"The current VM can get itself into trouble fairly easily on systems with a small ZONE_HIGHMEM, which is common on i686 computers with 1GB of memory," Rik van Riel said explaining a small patch to
cmscan.c. He continued, "on one side, page_alloc() will allocate down to zone->pages_low, while on the other side, kswapd() and balance_pgdat() will try to free memory from every zone, until every zone has more free pages than zone->pages_high." He noted that highmem could be filled up with "page tables, ramfs, vmalloc allocations and other unswappable things quite easily and without many bad side effects, since we still have a huge ZONE_NORMAL to do future allocations from. However, as long as the number of free pages in the highmem zone is below zone->pages_high, kswapd will continue swapping things out from ZONE_NORMAL, too! Sami Farin managed to get his system into a stage where kswapd had freed about 700MB of low memory and was still 'going strong'." He described his patch:
"The attached patch will make kswapd stop paging out data from zones when there is more than enough memory free. We do go above zone->pages_high in order to keep pressure between zones equal in normal circumstances, but the patch should prevent the kind of excesses that made Sami's computer totally unusable."