Memory Requirements

Mostly kicked off by this post (

OS Required / Realistic
Ubuntu (full Gnome) 384 MB / 512 MB
Xubuntu 192 MB / 256 MB
Windows XP 64 MB / 128 MB
Windows Vista Home Basic 512 MB
Windows Vista (Other) 1 GB
Windows 7 32 bit 1 GB
Windows 7 64 bit 2 GB

Ubuntu is approaching Windows Vista Home’s minimum memory specs, but is still a long way off our biggest competitor, Windows XP (70% market share and our only real competitor in netbooks). With netbooks usually having 512 – 1 GB of memory, it seems like XP would really let the user run many more applications (yes I am ignoring anti-virus and all the other random stuff OEMs load onto Windows to make it slower). So, I just have one question:

How hard would it be to reduce Ubuntu’s memory usage from 9.10 to 10.04 by just 64 MB (oh, and does anyone want to make this an official goal for 10.04)?

I have knowledge of at least one school district where the majority of computers have only 128 MB of RAM. They are running XP and want to switch to Linux, but it was simply not an option due to memory. (And no if they don’t have a big IT budget, read: no budget for LTSP)

Win 7 requirements
Win xp requirements
Ubuntu requirements
Win Vista requirements

24 thoughts on “Memory Requirements

  1. >There are some Xubuntu users who only have 128mb of RAM, so it's possible, but they usually build from minimal and then install only the xfce and xubuntu packages they want, and disable all services/daemons they don't need.

    It's possible to make very light sessions by disabling a lot of the OS's services and by focusing for a few weeks on fixing memory leaks everywhere in the system. But the user experience will surely not be as great as with all those services enabled. XP is a 2002 OS that is not really great compared to the current *buntus, so it's quite logical it's "lighter".

  2. >XP with 128MB of RAM? Sure, it may start, but it's totally unusable.

    I wouldn't use XP with less than 2GB of RAM and wouldn't use Vista with less than 4GB.

  3. >How did you measure the requirements? Did you eliminate memory caching from them or include it?

    Also, how does Kubuntu stand against the others?

  4. >@SiDi I would just want to do the safe ones, that don't remove features.

    @Anonymous I didn't say it would be a great experience, it's not. XP is definitely usable even with modern web browser on 256 MB of ram. Haven't personally had a system with 128 MB in a while.

    @TGM I used the listed requirements (at the bottom of the blog post). I couldn't find specs for Kubuntu anywhere. Wikipedia has them, but they look like they were copied from Ubuntu.

  5. >An ubuntu derivative based on LXDE is being developed – Lubuntu (dunno if this is the official name yet)
    It is supposed to have very low memory requirements.

  6. >I have seen a Windows XP with 128 MB RAM and that thing start swapping as soon as you log in … I don't think that can be called "usable".

  7. >@gQuigs Cody Somerville has been working on it for Xubuntu.

    Apart from porting the Python daemons to C, and making sure there is NO memory leak nowhere, and then drastically optimize RAM usage in all default daemons by trying to find the most optimized data structures, there isn't much to do.

    And often, RAM usage optimization is done at the cost of CPU usage (for instance, a data structure with less pointers is lighter but it's longer to seek through it – exemple of using a list vs a tree to gain some RAM usage).

  8. >A modern OS like Windows 7 or Mac OS X requires 2GB of RAM to use comfortably. I think you are being unrealistic to hope Ubuntu can compete both as an modern, slick OS and as something that can run on 128MB. Linux is better at scaling, but not that much better. The fact we can run a modern OS comfortable on 512MB instead of 2GB is an accomplishment.

    128MB is seriously ancient now. I don't think its unreasonable to suggest that people with computers like that use an alternative to Ubuntu with a different desktop environment. Expecting Ubuntu to do it is unrealistic.

  9. >I have Debian Lenny with a P4 and 256MB of ram. With a full session of Gnome I can call it "usable". Obviously it swaps when opening "many" (2-3) application, and switch between them can be a bit slow.

    On the same machine I have XP SP3. In my opinion performance is quite similar, especially when using the same ram hungry applications such as Firefox and OpenOffice.

  10. >I wouldn't be able to vouch that XP is usable on 128mb of Ram. Even on another person's computer with 384mb Ram it was merely touching the adequate bar line.

  11. >I think they would be way better off with Debian than with Ubuntu. I recently installed Xubuntu 9.04 on a Athlon XP 1600+ with 256 MB and it was just crawling. When I installed Debian 5.0 with Gnome it didn't become a machine I would like to work with every day but at least it was usable for browsing the web and it felt a lot more snappy than with Xubuntu.

    Of course this difference in RAM usage has a lot to do with the additional comfort Ubuntu provides compared to Debian for a desktop user. The nice thing is that in a school you can administer all machines centrally why the users shouldn't miss much on Debian that they had on Ubuntu. If you use XFCE instead of Gnome on Debian 128 MB might become a possibility.

    I don't think that stock Ubuntu will be usable with such low hardware requirements ever again. The only option would be to provide a separate version or an installer option that sacrifices comfort for low hardware requirements. This would make much sense if you remember that part of Ubuntus mission is to make free software available to the developing world.

  12. >Yeah there is no way Windows XP is usable only 128MB of memory. My brother's computer has Windows XP Home SP3 with 384MB of RAM and it barely runs well.

  13. >As with the boot time targets, a good idea would be to define a clear goal that is measureable.

    Just as was done with the boot-time:
    – define a target platform (dell mini 10v? for 32bit)
    – define clear rules, no cheating (clean install, default panel config, default services)
    – measure right after boot (with all services started)
    – clear goal, say <= 170M for 32bit version, <= 250M for 64bit

    maybe a fallback plan to at least not regress the memory usage.

  14. >TGM and Aaron are wrong: Windows XP SP3 is extremely usable with 256 MB of RAM, provided the CPU is at least P4. The user must be knowledgeable — no crap, good choice of AV, don't start all the preloaders (for Office, Acroread, all the crap).

    Windows 7 Home Premium is extremely usable with 1 GB of RAM (with dozens of IE tabs the RAM usage doesn't exceed 700 MB).

    OTOH, Xubuntu 9.04 does not run very well with 256 MB of RAM (since 7.10 — Xubuntu 7.04 was the latest 'lightweight' one).

    However, I am now in my Xubuntu 9.10 (on a 1 GB laptop) and I see it only uses 122 MB after login in X, and about 400 MB with 16 Firefox tabs opened.

  15. >That last bit shocked me. They don't have a big IT budget so they *can't* use LTSP? 1 LTSP server and a bunch of crap/leftover hardware is much cheaper than a lab full of new hardware…Unless you're saying you can get 20 new computers for 100 each…

  16. >(By the way, haven't these numbers gone up over time? Xubuntu used to be 128MiB. And Ubuntu used to be 256MiB. Didn't they? I'm sure my system didn't thrash with swapping on Dapper with 1GiB while it does on Karmic with 2GiB. Which is why I now have 4GiB of RAM…and yeah, that's just running a mail client, Firefox, Pidgin, and an IRC client!)

  17. >Wow, you were way off on Windows XP. I started with 512MB and over time, the PC ran really slow, then I upped that to 1GB which was heaps better, and then over time it ran slow again, it uses 700MB. Now I have given up and now use Ubuntu.

    Windows 7, I have no idea, have intension of buying it, but I would expect 4GB.

    For Ubuntu, yes, 512MB is fine but 1GB will be better. Most of the time, depends on what you're doing of course, it runs with less than 512MB.

  18. >Crunchbang linux is the solution for low ram machines

    works fine on 128mb and 64mb p2 laptops

    its not very fast but works well enough, the real bottleneck is the hdd on these machines

    xubuntu hasnt been a good solution for low ram machines for a while now

    lxde seems to be the best replacement available that provides a complete usable "desktop"

  19. >Going back to 128 mb ram isn't impossible. Just go back to 256 colors; disable compositing; turn of udev/dbus/hal; use no wallet or download manager; don't have file indexing like beagle/tracker/Nepomuk; don't use java(script) and flash in your webbrowser.

    The point is – you can't have your cake and eat it too. Sure, I'm all for working as hard as possible to keep ram usage minimal, but at some point you have to accept that with more functionality your system requirements go up. Just having a 1 terrabyte harddrive takes up more memory than having a 80 mb drive… Or having a gazillion USB drivers… And is it acceptably to manually mount a cd drive in 2009? To have each app ask for a password each time because a password wallet takes up too much memory? And exactly how many ppl do we cater for with such a system? If you live in a poor area where 256 mb ram is all your PC has, don't even think about running modern software. Run KDE 3.5 or even 2.x or Gnome 1.x or something…

  20. >You can make XP Professional SP2 use about 58 MB with AV (NOD32) after start and its perfectly usable on PIII system. If you don't install flash you can even use it on 128MB system. And I don't see how Ubuntu is better compared to this old OS.

  21. >Well, as an user of Xubuntu and Ubuntu i'd say that reqs are a bit tricky…; I mean, i can BARELY run xubuntu on my ps3 with 256 MB. And i've disabled services, and modified xorg.conf in order to disable FB Shadow.

    We should look at Arch or Debian (again) to get proper numbers and a good functionality. Since i need 2gb to run my ubuntu pc and i always get 700 mb (min) with an opera, emesene and audacious opened. And nautilus eats more and more memory while the time passes…

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