weight too. And this is the best choice for your netbook in my opinion. Here is the screenshot of my netbook with Arch Linux and Xmonad:

best linux netbook distro
My Samsung netbook desktop, running with Arch Linux + Xmonad
best linux netbook distros
Htop shows that only around 140 MB of RAM are being used
As you can see in the screenshot with htop running within terminator, at idle, Arch Linux and Xmonad consume very little hardware resource. Moreover with my settings, I can utilize the desktop screen to maximum as I only use a thin xmobar panel on the top and there is no window manager bar in Xmonad. The keyboard-oriented nature of tiling window managers also fits very well with netbooks. To save desktop screen and become more productive, you can assign different applications to different workspaces and you can switch very fast between workspaces.

The only drawback of choosing Arch Linux and a tiling window manager for you netbook is that it takes time to do all the settings and you must know what you are doing. All in all, if you have enough knowledge and time, the combination of Arch Linux and a tiling window manager will be the best distro for your netbook in my opinion.

It is just my personal biased opinion to choose Arch Linux with a tiling window manager as the best linux distro for netbooks. If you dont like my choice, here are some other great distros for netbooks that I know:


Ubuntu in my opinion is a great choice for netbooks. Unity was first introduced in the netbook edition of Ubuntu and it was received very well. The best thing about Ubuntu in my opinion is that everything seems to work right out of the box. In other words, it's very likely that all the wifi, bluetooth and function keys of your netbook will work nicely with Ubuntu. Ubuntu also comes with all the necessary daemons and modules to govern the performance of your netbook. Besides, if you use the auto-hide feature for the unity launcher, the whole unity desktop wont take much desktop screen. The only bad thing about Ubuntu is that Unity is more resource consuming than other light-weight desktop environments but it is still tolerable.

Similar to Ubuntu, Linux Mint can also be a good choice for the netbooks. Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu so its hardware compatibilities are good too. And the desktop environments of Linux Mint (both MATE and Cinnamon) have the same advantages and disadvantages as Unity of Ubuntu.

ArchBang and CrunchBang

ArchBang basically means Arch Linux + Openbox when CrunchBang means Debian + Openbox. Archbang and CrunchBang can be good linux distros for netbooks since Openbox is a very light weight desktop environment. Both ArchBang and CrunchBang operate better under low hardware resources than Ubuntu and are really faster than the normal Ubuntu that uses Unity or Gnome. Here is the screenshot of the conky monitor of ArchBang 2012.05 at idle:

best linux distro for netbooks
ArchBang at idle uses less than 140MB of RAM
 As you can see, Openbox is extremely lightweight so it will run smoothly on the limited hardware of your netbook. With some additional customizing and configuring, both Archbang and Crunchbang are very good Linux distros for netbooks. CrunchBang even has its own edition for netbook, codename CrunchEee.

Bodhi Linux

Bodhi Linux is a distro based on Ubuntu. But unlike most other Ubuntu-based distros, Bodhi Linux is very minimalistic, it comes with very few applications by default. The desktop environment of Bodhi is Enlightenment (E17), which is very configurable and rich in features. But the most awesome thing about Bodhi Linux is that it uses very little resource, you may not believe but in fact, at idle, Bodhi Linux consumes less than 60MB of RAM so your netbook can run very well with Bodhi Linux. Here is the screenshot of the top command when Bodhi Linux is idle:

Linux distro for netbooks
Bodhi Linux at idle uses less than 60MB of RAM
However, if you choose to use Bodhi, it will take time to add new applications and configure the system since Bodhi is very minimalistic.

Lubuntu and Xubuntu

Lubuntu is a derivative distro of Ubuntu that use LXDE as the desktop environment. Similarly, Xubuntu uses Xcfe. When comparing to Ubuntu and Kubuntu,  Lubuntu and Xubuntu are less demanding of computer memory and resources and more energy efficient.  And with the support of Ubuntu, both Lubuntu and Xubuntu are very compatible with all the hardware as well. That's why both Lubuntu and Xubuntu are two great Linux distros for netbooks.

Puppy Linux

Puppy is one of the lightest linux distros around. And like Bodhi Linux, it also comes with some basic applications you will need ( actually Puppy offers more applications by default than Bodhi). However, after installing Puppy, you will have to do configure many things too. So puppy is like Arch Linux or Bodhi, it is a great distro for netbook but may not be the best choice for beginners.
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