OS X versus Vista, RAM division

Summary:Now that I have a recent-vintage MacBook for testing, I'm finally able to make some head-to-head comparisons between OS X and Vista. Because this system has a mere 1GB of RAM, I was curious to get a sense of how thrifty OS X Leopard is when it comes to memory usage. Vista gets a bad rap for demanding huge amounts of resources. Is that reputation fair or accurate? I put both systems to the test so I could see for myself. The results were surprising.

As I noted earlier this week, I’ve begun using a MacBook (the basic white model) and keeping a log of my experiences.

Yesterday, I received the adapter cable I needed to hook this machine to an external monitor so that I could use it in a desktop configuration. (A note to the thrifty: Don’t pay Apple $29 for this mini-DVI cable. Instead, go to Monoprice.com and pick up the generic adapter for $9.96. With shipping, it was still under $12, and it works just fine.)

Now that I have this system up and running on a full-sized screen, I'm ready to make some head-to-head comparisons with Windows. Because this system has a mere 1GB of RAM, I was curious to get a sense of how thrifty OS X Leopard is when it comes to memory usage. I was especially curious to see how Leopard compares to Vista, which as been slammed by critics as a resource hog.

To get started I opened Safari and opened a single web page, then began playing an MP3 track in iTunes. With those tasks running, I checked the results from Activity Monitor:

Memory usage for basic tasks on a 1GB MacBook

As you can see, the OS reports that 581MB is in use, with 430MB free.

Next, I launched a similar set of tasks on a system running Windows Vista Ultimate. To make the comparison fair, I used the System Configuration utility to disable all but 1024MB of memory in the system, which has 4GB of RAM. This system is using the full Aero interface (disabling it had no significant impact on the RAM footprint). I opened Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer, began playing the same MP3 tune and browsed to the same page that was open on the Macbook. Here’s what Task Manager showed for memory usage:

Memory usage for basic tasks on a 1GB Vista machine

For those keeping score, the Vista machine is using 594MB of RAM, which is roughly 2% more than its Mac counterpart running the same set of tasks.

Vista gets a bad rap for lots of things, including its reputedly voracious appetite for memory. As you can see, Vista compares favorably to OS X in this regard and doesn’t deserve that reputation.

Topics: Processors, Apple, Enterprise Software, Hardware, Microsoft, Windows


Ed Bott is an award-winning technology writer with more than two decades' experience writing for mainstream media outlets and online publications. He has served as editor of the U.S. edition of PC Computing and managing editor of PC World; both publications had monthly paid circulation in excess of 1 million during his tenure. He is the a... Full Bio

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.