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A few days ago I installed Debian Sarge and upgraded it to Etch. Now, without any program open I have 97.9% of my memory (512MB) used and then some of the SWAP space, and as a consequence it is getting really slow.. And this is really odd because I have been using Fedora Core 3, Ubuntu, Mandrake and this has never happened before. The computer has an Athlon XP 2500 processor, 2 hard drives of 80GB each and 512MB RAM and a GeForce FX5200 with the nvidia drivers installed, so I think that it is not outdated to be used for Debian.
I don't know how to list the processes as they appear in KDE System Guard or Gnome System monitor, but there are plenty that are running under root, such as "getty" (there are 6 of them at this moment and can't kill them because they reappear), "kjournald" (7 of them) and X is using 160 MB of memory.
The amount of memory X uses is essentially wrong because IIRC, it includes the video memory on your card as well as real memory being used by the X server.
Most likely memory isn't your problem, Linux always uses nearly all of your memory. This box here has 1G and there's 13M free. But 475M of that is cache which will be reclaimed if memory gets low so it doesn't matter.
I still can't just copy/paste from terminal the output of top. But it's more or less: 1 user, load average: 0.46, 0.25, 0.15 Tasks: 82 total, 1 running, 79 sleeping, 1 stopped, 1 zombie
Cpu(s): 3.0%, 0.3% sy, 0.0 % ni, 94% id, 2.6% wa, 0.0% hi, 0.3% si
Mem: 516416k total, 511488 used, 4928k free, 107216k buffers
Swap: 1012960k total, 4036k used, 1008924k free, 165108k cached
and the processes that report more %MEM are
firefox (6.9%), amule (1.7%), XFree86 (1.7), kdeinit (2.9%)
None of the other distributions have I ever noticed that were using up all this memory, but this time I did notice it because the computer was getting somehow slow and there was a lot of disk activity every now and then.
Plus I forgot to mention that while top reports CPU load 3%, the graph on system monitor seems more like a cardiogram, going from 4% minimum to a maximum of42% when the computer is apparently idle.