Fedora Memory Comparison

Adam Williamson from happyassasin.net has a nice article titled Some comparisons between Fedora 13, 15, 17, 19 and 20. Adam works for Red Hat as Fedora QA Community Manager, meaning he knows what he’s taking about:

We can see that the memory used when you simply boot to a console and log in has changed very little all the way back to Fedora 13, released 2010-05-25. We’re doing a fairly good job of keeping our base system from bloating excessively. 19 and 20 are both 30MB worse than 17, but then, 17 was 25MB better than 15.

The same certainly doesn’t hold true for the graphical desktop, though. Just sitting at a mostly-idle desktop with a terminal open, our memory usage has gone from 275MB under the ancien GNOME 2 regime to 300MB with GNOME 3′s ‘fallback mode’ (which was more or less GNOME 2), then rocketed to nearly 400MB, 535MB, and nearly 700MB in subsequent releases. I haven’t yet looked in detail at the changes, but I did take screenshots of ‘top’ ordered by memory usage for each install.

The measurements are done using free command in a gnome-terminal immediately after bootup. GNOME runs in a virtual machine without hardware acceleration, and it ends up using Mesa llvmpipe driver. These are the graphs based on Adam’s measurements:

Fedora server memory (MB)

Fedora server memory (MB)

Fedora GNOME Desktop memory (MB)

Fedora GNOME Desktop memory (MB)

It is a valid setup, GNOME fully supports software rendering using Mesa 3D Graphics Library. The feature was introduced in Fedora 17 and it is officially described by Fedora/GNOME team here. This feature replaced the fallback mode from previous releases.

If you run GNOME on a system with a fully supported hardware accelerated video card, the numbers will be much smaller. Looks like Adam hit the worst-case scenario with his tests. He continues:

the memory usage of the [GNOME] Shell itself grew massively – in fact, more than doubled – from Fedora 19 to Fedora 20, accounting for all the overall increase in memory usage from 19 to 20 by itself. gnome-settings-daemon has also been growing on a more modest scale, from 18MB at F15 to 30MB in F20.

I don’t know if anyone in GNOME land is focused on efficiency, but these numbers suggest that it might be a good idea to spend some time on it. Some of the increase is probably unavoidable with GNOME’s increase in capabilities over time, but some of it is probably fixable.

As a side note, there are plenty of other desktop environments and window managers in Linux. There are also lots of other Linux distributions. Not all of them are created equal, but none requires 700MB to run an empty desktop. Below is just a small sample of what is available (measurements on real hardware, free command in a terminal after bootup):

Debian 7 Memory (MB)

Debian 7 Memory (MB)

Ubuntu 13.04 Memory (MB)

Ubuntu 13.04 Memory (MB)

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7 thoughts on “Fedora Memory Comparison

  1. Dragnucs

    The data for Fedora are biased. I am currently using fedora 20 and don’t suffer from all this memory consumption. gnome-shell never went over 250 MiB. I just had to restart it (Alt+F2 > r) then to come back to about 90 MiB used memory for gnome-shell. See http://www.dragnucs.com/gnome-shell%20memory.png

    Also, Adam, just wrot a new blog post, and updated his previous one, that he had made the tests on a VM. And then because of llvmpipe, we see all this memory consumption.

    Please update you article too so you get more accurate facts.

    1. netblue30 Post author

      The memory numbers depend on the 3D stack you are using. You could have some NVIDIA card, or you could have some llvmpipe library doing your rasterization. The final numbers will be different.

      Running on top of llvmpipe is a Gnome feature described here. Unrecognized and unsupported video cards is a reality for a lot of Linux users. These numbers are exactly what some very unlucky users will see. The facts are very accurate.

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  4. Manuel

    I have a core 2 duo desktop with 2gb of RAM and the system was hanging all the time with Fedora 20 because there was not enough memory and I forgot to enable swap memory. My desktop also uses around 700 Mb without when no application is running. I hope memory usage is reduced with Fedora 20 stable.

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