5 Lightweight Linux Desktop Environments

Do you own an old PC, like the ones that came with Windows XP? Well, you don’t have to dump them just yet as they can be brought back to life with these lightweight Linux desktop environments. These desktop environments are characterized as lightweight because they consume lesser resources than other popular desktop environments with feature-rich experiences. Here are all of these lightweight Linux desktop environments.

1. XFCE Desktop

XFCE is one of the most popular lightweight Linux desktop environments around. This is because it seeks to a fairly rich user experience that is appealing and easy to use with minimal resource utilization. Xfce is the default desktop environment in Xubuntu, Linux Lite, Uberstudent, Manjaro Linux and Blackbox. It is probably the least lightweight on the list but then, it gives more features and customization than almost all of the others.

xfce linux desktop environments

​2. MATE

The MATE(MATE Advanced Traditional Environment) desktop environment is a fork of GNOME 2. MATE has been popularised mainly as an alternative to Cinnamon DE on Linux Mint. It is also available on Sabayon Linux, Fedora, SnowLinux 2 Cream and most recently with Ubuntu MATE.

mate linux desktop environments


LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment) has been designed with very low resource usage. This is particularly ideal for computers with very low hardware specifications. LXQT is the latest version of LXDE written in Qt. It is the default with Linux distributions such as  Knoppix, Lubuntu, LXLE Linux, Peppermint Linux OS. It is less user-friendly than MATE and Xfce but comes with all the features you would expect from a modern desktop environment.

lxle or lxqt desktop environments

4. ​Enlightenment

Enlightenment is a very eye-candy Linux desktop environment that is also lightweight resource use. It started as a window manager but it can now hold its own as a fully featured desktop environment.

enlightenment linux desktop environment

5. ​iceWM  (128 Mb)

iceWM is not exactly a desktop environment. It is a highly configurable standalone window manager. Also, another window manager that can stand its own as a barebones desktop environment. It is designed to be small, fast and fully compliant with a lot of standards. iceWM is the default window manager/DE on Absolute Linux and Lightweight Portable Security.

iceWM desktop environment


Linux has for a long time reached and even surpassed the feature quality of Windows and MacOS when it comes to the desktop environments (Unity, GNOME 3 and KDE). But there are times these fancy DEs won’t play nice with your hardware especially for old computers (ones that came with XP). Other times, you just need something that works without getting in the way. And these lightweight Linux desktop environments have been developed with exactly this in mind. If you happen to be on the look for a lightweight Linux distro for old computers, make sure to check out this previous article which looks at some popular lightweight Linux distros.

​Did I leave out any lightweight distro? Kindly share in the comments and share this article with your friends.


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9 Comments Text
  • Next to the desktop names there are numbers (i.e. 512 mb). Where did they come from? In my experience Enlightenment is much lighter than openbox, and the gap between XFCE and openbox is not nearly as big as suggested here.

  • If you are counting non-DE environments like IceWM, you should also include i3wm. you can’t get much lighter than i3, and i3 *can* with some work be configured to assume many tasks traditionally handled by a DE such as volume keys, even backlight levels can be managed. it can also be used to replace the WM component of XFCE, MATE, and LXQT, at least.

    Running XFCE or even MATE on severly constrained hardware (like a Rasberry Pi 2/3) is almost painful. It *works* in the barest sense of the definition, but actually doing anything useful will take way too much time. Putting i3 alongside MATE is almost trivial, and I almost forgot I was even on a quad core ARM device. I was able to use my Pi as a keyboard/mouse server with synergy and it worked exceedingly well.

    Of course, i3 is not for the faint of heart of those afriad to experiment 😀

  • Enlightenment and Sway Works with Wayland. Lxqt and Mate will hopefully work in the future. X11 IS old crap.

  • Where does a lightweight Linux version cut me off from a possible goal? Is there any app, service, feature, or anything else that can’t be added back in to a lightweight version of Linux? Is “Lightweightness” simply a measure of the initial install or is there a level of functionality that becomes out of reach for some uses, purposes, and goals? For example, “what can I NOT do with these versions?” Noting that a key reason Windows and OSX have become so slow is due to background tasks that either overwhelm old CPUs or use up RAM, do these Linux alternatives turn off any background services that heavier versions typically use? What services? Can they be turned on? Wow; here’s an article to write… Tuning Linux to match your resources. Thanks for your article. I’ve been through several Linux CLI/intro trainings, but I haven’t yet tried it for daily use.

  • If XFCE and MATE are considered lightweight, in that case we should also mention KDE which consume only 600MiB of memory.

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