Top 5 lightweight distros / flavours:
(system, Firefox, file manager and terminal emulator launched)

  1. Debian 9 XFCE (345 MB)

  2. Lubuntu (406 MB)

  3. Solus (413 MB)

  4. Debian 9 KDE (441 MB) and Debian 8 GNOME (443 MB)

  5. Xubuntu (481 MB)

After doing Ubuntu flavours RAM consumption comparison, I decided to test other popular distros too.

Tests were performed in a virtual machine with 1GB RAM and repeated 7 times for each distro, each time VM was restarted.

In each test two RAM measurements were made:

  • useless — on a freshly booted system

  • closer to real use — with Firefox, default file manager and terminal emulator launched

“Real use” test results
# Distro / flavour DE Based on MB RAM, mean ⏶ median
1 Debian 9 XFCE 4.12.3 345.43 345
2 Lubuntu 16.10 LXDE 0.99.1 Ubuntu 406.14 402
3 Solus 1.2.1 Budgie 10.2.8 413.43 411
4 Debian 9 KDE 5.8.2 441.29 440
5 Debian 8 GNOME 3.14.4 443.14 445
6 Xubuntu 16.10 XFCE 4.12.3 Ubuntu 481 481
7 Manjaro 16.10.3 XFCE 4.12.3 Arch 498.29 501
8 Netrunner 16.09 KDE 5.7.5 Debian 526.03 528
9 KDE neon User LTS KDE 5.8.4 Ubuntu 527.98 527.15
10 Ubuntu MATE 16.10 MATE 1.16.0 Ubuntu 534.13 531.3
11 Mint 18.1 Cinnamon 3.2.7 Ubuntu 564.6 563.8
12 Kubuntu 16.10 KDE 5.7.5 Ubuntu 566.01 565.5
13 Manjaro 16.10.3 KDE 5.8.4 Arch 599.64 596.8
14 openSUSE Leap 42.2 KDE 5.8.3 606.86 608
15 Antergos 2016.11.20 GNOME 3.22.2 Arch 624.44 628.2
16 elementary OS 0.4.0 Pantheon Ubuntu 659.57 661
17 Fedora 25 GNOME 3.22.2 670.16 664.2
18 Ubuntu Budgie 16.10 Budgie 10.2.7 Ubuntu 670.69 663.7
19 Ubuntu GNOME 16.10 GNOME 3.20.4 Ubuntu 718.39 718
20 Ubuntu 16.10 Unity 7.5.0 Debian 787.57 785
“Useless” test results
# Distro / flavour DE Based on MB RAM, mean ⏶ median
1 Debian 9 XFCE 4.12.3 208 208
2 Solus 1.2.1 Budgie 10.2.8 210.43 210
3 Lubuntu 16.10 LXDE 0.99.1 Ubuntu 237.29 238
4 Debian 9 KDE 5.8.2 283.29 283
5 Debian 8 GNOME 3.14.4 293.71 295
6 Xubuntu 16.10 XFCE 4.12.3 Ubuntu 298 296
7 Manjaro 16.10.3 XFCE 4.12.3 Arch 314.29 319
8 Ubuntu MATE 16.10 MATE 1.16.0 Ubuntu 340.14 340
9 KDE neon User LTS KDE 5.8.4 Ubuntu 342.5 342
10 Netrunner 16.09 KDE 5.7.5 Debian 343.14 342
11 Mint 18.1 Cinnamon 3.2.7 Ubuntu 353.43 356
12 Manjaro 16.10.3 KDE 5.8.4 Arch 357.75 357
13 Kubuntu 16.10 KDE 5.7.5 Ubuntu 359.86 361
14 Antergos 2016.11.20 GNOME 3.22.2 Arch 383.71 381
15 openSUSE Leap 42.2 KDE 5.8.3 389.14 390
16 elementary OS 0.4.0 Pantheon Ubuntu 434 434
17 Ubuntu Budgie 16.10 Budgie 10.2.7 Ubuntu 478.43 477
18 Fedora 25 GNOME 3.22.2 494.39 489.5
19 Ubuntu GNOME 16.10 GNOME 3.20.4 Ubuntu 497.49 499
20 Ubuntu 16.10 Unity 7.5.0 Debian 529.27 532

All distros were 64-bit, and were fully upgraded after installation (except Solus, which won’t work properly after upgrading).

Data was pulled from free output, specifically it’s sum of RAM and swap (if any) from used column (more info). Raw free and top output for each measurement, prepare and measure scripts, etc: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-sCqfnhKgTLcktXSlBUSi1Cb3c/view?usp=sharing

Distro-specific notes:
  • On Debian 8, Netrunner and openSUSE I had to replace free and top binaries with newer ones.

  • To match other distros settings, I’ve disabled KOrganizer autostart on Netrunner, as it started Akonadi (+200 MB RAM usage).

  • On Debian 9 KDE and Solus VirtualBox guest additions were not installed, as these systems didn’t function properly with it. This shouldn’t noticeably affect memory usage (a few MB, not tens). For the same reason, on Netrunner was used an older version of guest additions package from its default repos.

  • Debian 9 GNOME was not tested, as it won’t boot in VirtualBox

  • Solus was tested as is after install, as it won’t work properly after upgrading

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