Ubuntu Desktop Memory Comparison

Ubuntu 13.04 comes in a number of different variants, covering a wide range of hardware platforms. I am particularly interested in these variants because my computer is a 6 years old dual-core AMD 64bit with 1GB of memory.

As the Internet stopped getting faster, two years ago I’ve decided not to buy another computer. I don’t “read” flash heavy sites, I guess nobody likes them anyway. For games, movies, and music what I have is more than enough. I do need to keep an eye on memory however. Lately, some developers started to throw into their software everything but the kitchen sink.


The main Ubuntu desktop environment is Unity. Developed by Canonical Ltd., it is a great desktop for new users who aren’t especially computer savvy, and it requires lots of memory to run. As measured using free command after boot up, Unity runs in 437MB and it is visibly slow – definitely not a good choice for an old Widows XP computer!


With Unity out of the game, I am moving to KDE. It is packaged as an Ubuntu branch under the name Kubuntu. A download image is available for installation, or you can install it using apt-get on an existing Ubuntu computer:

sudo apt-get install kubuntu-desktop

Nice, elegant, and slow, it starts in 435MB of memory.

Ubuntu 13.04 KDE

Ubuntu 13.04 KDE


Gnome joined the Ubuntu family earlier this year under the name Ubuntu GNOME. You can find more information here. I have installed it as follows:

sudo apt-get install ubuntu-gnome-desktop ubuntu-gnome-default-settings

It loads in 304MB of memory and it runs fine even on my old machine. It is not a traditional desktop, it doesn’t have a taskbar and a menu. For this reason many people don’t like it. As for me, it is time to move to a series of desktop environments generally characterized as lightweight.

Ubuntu 13.04 Gnome

Ubuntu 13.04 Gnome


Razor-qt is described as “an advanced, easy-to-use, and fast desktop environment based on Qt technologies. It has been tailored for users who value simplicity, speed, and an intuitive interface. Unlike most desktop environments, Razor-qt also works fine with weak machines.” On my computer it runs very well in 288MB of memory.

Razor-qt is not in this moment an official Ubuntu branch. It is however fully supported, all you have to do is

sudo apt-get install razorqt
Razor-qt Desktop

Razor-qt Desktop


Xfce desktop environment has been packaged as an Ubuntu flavor since 2006 under the name Xubuntu. It is low on resources and fast. On my computer it loads in 281MB. I have installed it as:

sudo apt-get install xubuntu-desktop

It is an excellent choice for an old computer. Arguably, most people going linghtweigth end up with Xfce.

Ubuntu 13.04 XFCE

Ubuntu 13.04 XFCE


Another popular lightweight Ubuntu flavor is Lubuntu. It uses even less memory than Xubuntu, in my case 184MB. The desktop environment is LXDE. This is what I usually run on my computers.

sudo apt-get install lubuntu-desktop
Ubuntu 13.04 LXDE

Ubuntu 13.04 LXDE


Enlightenment is a lean, fast, modular and very extensible desktop environment for X11 and Linux. It is classed as a “desktop shell” providing the things you need to operate your desktop or laptop. On my computer it runs in 182MB of memory, very close to LXDE.

It is not an official Ubuntu flavor yet. Fully supported in Ubuntu 13.04, this is how you can install the latest version (E17):

sudo apt-get install e17
E17 Desktop

E17 Desktop

MATE and Cinnamon

MATE is supported in Ubuntu 13.04, and it runs in 264MB of memory. It is installed from developer’s repository as follows:

sudo add-apt-repository "deb http://packages.mate-desktop.org/repo/ubuntu raring main"
sudo add-apt-repository "deb http://repo.mate-desktop.org/ubuntu raring main"
sudo add-apt-repository "deb http://mirror1.mate-desktop.org/ubuntu raring main"
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install mate-archive-keyring
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install mate-core

Starting with Ubuntu 13.04 release, Cinnamon is supported officially in Ubuntu repositories. It runs in 390MB. It is installed as follows:

sudo apt-get install cinnamon


Choice is the best Linux feature ever. Regardless of your circumstances, you can always find a Linux OS to fit that computer of yours. In this case I am looking at Ubuntu 13.04 and its flavors. Stable, mature, and free, Ubuntu is supported by a reputable software company and one of the best user and developer communities.

I have measured the memory using free command in a X terminal after boot up. The number includes everything running on the computer in that specific moment. This is the memory chart:

Ubuntu 13.04 Memory (MB)

Ubuntu 13.04 Memory (MB)

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14 thoughts on “Ubuntu Desktop Memory Comparison

  1. Pingback: Ubuntu Desktop Memory Comparison | Hallow Demon

  2. Robin

    Pretty please, could you also test two more increasingly popular desktops – the new MATE 1.6 and Cinnamon 1.8 ?

      1. Robin

        Thank you for adding the two. It’s amazing to see that my favourite MATE beats even the ‘lightweight’ Xfce 😀

    1. Jim Burnett

      Goes to show Unity is a hog. Ubuntu 13.04 running Unity takes up WAY more resources than Windows 7 on the same machine. They are taking the eye candy a bit too far for my taste but that’s what Choice is all about!

      1. Robin

        I am currently using 13.04 with Gnome-Fallback (Classic) and lots of eye candy – compiz with wobbly windows and other plugins, avant window navigator with lots of applets instead of gnome-panel and I’m on 270MB at startup. Doesn’t mean anything though because Thunderbird raises it by 150MB and Firefox by another 350+MB…

  3. Pingback: End of Life – What this means to you. | Mike's Place in Cyberspace

  4. Teresa e Junior

    Xfce (latest version 4.10 from Siduction repositories) on Debian Wheezy uses about 90MB of RAM after boot.

  5. Pingback: Ubuntu auf älteren PCs | Aphilia.info

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