Nope, Windows 7 Is Not a Memory Hog

Editor's Note, February 21, 2010: This article was reprinted from PC World's sibling publication Computerworld, which has issued the following statement: The person quoted in this story as "Craig Barth" is actually Randall C. Kennedy, a contributor to InfoWorld (another PC World sibling). Kennedy, who presented himself as the CTO of Devil Mountain Software, no longer works at InfoWorld. Given that he disguised his identity to Computerworld and a number of other publications, the credibility of Kennedy's statements is called into question. Rather than simply remove stories in which he is quoted, we have left them online so readers can weigh his data and conclusions for themselves.

There's been much ado about a report by Devil Mountain Software that the vast majority of Windows 7 systems suffer from RAM woes, leading to performance problems. Based on my own experience on a machine that has run Windows 7, Windows Vista and Windows XP, though, it's simply not true.

Computerworld reports that Devil Mountain Software claims that most Windows 7 systems max out on their memory, severely affecting peformance. Gregg Keizer reports:

"Citing data from Devil Mountain Software's community-based Exo.performance.network (XPnet), Craig Barth, the company's chief technology officer, said that new metrics reveal an unsettling trend. On average, 86% of Windows 7 machines in the XPnet pool are regularly consuming 90%-95% of their available RAM, resulting in slow-downs as the systems were forced to increasingly turn to disk-based virtual memory to handle tasks."

In a follow-up story, Keizer notes that the software company has faced a firestorm of criticism about its claims. Here's an excerpt from the article, which reports on the many readers who wrote to tell Computerworld the article was wrong:

" 'A good operating system will not have much free RAM at all, but instead will allocate the unused RAM to buffers and caching,' " argued Kevin Pieckeil Thursday. 'Having only a few megabytes of 'free' RAM doesn't mean the system's memory resources are being exhausted.'

"Countless readers, including Haber, did just what Barth pointed out: They cited numbers from their machines. 'Anecdotally, both of my machines, one having previously run XP, the other Vista, exhibit lower memory utilization under Windows 7,' said Haber. 'Both have 2GB of RAM, and usually are using between 38% to 52% of the total amount of physical RAM available.' "

Add me to the list of those who offer anecdotal evidence that contradicts what Devil Mountain claims. I've got an old workhorse of a Dell Inspiron E1505 with a 1.83 Ghz Duo core processor and only 1 GB of RAM, and Windows 7 works on it like a charm. It previously ran Windows Vista, and it run Windows 7 faster than it did Vista. The machine dual boots into either Windows 7 or Windows XP, and I can say from experience that there's no significant difference between the two operating systems when it comes to performance. At the moment, I'm running Windows 7 on it, and it's only using between 50% and 60% of the computer's RAM.

Devil Mountain Software seems to be the only one who has found a RAM performance problem with Windows 7; count me among those who say the company is wrong.

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