Memory pressure isn't a simple gauge of percentage of memory free and seems to be a 0 to 100% graph. The
sysctl value of
vm.memory_pressure is calculated in relation to a computed target that tracks the ratio between free and inactive memory pages to the wired and active pages. The absolute counters are viewed using the
vm_stat command line tool to inspect detailed allocation of virtual memory. Jonathan Levin has excellent documentation at http://newosxbook.com/articles/MemoryPressure.html covering both macOS and iOS virtual memory and how they calculate memory pressure as well as the actions taken when the pressure index is high.
The relevant virtual memory (vm) that feed the calculation of
vm.page_free_count - an absolute count of free pages
vm.vm_page_free_target - a calculated target or goal for a "pressure free" situation
vm.page_free_wanted - what the vm system would like to free to alleviate the current calculated pressure index
So - if you are tracking your memory pressure with Activity monitor (or my checking the sysctl values programmatically or at the command line shell) you would do well to look at these four values:
sysctl -a vm | egrep "page_free|pressure"
There is a new command
memory_pressure introduced with Mavericks and when I run it to drive the memory subsystem into a warning state - you can see the memory pressure increase into a yellow range.
The tool allocated about 4 GB of memory to the tool as the pressure graph increased steadily to this state where apparently the "warning" level is graphed:
sudo memory_pressure -l warn. As you can see, the system before the pressure had 5.9 GB used and after was up to 7.99 GB used which doesn't even need to add up due to swapping and compression.
After watching how
vm_stat 15 showed the warning result in no measurable paging, I quit the tool (Control-C) and then re-ran the tool to make memory pressure critical:
sudo memory_pressure -l critical
I didn't let this run for more than a few minutes as paging was starting and once the tool said I had 5 GB of RAM paged to disk, I didn't want to fill my drive and quit the tool.
You can observe how rapidly the system freed RAM after the warning was ended and also how it ramped into "red" territory to show that the virtual memory system couldn't compress enough pages to avoid swapping to disk. My educated guess is red on the pressure indicates swapping and dramatic over-allocation and/or a time where the free pages are below the amount the system prefers and it's actively purging inactive pages and/or swapping pages expected to be used to swap. Similarly, the system rapidly recovers once the allocations are released and pressure is taken off the virtual memory system.