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A high-votes answer here for the question "What's the lightest desktop" which actually tried to quantitatively assess memory use relies on a Wikipedia page which quotes 2011 data.

The newest article I could find dates back to November 2018 (thanks to https://LinuxLinks.com). Are there newer comparisons which objectively measure memory use?

Linux Links Nov. 2018 desktop memory use comparisons

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  • 4
    Define "desktop". Just a Window Manager (fvwm2 can be pretty small, if you don't need additional features)? Enough gadgets on your screen you can click? Which ones?
    – dirkt
    May 14 '20 at 1:13
  • The desktops you see in the above list.
    – K7AAY
    May 14 '20 at 15:14
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    This question has no meaning, you don't boot into your system, login, then shut the machine off immediately. Some desktops start using more and more ram as time goes along, others might have bugs that lead to memory leaks, some may behave differently depending on the program running's toolkit (a gtk desktop running a qt program, or a qt desktop running a gtk program, etc.) I agree, define desktop, there's no such thing as that abstraction in the real world. You have to actually determine what is going to happen while the users run their desktops etc...
    – Lizardx
    May 16 '20 at 6:43
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    Keep in mind that what really matters is memory consumption of the desktop environment with your favorite applications loaded. A significant amount of memory consumed by your desktop environment and your applications is due to shared libraries. The physical memory required by these can be shared if two applications use the same library. Thus an application using GTK libraries might come at lower overhead when started on GNOME, a Qt application might not consume that much extra RAM if you already have most of the libraries loaded for KDE. May 17 '20 at 20:27
  • This question is unclear, poorly defined, grammatically unreadable, and confusing. May 18 '20 at 21:56
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+50

I think to measure such consumption isn't going to be easy. You can measure it simply by installing it into VM and default configuration. However, when your configuration changes so does the memory consumption. You would have to do some long-term statistics for your workflow. In my eyes it will also differ based on the distribution you are using - gentoo, archlinux will probably have different results than Ubuntu, Opensuse, RH.

There is also a strategy in Linux to use all available memory. I presume you want to use the gui on system where there is not enough memory available. For that you would need to perform your own tests. You would have to see how the environment deals with low levels of memory (if it can free the used memory, can be effective on low memory systems, et.)

If you want some newer statistics for different env. you can check this Ubuntu flavors one. It does not cover your list but most of it Comparison Of Memory Usages Of Ubuntu 19.04 And Flavors In 2019 (July)

A.M. Akbar's comparison from https://ubuntubuzz.com

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There's a Fedora Magazine blog post about doing this on Fedora 31 in December of 2019.

The results are summarized in the below table:

Cinnamon: 624 MB Memory used
GNOME:    612 MB Memory used 
KDE:      733 MB Memory used
LXDE:     318 MB Memory used 
LXQt:     391 MB Memory used
MATE:     465 MB Memory used
XFCE:     448 MB Memory used

Depending on what you mean by "desktop environment" you might include simple window managers that use less.

You might want to look at wikipedia's list of light-weight Linux distribution, specifically the window/desktop manager column.

If you want a simple mainstream disto to install with minimal memory look at Fedora's LXQT spin or Lubuntu

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  • There's also things like antixlinux.com/about which can run on 192MiB ram systems. The LX folks themselves suggest that LXDE/LXQt/XFCE can all run in a reasonably low amount of memory, way less than what the charts elsewhere in this post suggest. blog.lxde.org/2016/10/04/…
    – gps
    Jan 18 at 20:03
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Unless you establish benchmarks then you are unlikely to get comparable data. Just about everything is either marketing "fluff" or else unbenchmarked, and that includes Wikipedia.

In the first instance there is nothing online that suggests your original quoted figures are likely to have change by the ~30% which would sway any decision purely based on RAM. Of everything I have seen the only thing that has any weight [sic] is a nice little comparison done by this guy. Installed a bunch of different distros and got similar results to your post. Bunch of middleweights couple of heavyweights and a couple of lightweights. Same names as yours.

In the second I wouldn't think your "seasoned citizens" (be careful, am getting there myself) would be so grateful for a lightweight DE that has a long learning curve, especially if it is tooooo long. Know what I mean?

PS

Someone else's personal look at it here. Same story.

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So, there a lot to say here:

First of all, it's true that there isn't that much graph/comparison of memory usage/or which DE(or Desktop Environment) are the smallest in term of footprint(as the other demonstrated).

That doesn't mean that there can't be one right? the only way to truly know (since most of those comparison or review aren't always updated, contrary to the codebase of the aforementioned subject) is to try it yourself.

It sounds easier and faster than other may think, given on how most of the distro have the tendency to let users run into a live session, which is either kept in a ram drive or ram directly.

I wouldn't recommend doing this, neither to distros (though you don't need to change distro to try different DE) or the DE themselves. As most will tell you, "distro hopping" is bad practice (though most users, me included still ended up doing it anyway)

What's important is, what you want in a DE? if it's only low memory usage, while keeping all of it's core usability, then why not use a windows manager or WM for short? While the name isn't describing it's real potential, WM can and do (for most) support most of what a DE does.(without using as much ram)

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  • Most of my fellow "seasoned citizens" wants a full DE, based on many hours in the front of a classroom filled with them.
    – K7AAY
    May 18 '20 at 22:29
  • 1
    yeah, it all depend in what you want in a DE...if you don't care about how much ram/cpu it use, and just want user friendly and eye candy, then the popular selection (Gnome, KDE) will do just fine...However, if you prefer something less resources "hungry", any of the other one (LXDE, etc) will do too...then come WM. WM is better than you would think, but i wouldn't recommend using those unless you know what you want (as already mentioned). eg: you know you'll end up just moving windows, tabs around etc. if so, then WM might be an option for you. May 18 '20 at 22:38
  • but as i already stated, you need to at least see for yourself what work for you before making a decision...(though that's obvious, i just feel like it's important to say too) May 18 '20 at 22:39

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