Memory: Windows XP vs. Windows Vista vs. Windows 7 (With Video)


Windows Forum Admin
Staff member
Premium Supporter
Jul 22, 2005

The Windows Memory Debate: conducts a detailed analysis of the memory debate surrounding Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7.

Understanding Memory Utilization:

Windows XP Pro 32-bit (October 2001)
Windows Vista Business 64-bit (November 2006)
Windows 7 Pro 64-bit (October 2009)

Hello, this is Mike from Windows 7 Forums. In this video, we will discuss the difference in memory usage and handling between Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. In each instance, each of these operating systems makes use of RAM, or random access memory, in different ways. If we can understand the memory utilization process between all three operating systems, we will have a better idea and deeper insight into how efficient each operating system is, and how each operating system handles the memory that it uses and allocates to software applications.

From the year 1986 to 2000, CPU or processor speed, improved at an annual rate of fifty-five percent (55%), while memory speed only improved at ten percent per year (10%) per year. It was expected that memory would become an overwhelming bottleneck in computer performance. However, memory does not necessarily slow down a computer significantly, and we have seen improvements in memory in the form of DDR RAM, DDR2 RAM, and DDR3 RAM. Each type of memory is faster. For these benchmarks we are using DDR3 RAM in a virtualized environment. As a refresher, RAM is the memory module(s) in your computer, which allows your computer to communicate with the CPU, and to store valuable information, live on the system, while its running. Any software application on your computer uses RAM. Any database application uses RAM. And pretty much, anything that is running on your operating system will use a certain percentage of memory.

(How is physical memory, or RAM (Random Access Memory) used by an operating system?)

What Windows operating system uses the most RAM, and does it matter? That is really the question. We must remember, that the physical properties of memory modules have changed over the years. Since 2001, most computers were using SDRAM. Today, most computers are using either DDR, DDR2, or DDR3 memory. When we take a look at a Windows XP system, we see that it is actually using around 118MB of RAM on a clean install. On a 32-bit platform. However, this information can be misleading for a number of reasons. The first reason is that the operating system is not caching any files that would normally be launched by the operating system at all. So not much caching is going on.

Under Windows Vista and Windows 7, a new technology called Superfetch was initiated, which would take up more memory on the system, but would allow applications to load potentially faster, and would allow the system to start-up and shut-down potentially faster. This is why you will see a discrepancy in the amount of memory in use when launching Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows XP. Furthermore, changes have been made to the core infrastructure of the operating systems themselves. Windows Vista and Windows 7 are optimized for multi-core processors. The code changes that have taken place have been numerous and in the tens of thousands. Security vulnerabilities have been patched, new features have been introduced, and new memory requirements have been made.

If we consider, that out of the box, Windows Vista and Windows 7 use about 500 to 400MB of more RAM, than Windows XP used, we can find a reason for this. With no applications open, Windows Vista and Windows 7 are apparently using 500MB of RAM. However, this memory; the majority of it, is simply waiting for your computer to open a commonly used application. This process is the result of the introduction of the Superfetch feature.

The Superfetch feature is designed to allow you to launch applications faster, and without delay. Unfortunately, many people have interpreted this extra RAM usage as a major problem, when in fact it is a very small problem. The theory behind Superfetch is that any memory that is not in use on a system is going to waste. After all, power is going to those memory modules, so why isn't it being used? When all of the computer's memory is used, and there is none left for the system, what happens is a process called paging. When memory paging takes place, the operating system will usually look for memory in the form of hard disk space on the computer's hard drive. In Windows operating systems, this is called the page file. The major bottleneck of most systems today, is not the memory in a computer. As long as you have about 2GB of memory, you really shouldn't have too many problems, unless you're really launching hundreds of intensive applications that use tons of memory, or whether or not you're storing a huge database on your system. The real bottleneck is the hard drive, and so when you do run out of memory, and when paging takes place, this will slow down the entire system.

When we compare Windows XP, with Windows Vista, and with Windows 7, in memory usage, we can come to the conclusion that Windows 7 uses memory in the most efficient way possible. After nearly nine years of development, Windows 7 launches applications either faster or better than Windows XP did. The system boots faster than both Windows Vista or Windows XP did. And the system is far more secure than Windows XP will ever be.

When we think about memory that's used on a computer, we start to think about read access times and write times. And to prove our point, we'll take a look at some benchmarks to see what operating system performs the best in these scenarios. We use a clean install, with the same exact hardware, and the same exact amount of memory. With this process we will see, with Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7, which computer turns out to use RAM in the best way possible. Again, these benchmarks can be misleading, because they are raw numbers, and they do not, in fact, represent the user experience.

Again, Windows 7 boots and shuts down much faster than Windows Vista and Windows XP did. It also functions on a much more secure level, and it is much more reliable level overall. But, again, we will perform these benchmarks to see what the results are.

When analyzing these benchmarks, these benchmarks do not provide much information to us. They do not give us much information about a real world scenario. More or less, they are simply number crunching different processes, that are, in some ways, antiquated, and in many ways do not reflect a real world situation. As a Microsoft Certified Professional, a Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist, a Microsoft Certified Information Technology Professional, and a Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator, as well as a CompTIA Network+ Associate, and a CompTIA A+ Certified Remote Support Technician, I can tell you from experience, that Windows 7 is a superior operating system in every way possible. In fact, benchmarks can sometimes be so misleading, that they lead people to either stay with an older operating system, or use software they don't need anymore and could benefit from if they would only upgrade.

I cannot stress enough how inappropriate how some benchmarks can be, and how inaccurate those readings can be. In this scenario, we used a virtualized environment, but that virtualized environment was not too helpful. We could probably use physical hardware to conduct the same tests, and we would probably wind up with the same results. When we compare Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP, all in one: We are comparing apples, oranges, and bananas. There's simply no way to compare these three operating systems. They're entirely unique, and they all offer benefits and disadvantages. But primarily, Windows 7 is Microsoft's premier operating system. It will support hardware far into the future. And by using a 64-bit platform, as opposed to a 32-bit platform, you will be able to use more than 4GB of RAM, well into the future, providing a fail-safe and future-proof computing system.

So much has changed since the inception of Windows XP, that it is difficult to gauge how important the advent of Windows 7 could be for the computing industry. But one thing is clear: Windows XP is becoming a security risk inherently to every computer user. There are millions of Windows XP computers that have been compromised and have been turned into botnets which spam throughout the entire world. They remain unattended, unpatched, without security updates.

And what you really need to do is look at your budget and determine:

Do I need a better computing experience? Do I want a better computing experience? Do I want security features? Do I want reliability? And do I want performance?

(Benchmarks can be very misleading. Comparing Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7 with number crunching technology does not work very well. If we benchmarked Windows 95 compared to Windows 7, we would get better results in favor of Windows 95. Do you want to use Windows 95? The real test is how well you can use your operating system, and how you make use of it on a day-to-day basis. Windows 7 boots, starts, and finds files faster than any previous Windows operating system. It sets a new standard for reliability, security, and performance.)