Your Raspberry Pi is not like a standard PC. Of course, it can replace a desktop computer, but overall it is a more versatile device.
One of the compromises is that it does not have huge resources . Take a look at Raspbian Stretch and compare it to Debian Stretch — there is definitely a difference. Raspbian is more compact, with some missing features… it’s lightweight and for good reason.
Many features commonly found on Linux desktops are not required on the Raspberry Pi. By keeping the operating system (OS) lightweight, processing power and RAM can be dedicated to any project you plan to launch.
But what if you need even more power? Well, you switch to an even lighter OS. Several versions of Linux and other operating systems have been developed for the Pi with a minimalist philosophy.
1. Raspby stretch light
The most obvious choice for those looking for a lightweight Raspberry Pi distribution («distro») is Raspbian Stretch Lite. Offering the same basic Debian base operating system, Raspbian Stretch Lite is a minimal image without the X server window manager, related components, and other modules.
Overall, it has less software, fewer modules, and the operating system uses fewer resources. The main result of this is that it uses fewer resources, which cuts down on battery usage. While Raspbian Stretch is a 4GB image, Raspbian Stretch Lite is only 1.2GB.
As a result, this «light» distro is «headless» (i.e. it doesn’t have a desktop) and is ideal for server use. You will see some performance improvement especially if you are using the Pi as a file server or some other headless task
Another lightweight Raspberry Pi distribution that has its origins in Debian (Debian Jessie this time), DietPi is available for a few single board computers (such as the Raspberry Pi and its competitors), but mostly for the Raspberry Pi. DietPi is based on a compact 589 MB version of Debian and comes with a software tool for installing optimized applications.
This gorgeous chart compares DietPi to Raspbian Jessie Lite, illustrating everything from image size to system response time. While the Raspbian Jessie Lite (and later Stretch Lite) requires a microSD card of at least 2GB, the Diet Pi can fit on a 1GB card. Obviously, bigger cards offer more storage, but with such a lightweight OS, that memory can be maximized for your project.
Optimized apps for DietPi OS include desktops, remote desktop tools, multimedia systems, gaming tools and servers, cloud servers, file servers, web servers and more.
3.piCore / Tiny Core Linux
You’ve probably heard of Tiny Core Linux, as it regularly appears on lists of the smallest Linux distributions. The incredibly lightweight version of the Raspberry Pi by Tiny Core Linux piCore has a surprisingly small load. It’s just under 35MB.
It also loads fast!