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Right after boot running top shows me a memory consumption of around 30mb
(still a lot more than what I get when adding the percentage of memory
consumption for every process [around 9%]) while running an x session the
consumption increases to around 60mb (using fluxbox with gnome or kde this
goes up to a fantastic 110 out of 114mb! [without any programs running]).
But now the miracle: after quitting x the used memory is not freed! still
top show ~60mb used memory, way more than the 9% you get when adding up...
In says in the slackware book (for version 8 though) that slackware runs
fine with 16mb ram.
i think it's because of the way linux manages memory using the slab allocator. it doesn't release the memory for objects simply because the program say free. the allocator keeps those objects around in case they will be needed again (and because these objects are not used by programs, they are not included in the 9% in your case). i guess that's why after logging out of kde, when i log back in, it loads probably 40% faster.
If you look at the output of "free" or do a "cat /proc/meminfo" you'll see a value for "cached". This is what rgiggs is referring to. This cached memory is actually available to the system when needed, so you can count it as "free" memory.