When you come from the proprietary operating system way of thinking, it's difficult to get your mind around the idea of not automatically needing to upgrade your PC hardware every two years. While upgrading is not an absolute necessity, more often than not we feel compelled to, as if to make sure we enjoy maximum compatibility.
On the Linux desktop, however, it's completely different. You aren't bound to the usual set of rules that come with a proprietary desktop. Generally speaking, peripherals from any time period are going to do well on the Linux desktop.
Unlike Windows 7 or OS X, today's modern Linux distributions have very solid 'out of the box' support for just about any peripheral you happen to throw at it. Even better, most new peripherals work without ever needing to concern yourself with installing drivers.
This means the end user is free to upgrade to a new PC because they're seeking a performance increase, not because of compatibility concerns. And it's worth noting that sometimes upgrading for increased performance is beneficial.
In this article, I’ll highlight examples of instances where a PC upgrade makes sense and which distribution is best suited for older hardware.
A new PC
For the most part, I've found that any PC capable of running LibreOffice is more than enough to meet my needs. The one exception to this is when I need to do a lot of video editing. While older PCs are still capable of running most video editing suites for Linux, rendering edited video is another story. Fact is, the faster the machine, the quicker you'll have a finished video project.
So for anyone needing to run high-intensity applications like video editing/rendering and some image processing, owning a newer PC is a bonus. And on this new PC, you're free to run any distribution and desktop environment you happen to think will be the best fit for you.
Common choices include Linux distributions that come with KDE or Gnome immediately available. Obviously, you can install any desktop environment you like. For the sake of this example, we're looking at the desktop environments installed by default for different distributions.
Distributions such as Ubuntu, Fedora, and OpenSuSEdo well on new PCs. Each of these distributions offer either Gnome, KDE or the option to choose one of these desktop environments during the initial setup.
If you're looking at running one of these three distributions, you might be wise to consider a newer computer. It's not a must, but it will allow you to get more out of the three above distributions.
When dealing with older PCs, the options do become a bit more limited. Because even if you opt for light-weight friendly distributions using light-weight desktop environments, the fact of the matter is some software needs more resources than the old PC can provide.
However, if the PC is destined for merely light tasks – video viewing on YouTube, working within the constraints of an office suite such as LibreOffice – then you will find that most older PCs will do just fine.
Yes, there are others, but these are the distributions I feel good about recommending. And I'd also point out that Puppy Linux is so light-weight, it will run on ancient PCs that even the other distributions in the above list won't work well with.
Think tasks, not hardware
Now that I've separated the two classes of PC options into new and old, the next step is to consider the components of each computer. Is the PC an older model that has really poor cooling?