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

2. DietP

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.

lightweight operating systems for Raspberry Pi

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!

Thanks to the ideal minimalist philosophy of the operating system, piCore is fast and flexible, but has almost no software. Instead, you need to download and install your own web browser, email client, text editor, and other applications.

Fast and stable, piCore comes with internet connectivity and can even cram a traditional desktop into a compact package. Without a desktop, piCore will use even fewer resources!

4. Crux-ARM

Looking for a raw and dirty Linux operating system that you can customize for any purpose? Look no further than Crux-ARM, the ARM version of the standard 32-bit Linux-based Crux operating system. The download size is 81 MB, but the finished size will depend on the OS configuration.

lightweight operating systems for Raspberry Pi

Due to the complexity of Crux, some Linux experience is required. One of the key downsides is that Crux-ARM is harder to install than most Raspberry Pi operating systems (it’s usually quite easy. ). However, you’ll still find a compact Linux OS ready to be used with whatever project you’re planning.

5. Arch Linux ARM

Arch is arguably the most popular Raspbian alternative for Raspberry Pi users, and for good reason. An ARM oriented version of 32-bit Arch Linux, it has all the features and functionality of a Raspberry Pi board under Raspbian.

Manual installation is available, but a simplified alternative is available using the NOOB installer.

The end result is a lightweight Raspberry Pi distribution with desktop desktops. It’s fast, efficient, and perfect for the various Raspberry Pi projects you might want to get started. Full GPIO access is also available on Arch Linux, making it a great and lightweight Raspberry Pi operating system.


It is a lightweight non-Linux operating system that you can run on your Raspberry Pi. The original ARM-based operating system, RISC OS dates back to the 1980s but is still useful. Available for multiple devices, RISC OS is compact in size. On the Pi, you’ll only need 119MB of free space on your microSD card, although a 2GB card will be required.

lightweight operating systems for Raspberry Pi

If you have never used Linux before, you need to learn a few new commands. The GUI can be a little tricky at first, as there is no start button or dock. Instead, applications are grouped into desktop folders and prefixed with «!». In the meantime, make sure you’re using a RISC OS with a three-button mouse (the middle button just needs a clickable wheel).

Like Arch Linux, RISC OS can be installed via NOOB. Check out our step by step guide to install RISC OS on Raspberry Pi to find out more.

What lightweight OS do you have on your pi?

With so many lightweight distributions available for the Raspberry Pi, you shouldn’t have any trouble running your projects with maximum system resources. As a reminder, the lightest Raspberry Pi operating systems are:

Note: several others were discovered while researching this article. Most notable was Daylight Linux, but unfortunately the download page didn’t work.

Have you tried any of these? For the easiest experience, you should take a look at piCore or Arch.

However, if you want something lightweight yet recognizable in the Raspberry Pi experience, try Raspbian Stretch Lite. You can also install Android on Raspberry Pi. For Windows-like, set up your Raspberry Pi as a Windows thin client.

And to get the most out of your Pi device, consider purchasing a few of these best Raspberry Pi accessories. get the most out of your Raspberry Pi. getting the most out of your

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