Yes, Linux Does Bad In Low RAM / Memory Pressure Situations On The Desktop

Written by Michael Larabel in Linux Kernel on 6 August 2019 at 02:15 PM EDT. 166 Comments
It's been a gripe for many running Linux on low RAM systems especially is that when the Linux desktop is under memory pressure the performance can be quite brutal with the system barely being responsive. The discussion over that behavior has been reignited this week.

Developer Artem S Tashkinov took to the kernel mailing list over the weekend to express his frustration with the kernel's inability to handle low memory pressure in a graceful manner. If booting a system with just 4GB of RAM available, disabling SWAP to accelerate the impact/behavior, and launching a web browser and opening new web pages / tabs can in a matter of minutes bring the system down to its knees.

Artem elaborated on the kernel mailing list, "Once you hit a situation when opening a new tab requires more RAM than is currently available, the system will stall hard. You will barely be able to move the mouse pointer. Your disk LED will be flashing incessantly (I'm not entirely sure why). You will not be able to run new applications or close currently running ones. This little crisis may continue for minutes or even longer. I think that's not how the system should behave in this situation. I believe something must be done about that to avoid this stall."

That is the default behavior of the Linux kernel as it stands today. As was brought up by developers, proposed Linux PSI patches first presented in 2018 for introducing Pressure Stall Information may help in this scenario with some extra infrastructure around it. Other possible solutions are also being talked about, but long story short is it will likely be months before there is an effective upstream solution.
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Michael Larabel is the principal author of and founded the site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience. Michael has written more than 20,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter, LinkedIn, or contacted via

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