I took a cue from Kyle and checked out the vm.overcommit_memory and vm.overcommit_ratio settings in sysctl.conf, but I don't have anything too conclusive to offer.
In hopes of further slimming the memory needs, I wrangled with the two overcommit settings, but to be honest, I didn’t see much in the way of an improvement … or even a change, really.
What I would like to see happen is for the system to cram as much as possible into memory before spilling into swap — something that I believe I can control by adjusting the vm.swappiness setting.
Adjusting the overcommit ones didn’t seem to affect memory usage; they did however seem to drag program startups slightly. I can’t say for certain they would have that effect on all software on all systems. Remember that most of the software I use fits into less than a megabyte apiece anyway. So manhandling the overcommit variables might change memory use in an unnoticeable way.
I would be curious to see if those variables have any effect on any other systems. Perhaps I’ll try them on other machines and try to measure the effect. If you beat me to it, let me know how it goes.