Vista "bloated"? Not exactly...

One popular tech website says that Windows Vista gobbles up 800MB of RAM just to get started. They're wrong. They're also missing the larger point.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

Sometimes I think the world would be a better place if people had to pass a test before they could hang out their shingle as a "tech journalist."

Today's case in point comes from The Inquirer, which reported yesterday that "even while idling, Vista eats as much as 800Mb of system memory." The evidence? A screenshot showing the Windows Vista Task Manager with 820MB of memory in use.

Well, without knowing which processes were actually running on the machine in question, I couldn't pass judgment on what was going on with that system. I do know that on a test system here in my office, a computer running Windows Vista Business uses less than 460MB of RAM when it first starts up. Another test computer with 768MB of RAM installed (that's less than the alarming 800MB minimum suggested in the aforementioned article, please note) has had no trouble handling any task I throw at it.

Of course, it's way too early to even be asking, much less answering, questions of performance with Windows Vista, which hasn't even reached the Beta 2 milestone. Its release date is more than six months away. Trying to benchmark an early beta is silly, because performance tuning is relatively low on the list of developers' priorities, and there's still debug code in each build, which adds to the memory footprint and won't be in the final release.

But this article misses a much bigger point. If you have a gigabyte of RAM on your computer, how much should be in use at any given time? The correct answer is "as much as possible." RAM is many times faster than disk space. The whole point of the operating system is to manage that memory and to swap program files and data in and out of memory as smoothly as possible. By aggressively using existing RAM to cache and page chunks of data, the OS can make maximum use of those resources. After you've been using a computer for a few hours, it should settle in at a comfortable working set that is lower than the amount of physical RAM installed in the box. If you continually find yourself exceeding that threshold and waiting while the OS swaps out to disk, it's probably time to throw some extra RAM in the box. But there's no evidence that's happening to the chap who sent in that screenshot.

I don't have to go too far out on a limb to predict, with confidence, that Windows Vista will run very well on any new system with 1GB of RAM installed and will perform acceptably on the current generation of computers with 512MB of RAM. Is that an unacceptable burden? Everything's relative, I suppose. I remember the howls of anguish in 1995 over the fact that Windows NT required 8MB of RAM just to start up, and 64MB to run acceptably. Is there any modern operating system that will perform acceptably on that platform today?

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