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Comparing Memory Use - Find Out Hot Your Linux Distro Measures Up!

written by: •edited by: Michael Dougherty•updated: 1/25/2011

Finding memory use in a Linux distro requires some interaction with the Terminal - but once there, you can find out just how few resources are in use compared with Windows and Mac OS X!

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    The System Resource Challenge - Linux vs Windows vs Mac OS X

    Comparing Linux Memory Usage to Windows 7, Mac OS X The various Linux distros are popular alternatives to the Windows operating system, with Ubuntu in particular regularly claiming former Windows users. But why does Linux have such a strong claim as an alternative to the Microsoft OS? Is it because of ease of use, the added level of system security that Linux brings to a PC, the open source philosophy or something else?

    Does a Linux system use less system resources than a Windows system? If so, can Linux memory usage be easily compared with Windows, or Mac OS X, or even other Linux distros?

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    Checking Linux Memory Usage

    There are several of ways to check memory usage in Linux. One good overall option is to use the Terminal command:

    $ ps aux

    This will output a list of all running processes on your Linux box, with which you should be able to determine the memory resource allocation for. (Access the Terminal via Applications > Accessories > Terminal in Ubuntu.)

    An alternative to this native command is to take advantage of Valgrind, a utility that can be installed via Synaptic Package Manager in most modern Linux distros.

    Once installed, return to the Terminal and enter:

    % valgrind --tool=memcheck program_name

    This will display the memory use for a specific running program in Linux.

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    Comparing Windows 7 Memory Use

    Checking memory use in Windows 7 is more straightforward – simply open the task manager, which can be done by pressing CTRL+ALT+DEL > Start Task Manager or by right-clicking the Windows 7 taskbar and selecting Start Task Manager.

    Here the information is split between the Applications and Processes tabs – CPU allocation and memory use is displayed for all running programs, enabling you to keep track of memory use. The Performance tab shows a chart of CPU and memory use, and similar information can also be viewed on your desktop thanks to a Windows 7 gadget. You can set this up by right-clicking the desktop, choosing Gadgets and dragging the CPU Meter to the preferred area of the desktop.

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    How Does Mac OS X Memory Use Compare?

    In Mac OS X you can check and compare memory use with the Activity Monitor. This is accessible via Applications > Utilities.

    If you prefer more advanced interaction with Mac OS X memory allocation, use the Mac Terminal, found in Applications > Utilities. Enter the command top; the PhysMem: and VM: columns will indicate the overall physical system RAM and the current virtual memory usage.

    The actual art of comparing the memory use of three different operating systems is another matter entirely, however. Several applications or file types should be employed in order to get an idea of usage. For instance you might test the same MP3 file, view the same JPG and playback the same MPEG4 video clip, while also trying out the Firefox browser on all three platforms.

    Note that due to the differences in the three OS’s this type of comparison is unlikely to tell the whole story.

    (Image by author, with images from wikipedia.org)