Windows Vista Memory Usage
26 February 2007 in Microsoft, Windows | Comments enabled

A while back I made a post about Windows Vista memory requirements and saying I didn’t think it was the issue that some people thought it was. Now I’ve been using Vista RTM for a few months I thought I should do an update on my experience in terms of memory consumption.

First off, I’m using Windows Vista Ultimate Edition. I’d consider myself a bit of a power user, typically I have the following things running at any one time:

  • IIS 7
  • SQL Server 2005
  • Two instances of Visual Studio 2005
  • FeedDemon
  • FireFox (with about 10 tabs open)
  • Internet Explorer 7 (with about 10 tabs open)
  • Live Messenger
  • A smattering of open directories

Until recently I used to always run my taskbar as a 2 row height just to allow me to easily see everything I leave open. The reason I raise this is to say that I’m probably not a normal user in terms of memory usage, the applications and services listed are just those I use constantly, often there is about 30 processes running relating to just applications I’m using.

I’m running Vista on two machines, a home machine with 1GB of memory and my laptop which has 2GB of memory. My home machine gets much less of a workout and is more for browsing, gaming with occassional development (which means it is running VS 2005 and IIS). The following figures are my “under load” figures. It’s important to note I wasn’t especially scientific, I just keep an eye on memory usage and these have been the common figures I’m seeing.

Home Memory Useage: 70%, 720MB
Laptop Memory Usage: 60%, 1.2GB

Personally I don’t think these figures are too high. Sure, I’d love everything to be written in tight assembler and have the entire system to sit there using 100MB of memory but it’s simply more important to me that my environment is performing well.

When I consider these figures I would still recomend 1GB of memory for any home user to ensure a comfortable time with Vista and certainly 2GB for any developers out there. I’ve tried to be balanced and give my figures when I’m actually using the system (rather than after a clean boot which would be unrealistically low) but do take them with a grain of salt – most of my issues, when I experience them, result from some applications just bleeding memory everywhere and this isn’t something Vista can really control.

- JD

30 comments. Add your own comment.

Ken Schaefer says 26 February 2007 @ 10:21

Vista also caches a lot more stuff than previous versions of Windows. That partially explains increased memory usage under Vista. Unused RAM is wasted RAM…

Flamer says 26 February 2007 @ 11:50

Hasn’t really been my experience, but then I tend to leave tonnes of applications open all the time…

1GB of RAM on my lappy + 1GB ReadyBoost = 0MB of RAM free at any given time…

Time for a RAM upgrade I think…

Jonathan says 26 February 2007 @ 13:38

Yes, you must remember that Vista is caching quite hard – what is the point of wasting RAM when it can be used to cache applications? I too am a developer, and quite happily manage to work it with 1GB of RAM on my laptop.

traskjd says 26 February 2007 @ 16:57

This is a reasonably fresh build and I like knowing I have a few hundred MB of free RAM to play with as I install and test products in the next few months. Once my computer starts chomping 100% of the RAM then I know it’s time for a rebuild :)

Just sharing my experience.

– JD

Freddy says 9 March 2007 @ 06:31

If you turn off superfetch and disable the page file you will find vista runs out of memory quite easily with only 512M on board.

Using the speedboost (usb key) feature does speed up vista sufficiently, mostly because the hard drive is not spending as much time swapping (pagefile). It appears a 256M usb key is a minimum for this.

For systems without scsi multi user/process hard drive access comes at a high cost.

So vista can run with only 512M. If you have a existing usb key you are just as well of using that than buying more memory, unless you want better performance from memory intensive apps. So if you are only using the office product a usb key is fine otherwise get the memory.

Essentially, vista needs 512M. For memory crunched users, you will need to add 512M to whatever you have with XP to keep the same amount of free memory.

While vista memory usage is abborant to anyone used to efficient operation systems, it is not as bad as it seems. Vista crosses the first 256M boundary quite quickly and there are many times when it crosses the 512M boundary. Because memory is typical sold in 256/512 chunks you are forced into the 1 gb range mostly by price point. 768M should be sufficient for the average user.

Application developers usually have up to 400M of memory to utilize when writing software for XP. They off course use that if it improves performance. That was also a factor is driving what applications are available to the largest group of users. THIS IS what is really driving the need for 1GB min of memory.

I question the usefulness of superfetch, especially on a non scsi hard drive. I usually turn it off. Typically. programs loaded into memory do not overwritten when the program terminates, until the memory is needed for another app. While loading up memory with expected to run applications doesn’t really affect actual memory usage in terms of real available memory and speed … EVERY TIME you touch the hard drive you do take a hit, and even scsi drives take a hit, ide sata are much worst.

Personally, I like to see Microsoft take another cut at this to improve memory usage. Off course a lot of their is NOT C so memory usage will be higher.

The memory usage concern is not just for one pc, it is every PC. Corporations will take a hit on this. An extra 100 bucks per pc.

But that is not the only issue of concern. Virtual machines are now big players. For a company running 4 XP VMs on a single machine, they typically have 2.5gb of required memory. Switching to vista will require an extra 2gb of memory ($400). Assuming that particular machine can handle more than 4gb memory. Given, for companies that are using these machines and Microsoft to provide services for which they charge and make money, it is a small cost, however more often these environments are necessary evils required to support the money making operation of a business … for which the dollar has a higher opportunity costs.

My view is: I think Microsoft was smoking something when they decided to up the memory requirement to 1GB. Especially when several other vendors, linux/unix require much less. Keep in mind, vista is really about catching up to the other vendors, nothing really new, that is of value, in vista.

Robert Allen says 21 March 2007 @ 04:53

I concur with this usage, I am a developer as well and run a terrible amount of stuff at once and I am a gamer, my Laptop has 2GB ram and it really uses about 700MB when “idle”.
I dont mind, I find Vista quite stable and the new features are well worth the extra ram, even the glossy features like Aero and the Dreamscene Video wallpapers !!
Have not tried readyboost yet !!!

Sam says 7 April 2007 @ 04:20


I’ve got a brand new, “cheapest dual core laptop you can get”

It has 512mb of ram, but really 128 is stolen by the graphics card. so Vista tells me that I have like 414mb total ram. Sure, I got a 1GB readyBoost, but it’s not the same as 1GB of ram.

The computer is soooo sluggish. The worst part is I plan to use the computer for development.

Besides disabling superfetch is there any other ways to free up Ram?

traskjd says 7 April 2007 @ 08:19

Hi Sam,

The best thing you could do would be to buy some more RAM to boost to at least 1GB. RAM isn’t too expensive these days thankfully. However, I realise everyone has varying circumstances so you could look at the following site:,1558,2110595,00.asp

There are several pages in that article that details services that you might want to turn off to reduce the memory footprint.

Also, I wouldn’t recommend disabling superfetch. The memory consumed by superfetch is always displayed as “free” when viewing memory usage and will be made free should your system require to use it. It does speed up windows generally if you can have some memory available to superfetch.

You might want to look in the BIOS and see if you can reduce the video memory to 64MB as well however this might affect Areo being able to run if you have that enabled.

Hope this helps,

– JD

Robert Cailliau says 9 April 2007 @ 19:27

Power user with 8 apps and “a smattering of open directories”?

I have four tabs with three rows each for apps, not two.
As I write I’m running 18 open applications with a total of 29 windows, on two screens with 1600×1025 and 1280×1024 resolution respectively. The “open directories” of which I have five right now, are managed by one application.

I have no sluggisness whatever, but I’m running Mac OS X on a G5.


traskjd says 9 April 2007 @ 20:22

Thanks for the comment Robert.

You should try Vista, you wouldn’t have to put up with such an inefficient number of applications having to run to get your work done :)


– JD

Snikch says 16 April 2007 @ 20:39

My media center was running like a dog with 512MB, so its not possible for a media centered computer (1080i output – 7600GS Turbo handling graphics).

I have just upgraded my ram on my dev machine to 3GB with a 4GB ReadyBoost Edition USB key. Hopefully this will mean I don’t have to upgrade my computer for another year or three. But 1.5GB for me wasn’t enough to run photoshop, sql server express, dreamweaver, firefox etc etc.

Staggers says 30 April 2007 @ 04:17

I’ve just been reading this with interest as I’m having some “interesting” memory problems with Vista. Ok, I know enough to be dangerous but I’m no power user so a typical task bar for me is Firefox, Outlook 2007, possibly IE, Messenger Live, maybe a couple of directories and often a game (no, not a FPS just Mahjong Titans or something like that), but after a short time (30 minutes is the max) I’m getting memory load warnings.
To run this massive load of programs I’ve got 2Gb of ram! So when the warnings start at 1.75Gb I wondered what was going on… It’s interesting reading what has been posted that no one here is seeing this under much bigger loads.

Btw, the “solution” appears to be kill the Messenger process tree and then restart it. That will halve memory usage for about 20 minutes. And it does look like Messenger is the culprit, memory usage goes from high 20′s to well over 90Mb of memory. I don’t think Messenger is using the disc, somehow it seems to stay in RAM rather then getting sent to cache even if there is no on going conversation.

JD have you seen this or similar, or got any thoughts? Also any ideas on tools that could be used to encapsulate Messenger so its memory usage can’t explode!

Sorry to hijack your conversation but this seemed (well to me) appropriate.

traskjd says 30 April 2007 @ 09:46

Hi Staggers,

First off, try uninstalling Messenger and then re-installing it. 90MB does seem excessive however not totally impossible unfortunately as Messenger has become a bit bloated in recent years. In task manager if you sort by memory usage is Messenger the highest user?

Remember that writing to disk instead of RAM is a bit of a waste of time – it makes more sense to use memory as much as possible and Vista does this. Don’t be overly alarmed but you really shouldn’t be getting warnings about memory usage given 2GB of memory and the applications you’re running.

If it was me, I’d look at what is using a lot of memory and if it seems crazy high, uninstall and reinstall those applications. If that doesn’t work you might be looking at the dreaded “rebuild”. I wish I could help you some more.

Hope this helps,

– JD

Robert Cailliau says 30 April 2007 @ 18:36

Messenger is definitely a bad application. When its incarnation on Mac OS X is running, it hogs the CPU. I never use it myself, but one of my daughters is an addict, and her laptop’s fan runs full blast and her machine gets hot when messenger runs. Looking at the CPU load, one can then see that the culprit is indeed MSM.


Staggers says 7 May 2007 @ 05:08

Hi JD,

Thanks for the ideas last week, its taken me a few days to work through that and a couple of other ideas I had around security software. I think I have found the culprit, I can only say “think” as I removed a piece of software and Messenger appears to have stopped running away with memory.

I tried the suggestions of re-installing Messenger, I even went back to a previous version, and I did a re-install of Vista as well. Still no improvement so I went to looking at various other bits of software and found something that started flagging a worry. Acer provide a number of utilities including one called eDataSecurity which breaks Messenger with the version sent with the upgrade, but there is a revised version available on-line that fixes the issue, however it mentions that the short term fix was to disable use of this utility by Messenger. So I tried uninstalling it and left Messenger switched on, lo and behold an hour later memory usage had hardly moved.

So I’ve rebuilt again and not installed this utility at all and everything seems stable so far 2 days later… (Cynical? Moi?)

Anyway Thanks again.


traskjd says 7 May 2007 @ 09:02

Thanks for the update staggers. Interesting that I managed to avoid that issue (I use an Acer laptop also) as I just didn’t reinstall the utilities after moving to Vista. Should be helpful for others to know however.

Thanks again,

– JD

bikeman says 24 May 2007 @ 06:49

Day 1 my memory usage at idle was 39%
Day 2 up to 48%
DAy 4 up to 60%
By the end of the week I expect it to grind to a halt.

Why? why? why?

Vista has so far proven to be a real dissapointment to me – freezing on shutdown and non responding apps (including win mail!). And all on a brand new core2duo laptop with vista prem preinstalled.

traskjd says 24 May 2007 @ 11:13

Hi Bikeman,

Perhaps the issue is the fact it is brand new? Have you formatted and installed Vista cleanly? Microsoft had some large concerns about the applications that vendors ship with their new machines and how they would likely make Vista unstable (because they don’t test them enough – they just throw them on there).

I suspect if you cleared the machine and reinstalled Vista you’d be in a much happier state.

Keep me posted on how you go.

Hope this helps,

– JD

CM says 25 May 2007 @ 00:37

Currently I have 2 gigabytes of ram and am running windows vista home premium.

After I boot up my machine and without any web browsers running I have only 300 megabytes or 22% memory usage.

Seems pretty good to me. This is after disabling a whole crap load of useless services though and I have tuned my computer perfectly to my needs.

Irish Brian says 20 August 2007 @ 11:16

hi all, very interesting conversation.
I have a quick question (apologies if it is “dumb”). Am thinking of getting a new 17″ laptop with Vista. Can afford to go to 4Gb of Ram (with Dell, XPS M1710) but was told by a salesman (I kno!!!) that Vista can only address a max of 2Gb of memory and if I get 4, then the extra 2Gb would be a waste.
Is he talking crap???
Many thanks

Mal says 20 August 2007 @ 12:56

Not true, all 32bit versions have a max of 4GB, and 64bit version vary depending on the version of Vista you get, however all are over 4! However I believe the maximum amount of ‘addressable’ ram in 32bit vista is 3GB. Either way your salesman a pillick and doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Mephisto03 says 24 August 2007 @ 17:30

Irish Brian heres the thing. First you have to realize whats going on. In a 32 bit system your computer can only handle 4 gigs of ram max. Having 4 gigs in your comp then allows XP to max out its address size to 1 gig leaving you 3 gigs for everything else like loading web pages, games, downloading and uploading data. The Core of the OS in XP takes 1 gig max. Then you move up to Vista x64. I’ve heard the core can take up to a max of 2-4 gigs of ram for all its operational needs. I’m guessing the 2 is for Home edition since it has a max of 8 gigs and the 4 is for Ultimate, Business and Enterprise since it can handle 128+ gigs of ram. If you have less it’s supposedly only suppose to take 20% of the ram you have in there unless your above the 2-4 gig max limit. So if the max is 2 gigs, those 2 gigs are going towards the OS, and the other 2 will go towards allowing everything else to run smoothly in Vista x64 (if your running home i’m guessing). If your sticking with 32 bit vista then the guy is wrong anyways because the rules before still apply, the core will take 1 gig and the system can use 3. Even then though a lot of chatter is to just stick with 2 gigs anyways since now your making your system fill up more memory banks which can slow your system down overall. And if your skeptic to what i’m saying about the 32 bit limit I have 8 gigs in my 32 bit system (Yeah, I know…trust me. Lets just say thanks HP for screwing me over on XP 64 bit while waiting for vista) and heres a screen shot of my system specs. As you’ll see, 3 gigs are seen by the system, while 1 is taken for the core.

PYMO says 7 September 2007 @ 06:09

I have just upgrade my Acer laptop from 2.5GB to 4GB and Vista Home Premium only reports 2.3GB of physical RAM (but the BIOS sees 4GB).
So, this seems to confirm some of what you guys are saying.

bountyx says 6 January 2008 @ 21:38

With some minimal effort you can hack your windows vista isntalltion to run barebones at 240mb ram. That’s all the base functionality with some OS mods I developed myself.

Bob says 7 January 2008 @ 08:01

Mephisto03, you are actually wrong. 32 bit systems can address 4GB of memory space. All your devices map to memory space for DMA. This means the size of your video card comes off the 4GB, and all your IRQ devices and such take away. Whatever is left is the amount of ram your system sees.

Threequarks says 21 May 2008 @ 05:56

I recently purchased a Dell Inspiron 1721 from Staples advertised as having 2G, upgradeable to 4G. I told the sales person that I wanted a machine that would use as much RAM as I could afford for PHOTOSHOP CS.

The sales person clearly stated that, DEFINITELY, the full 4G would be used by PHOTOSHOP and any other application programs.

After having the machine upgraded on site by Staples I ran a system report that told me I had only 1.8G of RAM.

Have I been been taken?

Clayton says 4 June 2008 @ 16:52

two things.
1. I’ve been reading some of the last posts here. And you’ve been talking about vista trying to handle 2GB of ram or 4GBs of ram. Vista is not what hinders the amount of ram you can have in you system. I’m running my system with 4GBs of ram and and max of up to 8GBs. your max ram capacity is determined by your hardware.

2. now about the memory useage topic, I’ve been wondering about how to make sure I’m not going to have a problem as well. I’m running a intel D5400XS mother board with two quad cores running with 4GB ran, 1.5TB hard drive space and two 22″ wide screen LCD monitors. Now I have my paging turned off. And I’m running 2.14GBs cached out of 4GBs of ram. Now thats just with a web page open. I’ve loaded lots of programs but nothing that really has to be running in the back ground.

dose anyone know how to make I’m now having a problem with my software.

Kevin says 28 July 2008 @ 15:05

I just bought an Hp Dual-Core with 4gig’s of ram. I booted up and started play a game. 30 mins. later I got an error saying I dont have any more ram and it closed my game. Does anyone have any ideas of what to do??

rolfen says 26 July 2009 @ 06:17

There are modified, trimmed versions of windows of windows out there (of course, illegally distributed).
Ive read about one called Windows XP Black edition, it supposedly uses only 100 megs of memory.
There may be even more extreme versions… I havent tried any and cant say how compatible they are.

rolfen says 26 July 2009 @ 06:26

vlite can trim your vista installation

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