Web browser limits desktop on low-powered machines
It seems that web browser is the limit when it comes to low-powered machines. Chromium is pretty much unusable with 512MB, usable with 1GB and nice with 2GB. Firefox is actually usable with 512MB -- it does not seem to have so big per-tab overhead -- but seems to be less responsive.
Anyway, it seems I'll keep using x86 for desktops for now.