Desktop Environments RAM use

As a result of a recent discussion on IRC, I decided to take a number of DE (Desktop Environments) for a test drive and see how much ram they used.

Test machine – Netbook with 2 Gb RAM

Method – This is a very casual test (sorry no “benchmarks”), I merely booted the appropriate Live CD, opened a terminal, and reviewed the RAM use. YMMV.

These results are simply using the default configuration as provided by the developers of the various distros and I made no attempt to tweak or adjust the RAM use.

Please keep in mind, RAM use is a crude measure of “performance”. The “responsiveness” of your window manager is dependent on a number of variables including graphics cards, desktop effects, and even sometimes a misconfigured or misbehaving wireless card. For example, on my netbook gnome-shell is using llvmpipe. llvmpipe comes with a noticeable performance hit on my netbook so while the ram use is similar to Unity, Unity gives much better performance.

Distros: I used the latest distros, even if they are in Alpha/Beta, so as to get the best possible video performance on my netbook (gma500_gfx).

I chose a range of distros to make the comparisons a little more interesting. I find XFCE uses about the same amount of RAM on Xubuntu as it does on Fedora (XFCE spin). They are at least in the same ballpark. Notice how Lubuntu (openbox + LXDE) and Crunchbang (also openbox) are “close enough”, at least for my purpose, at 165 vs 112 mb RAM.

Bodhi Linux 2.0 (beta)
Crunchbang 11 (Waldorf)
Fedora 17 (Beefy Miracle)
Linux Mint 13 (Maya)
Ubuntu 12.10 (Quantal Quetzal) (Alpha)


Ubuntu 12.10 (Quantal Quetzal)

  • Unity – 335 mb
  • Lubuntu – 165 mb
  • Kubuntu – 261 mb
  • Xubuntu – 230 mb

Fedora 17 (Beefy Miracle)

  • Gnome-shell – 335 mb
  • lxde – 151 mb
  • kde – 277 mb
  • xfce – 179 mb

Linux Mint 13 (Maya)

Bodhi Linux 2.0 (Beta)

  • Enlightenment – 116 mb

Crunchbang 11 (Waldorf)

  • Openbox – 112 mb
This entry was posted in Linux and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to Desktop Environments RAM use

  1. Pingback: Ubuntu developers: Bodhi.Zazen: Desktop Environments RAM use |

  2. CruelAngel says:

    :\ Mate takes up more than Cinnamon? Aren’t those mixed up?
    BTW Why did you use the alpha Ubuntu instead of a stable one? (Not that there should be any significant differences, since Quantal is still in a very early phase.)

  3. Rich Brown says:

    This is totally off-topic for the “Desktop Environments RAM Use” posting but…

    I was reading your (excellent) IP Tables Primer. I’m a techie, but new to iptables, and your description is the best, by far. I had a couple comments:

    I have been looking at iptables docs all over the Internet, and it’s really hard to find one that *clearly* specifies the relationship between tables and chains, and their relationship to the whole packet-handling process. (There are hints everywhere, but I couldn’t find a clear description of what happens to a packet when it arrives on your doorstep…)

    1) Your note was the missing link, although I still had to make a mental leap. I think the step I was missing is the connection between the diagram at the top of the page and the triggering of each of the tables/chains. Is this description for the “Anatomy of iptables” correct?

    Iptables is nothing more then a set of rules for processing network packets coming and going to and from your computer (firewall). These rules are organized into tables and chains. Each table (by convention, a lowercase name) has a number of chains (uppercase name). Each chain may contain multiple rules that determine how a packet should be handled.

    A packet’s fate is determined by following the rules, one at a time, like links in a chain. The diagram at the top of this posting shows the sequence of processing.

    As the packet arrives from the network, it is processed according to each of the ovals shown. The specified table is searched for a matching chain. If one exists, the packet is tested against each of the rules in that chain, and processed accordingly. The arriving packet then passes to the next oval, where that table is searched for a corresponding chain, and so on until the packet is either delivered or dropped.

    2) In your -F [Chain] example, I think there’s a typo. It says…

    iptables -t nat -F PREROUTING # Clears the PREROUTING table in the nat table.

    I believe it should say, “Clears the PREROUTING *chain*… Am I correct?

    3) The IPTables Flow Chart link at is broken. The new URL seems to be:

    Best regards, and thanks for the great tutorial!

    Rich Brown
    Hanover, NH USA

  4. Pingback: Running Linux Mint 13 Onto MacBook Pro (Mid 2010 Model) | EssayBoard

  5. Rob says:

    You might want to add Pre-alpha to Ubuntu 12.10’s entry, as the official release is still four months away.

  6. KenP says:

    For me, the reassuring surprise is KDE usage against Unity and Gnome-shell … long it has been rumoured KDE is a memory hog but this clearly shows Gnome/Unity are not the leaner desktops they are made out to be.

    Thanks for this comparison :-)

  7. snowhawkyrf says:

    So, this is why I turned to XFCE. Unity and GNOME3 are not light enough.

  8. Aaron says:

    You really can’t use Fedora and Crunchbang against the others since they are different base distributions. The best way to test this is use the same base distro (For instance, you can use K/L/Ubuntu 12.04, Mint 13, and Bohdi 2.0 since they are all based on the same Ubuntu 12.04 LTS). Fedora is generally a little lighter than Ubuntu and direct Debian based (Crunchbang) is most certainly lighter. I know this for sure because I can run Linux Mint 13 and Linux Mint Debian Edition with the same desktop environment and the Debian based one is always lighter by a good amount.

  9. Anonymous says:

    These comparisons are mostly meaningless, because different distros enable different features by default. The only comparisons that are meaningful in this list are the comparisons of multiple DEs on a single distro. That is, Fedora+KDE can be meaningfully compared to Fedora+XFCE. But not so Fedora+KDE and #!+Openbox.

  10. Pingback: .: przystajnik :.» Archiwum » Środowiska, dystrybucje i nasze wątłe zasoby pamięci

  11. uke-eda says:


    Especially Cinnamon as it is a fork of Gnome-Shell. I’d like to know what they did to achieve a lean 196 mb. Astonishing.

    Nevertheless – glad my favorite Openbox won :-)
    (In truth I don’t give much to some fewer or more mb. I just like the way Openbox works (or rather how I can work with it).)

    Thanks bodhi.zazen for the work and the resulting post!

  12. bodhi.zazen says:

    @Aaron and Anonymous – I updated my post.

    I chose a range of distros to make the comparisons a little more interesting. I find XFCE uses about the same amount of RAM on Xubuntu as it does on Fedora (XFCE spin). The DE are at least in the same ballpark in terms of RAM use across various distros, the one that varies the most would be Gnome, as you can see between Unity (Ubuntu) and gnome-shell(Fedora) and Cinnamon (Mint).

  13. bodhi.zazen says:

    @CruelAngel – No, not mixed up, Cinnamon was lighter then Mate.

  14. bodhi.zazen says:

    @Rich Brown – Thank you for the feedback. The iptables tutorial grew out of a discussion we had at my LUG and has continued to grow as people like you are kind enough to give feedback. I updated the post and included your corrections. I included your description of iptables.

  15. Pingback: Links 4/6/2012: Linux Advocacy and More | Techrights

  16. Jon says:

    This website has been doing similar tests for quite some time now. I thought you might be interested:

  17. John Wendel says:

    I reduced the memory footprint of Fedora 17 + Gnome3 by 100MB, by building a new 3.4 kernel. I just removed everything that wasn’t need on my box (look at lsmod). Gnome is still a pig, but this helped on my 1GB box.

  18. Pingback: Comparativo: uso de memoria en los principales entornos de escritorio | liders

  19. Sween says:

    were the installs i686 or amd64?

  20. bodhi.zazen says:

    @Sween – Nothing was installed, all running from a live CD. arch is all i686 . amd64 will use a bit more.

  21. Sween says:

    No idea why I wrote “installs” instead of “ISOs”.
    Sorry about that, and thanks again.

  22. Hi,

    thanks for the comparison which is interesting and as so many people
    put thumbs down for Unity I was pretty sure it would be a memory pig.
    Your article made me compare memory usage also – most interesting for
    me – comparing my old Gnome 2 Ubuntu 10.04 with my new Gnome3 Unity
    Ubuntu 12.04:

    I have two notebooks with identical hardware (32-bit) – one is already
    running 12.04 and the other is my older 10.04 installation. Both have
    everything installed I need on my business laptop.

    Login without any desktop app running (but e.g. MySQL Server running
    which I need for testing purposes now and then as I am an IT
    consultant and software developer):
    Ubuntu 10.04 (Gnome 2): 454 MB
    Ubuntu 12.04 (Unity): 309 MB

    Now this is not really signifficant, because Password manager,
    Shutter, Dropbox and Skype for example are startet immediately on
    login – which results in increased memory usage:
    Ubuntu 10.04 (Gnome 2): 568 MB
    Ubuntu 12.04 (Unity): 432 MB

    And of course usually Thunderbird and Firefox are the next apps to be
    started (both having several plugins installed and activated). I
    waited a few minutes until I investigated memory usage:
    Ubuntu 10.04 (Gnome 2): 737 MB
    Ubuntu 12.04 (Unity): 677 MB

    Surprisingly Unity is consuming less memory (between 60 and 140 MB
    less) than my older Gnome 2 desktop. So situation is now better than
    before – compare this to a usual major upgrade of Windows which
    usually requires a hardware upgrade anyway!

    I also tried Lubuntu Live CD (134 MB) and Mint Live CD, Cinnamon
    Version (211 MB) as well as Fedora 17 Live CD (309 MB).

    Just a side note: I was a Fedora-User in the past but the Gnome 3
    configuration in Fedora is just crap (Windows usability is better…).
    If I would ever go back to Fedora than only XFCE-Spin (which I don’t
    have downloaded yet).

    Given the fact that I tweak my desktop a lot (less tweaking required
    on 12.04 than on 10.04) – most tweaking done in
    CompizConfigSettingsManager – the other alternatives consuming less
    memory do not fit my needs regarding desktop features. So I am pretty
    satisfied with my new 12.04 installation.

    In my tests memory usage is pretty everywhere lower than in your
    tests. Either updates improved or you were using a 64-bit netbook. ;-)

  23. bodhi.zazen says:

    @Martin Wildam – great post.

  24. Aaron says:

    +2 Martin Wildam

  25. Pete says:

    Interesting post. After reading I went and added Cinnamon to my Ubuntu 12.04 install. I think Martin Wildman said it perfectly: XFCE and LXDE just don’t have the desktop features I like. e17 is cool, but it’s never been stable enough for me. I had Gnome 3 extended like crazy, but Cinnamon is just the sweet spot for me in terms of features, easy customization and a desktop that stays out of my way.

    I haven’t found it to be as low on memory use as you did, though. Mine seems pretty close to Unity at around 300 mb. Right now, with Chrome open on my work laptop, I’m hogging 1,400 mb. (got 4 gb here, so no worries).

    Thanks for the post.

  26. @Pete: Where are you customizing Cinnamon/Gnome3 to your needs? Does it play well with Compiz? I could not find Cinnamon or Gnome3 customization into that detail.

  27. Pingback: IP Tables Primer » Rambles of Ev

  28. Let me come back to this with another interesting experience:
    I set up a new laptop (mostly needed because the virtual Windows machines with ECM software on them I need to test require _a lot_ more resources which I could not handle with my old one any more). Again exact same set of software, The autostarts running and Thunderbird + Firefox open – so comparable to these results:

    Ubuntu 10.04 (Gnome 2): 737 MB
    Ubuntu 12.04 (Unity): 677 MB

    now on the new laptop, which has 16 GB RAM, Ubuntu 12.04 (Unity) uses 1.4 GB RAM.

    This leads to the following assumption: You might experience different RAM usages depending on how many memory you have installed. So the old saying applies: YMMV (Your mileage may vary)…

  29. Oh, I forgot a small detail: My new laptop is 64-bit while the old was 32-bit. This may also be a reason for the increased memory usage!

  30. bodhi.zazen says:

    @Martin Wildam – Aye, but it is interesting to watch ;)

  31. Which brings up the discussion that 64-bit may increase memory usage for all apps when compiled for 64-bit. Hope, the 16 GB will be enough for the next years…

  32. Rich Brown says:

    Another off-topic comment. Your article about VPN over SSH notes that the address (e.g. /24) is reserved for private use. This is incorrect.

    The correct address range is (The wikipedia article has been updated.) I just learned this myself when I heard that the address range was allocated to AT&T…


    Rich Brown

  33. bodhi.zazen says:

    Thanks Rich. Will look at updating my VPN over SSH.

  34. LDC says:

    When had Crunchbang on my netbook (1 Gig RAM), it used 60 mb with out anything open. 200 Mb tops with Firefox and a couple other things open. Very nice on the RAM usage.

  35. Ian says:

    Thanks for the interesting results. Very surprising to see Mint Cinnamon vs MATE. I would also be interested to see the Mint XFCE results, as well as Mint Debian Edition. I was actually ready to install a Mint XFCE on an old PC, and came across your site while preparing a boot disk. It made me consider installing Cinnamon instead of XFCE.

  36. Dr Box says:

    mate > cinnamon ?

    are you suuuure?

    Please also try PepperMintOS & WattOS

  37. Dr Box says:

    Please also repeat for WM

    I hate openbox (lubuntu)

  38. Doom3d says:

    On Ubuntu 12.04 Mate was below 200 MB, and used less, then Cinnamon. But I made some modifications to Mate.
    Just tried AntiX linux (wich uses debian repo) with fluxbox and replaced wallpaper (no other changes), 33 MB idle.. would be 32 MB without Conky running. (tested with Htop + Conky)

    Another interesting distro is Slitaz. It’s built in web browser is tweaked, uses 10 MB with only one page opened. Others are around 30..45 MB with same page. You may surf the web with 64 MB EDO RAM.

  39. bodhi.zazen says:

    If you like Slitaz, take a look at Tinycore and slax.

  40. Pingback: Comparativo: uso de memoria en los principales entornos de escritorio

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *