The Best Linux Distributions That Can Run Entirely On RAM

Running a Linux distribution completely from RAM has many benefits.  First, reading/writing directly from RAM is exponentially faster than using a HDD/SSD.  Second, running from RAM means you will have fewer problems with reboots and drive life.  Third, running the entire operating system from RAM means you could potentially speed up virtualization.  Fourth, it’s a great way to try out an operating system without having to fully commit.  And finally, it’s a fun way to make old computers feel like new again. So here’s our top five list of Linux distributions that runs on RAM. Don’t forget that you can install any of these Linux distributions using Etcher.

Alpine Linux – When You Like It Simple And Secure

Five years ago, the Alpine Linux distribution was basically unheard of.  But it has been gaining popularity in the last few years, mainly because of Docker.  It’s a community-developed operating system, which began as an off-shoot of the LEAF (Linux Embedded Appliance Framework) Project.  It is not GNU and instead uses musl and BusyBox.  Alpine is lean and mean, coming in at only 5mb.  It’s based on uClibc, which means it does not require much RAM.  It’s also one of the most secure Linux distributions you can find, which is not surprising since it was originally designed for servers and routers.  The packages are built using Stack Smashing Protection and PIE (Position Independent Executables).  Alpine works best for things like Docker containers and embedded devices, but it could also be used as a desktop as long as you are comfortable with its limitations.  You’re not going to get a “plug and play” desktop experience and will have to put it some work.  However, its minimalist features make it ideal for using it on an older machine. 

Porteus – When You Like Options

The Porteus Distribution is a comprehensive Linux operating system that was designed specifically to be used on portable devices.  It is probably the most polished out of all of the distributions that can run from entirely from RAM.  Porteus began in 2010 as a community project and was originally called Slax Remix.  It’s fast and small–less than 300mb.  It comes in both 32 and 64 bit versions and has support for several languages.  Also, it can be installed without having to create a new partition.  Porteus comes with a lot of software choices right out of the box, and the user chooses what options s/he wants before installing.  This makes it a great choice for those who need a comprehensive system.  It is also modular.  The packages are separate modules with xzm extensions that can be activated or deactivated.  The great thing about being modular is that it’s hard to break.  It always boots “fresh”, meaning it deletes the module and brings things back to the way it was.  This also makes it really easy to test out different things, like desktop environments.  You can install Porteus using Rufus. Download a copy of Porteus and tinker away!

Knoppix – An Oldie But Goodie

Knoppix was initially released in September 2000 by Klaus Knopper.  It was among the first Linux distributions that were actually designed to run entirely from RAM.  There are two editions of Knoppix:  there’s a 700mb CD-ROM version and there’s a 4.7gb DVD Maxi version (of course, either can be used on a flash drive).  It comes with support for German and English.  Out of the box, it works on 32 and 64-bit systems and has over 2600 applications.  Out of all of the bootable distributions, Knoppix arguably has the best hardware detection capabilities.  Additionally, Knoppix has removed systemd since version 8.5.  If you’re not aware of the controversy surrounding systemd, it has long been accused of several security vulnerabilities. This distribution is based on the KDE environment, which means the desktop is quite visually appealing.  It’s on the heavier side, so this is not one to use with older hardware.  That being said, the heaviest Linux distribution is still much less taxing on system resources than Windows.

Puppy – When You Have An Older Computer And You Love Puppies

Puppy Linux was designed in 2003 by Barry Kauler and was made for home computing.  This distribution is not a stand-alone distribution; it is actually a collection of various Linux distributions.  The distributions in this collection share the same design principles, tools and applications, which provides for consistent behaviors.  It’s lightweight, amazingly fast and easy to use.  Because it was designed for home computing, it has a lovely GUI and comes out of the box with the typical applications needed for daily life.  Once installed, Puppy is so user-friendly that even your Grandpa will enjoy it, but it’s not a great choice for a beginner to actually install.  Some things are hard to achieve, and the install can be a bit clunky. Additionally, Puppy was also designed with older computers in mind, which makes it a great choice if you have an ancient machine but still want something that resembles Windows.  It goes easy on system resources, as it uses Openbox window managers and JWM by default.  So, dig out that 1999 Compaq with its CD-ROM drive and start having some fun.

Tails – When You’re Afraid Your Little Brother Is Reading Your Search History

If you had only one word to describe the Tails distribution, it would be privacy.  Tails aims to provide complete internet anonymity for its users.  Tails stands for The Amnesic Incognito Live System.  It’s a Debian-based distribution that was first released in June 2009.  Out of the box, it comes with a mail client, web browser, IRC client and instant messenger, which have all been designed with security as a top priority.  The word “amnesic” in the Tails acronym means that every time you shut down your computer, all modifications and files that were created during that session will be deleted.  Essentially, Tails always reverts back to its original state and once you remove your USB drive, no trace of you is left on the device.  Perhaps more importantly, all incoming and outgoing connections must go through the Tor network, otherwise the connection is blocked.  Tails says that these features allow users to enjoy the internet without the risk of censorship, surveillance or viruses.  And if you are left with any doubt of this distribution’s security, this is the system that Edward Snowden used when he emailed documents to journalists and avoided detection by the NSA.

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