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 is primarily 64-bit and may be used as modern.
Recently, many famous and lightweight Linux distros dropped support for 32-bit architecture. But some projects are still strong and allow users to run the older machines with full functionality.
The following selection is not particularly based on any criteria. These are loosely sorted based on “how active the distribution is” and followed by ease of use, popularity.
Let’s run down the ten best Linux distros that still support 32-bit systems. I have updated the entire list based on the current available information.
Top 10 32-bit Linux distros in 2024
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/non-free packages both in a single ISO file. 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. The last release of Debian 12 received a positive review overall, which is a testament to this distribution.
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
MX Linux is a systemd-free distro based on the “Debian stable” branch. It has recently been 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 overall
- Based on Debian stable, it gives a more stable system
- Unique in-house applications to help users with generic tasks
- Three 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 in 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
Linux Mint Debian Edition
The fourth Linux distro in this list of 32-bit distributions is Linux Mint Debian Edition or LMDE, built on top of the standard Linux Mint base. This Linux distribution is perfect for new users who want a system which just works in every aspect. Linux Mint is known for its beginner-friendly nature, which is combined with Debian stability.
The team provides both 32-bit and 64-bit ISO files for LMDE. The recent release, i.e. LMDE 6, is perfect for older hardware that requires a stable operating system. To learn more about its features, you can check out my review: LMDE 6 features.
Void Linux is an independent Linux distro (not depending on Debian or Fedora, etc.) which follows a unique rolling release model. It comes with the 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.
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
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 the 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 a window manager, systemd-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
Remember the famous Crunchbang project? The BunsenLabs Linux is a successor to 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 make it a well-designed 32-bit distro for that ancient hardware.
Why 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
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
Mageia stands out for its elegant simplicity and unique approach that sets it apart from the typical Debian or Fedora bases. A direct descendant of Mandriva-Linux, Mageia provides users with an effortlessly intuitive computing experience across various desktop environments, including GNOME, KDE Plasma, and Xfce.
Fortunately, this independent distribution still supports 32-bit architecture. The recently released Mageia 9 is a huge hit among its fans, bringing many features and upgrades.
You can read its feature here: Mageia 9 review.
Download using the following link. Note that the 32-bit installer is available as a “classic” install & “LIVE media” with Xfce desktop only.
Zorin OS Lite 15.3 (discontinued after April-2023)
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.
But there is a catch. The Zorin OS 15.3 Lite version only supported the 32-bit version. And its support ended on April 2023. Current version 16+ does not come with 32-bit version.
The reason is it is based on Ubuntu LTS. And Ubuntu discontinued the 32-bit image from the Ubuntu 20.04 LTS “Focal Fossa” version.
You can use Zorin OS 15.3 Lite older ISO from the below link and take advantage of its beautiful desktop and additional features. Be careful since it is not supported at the moment.
List of significant distros that dropped support of 32-bit recently
Since you went through the above list, it’s always important to remember that a bunch of distributions that 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 distributions, which unfortunately discontinued the 32-bit support in the recent past.
- Linux Mint 20 and above (standard version)
- Ubuntu 20.04 LTS “Focal Fossa” and above
- All the official Ubuntu flavours (such as Lubuntu and Xubuntu) from 20.04 onwards
- Zorin OS 16+ 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 LMDE, 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.