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Windows 7 a RAM hog?


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I’ve had so many emails overnight about a story over on ComputerWorld citing data collected by Devil Mountain Software’s community-based XPnet claiming that some 86% of Windows 7 machines being monitored are regularly consuming 90-95% of the system RAM that I’m forced from silence to comment.


OK, let me begin by telling you why wasn’t I going to cover this story? Well, I’ll be honest with you, XPnet data isn’t a data source that’s on my trusted list. Collecting and correlating data is a tricky business, and there are too many mysteries surrounding how XPnet data is collected and what data is collected for me to get a clear picture of what’s going on. Those are my thought and feelings on the issue, but I encourage you to come to your own conclusions.


OK, but with that out of the way, let’s take a look at the claim.


86% of Windows 7 machines in the XPnet pool are regularly consuming 90%-95% of their available RAM


OK, first off, these figures seem way off to me. A quick look at the Windows 7 systems I’ve running here (which range in RAM from 1GB to 24GB) now shows the highest consumption to be in the region of 42%, and that system has two browser running, a remote desktop session active and word processor running. This system is a notebook and has 2GB of RAM.


I’ve asked around a few other folks who are running multiple Windows 7 systems to see if they are seeing anything like what’s being reported. So far, now one I’ve talked to has seen this happen outside of when really pushing the system gaming or other demanding activity, such as running virtual machines or encoding multimedia.


OK, but let’s assume that there are systems out there which are consuming +90% RAM. So what? The only time you waste RAM is when you don’t use it. If you have 2GB or 4GB of whatever in your system, you want your system to make use of that RAM. Operating systems such as Windows 7 make intelligent use of memory, using it to speed up the OS when no other demands are being placed on it.


High RAM usage only becomes a problem when there’s no more RAM to work with because something is hogging the RAM and the system has to resort to disk caching. Problem is, no data is provided about disk caching or page faults, so we can’t make any sensible conclusions as to the impact that the memory usage is having on the systems.


: Despite this, the article does try to suggest that this causes a problem:


“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.”


So, once again, assuming that it there are a lot of systems out there consuming +90% of system RAM regularly, is it the OS doing this or other applications. The data sheds no light on this:


“… XPnet’s data couldn’t determine whether the memory usage was by the operating system itself, or an increased number of applications …”


So there you have it, another blind spot.


Another concern is the use of the word “regularly.” A vague word at best, and one that unfortunately gives us no insight into how often memory is above 90% capacity. Spikes in memory usage are common (boot up, firing up an application, or when the system is opening large files), but it’s the long-term trends that matter.


Final thought … if “86% of Windows 7 machines in the XPnet pool are regularly consuming 90%-95% of their available RAM” then a commonality amongst those systems is that they are all running XPnet’s data collection utility …


I’ve approached Microsoft for comment on this issue, given that the company collects an incredible amount of telemetry on system performance. I’ll update this post when I hear something.



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Interesting article and you have made some good points. The minimum per MS on W7 64 bit is 2 GB. My W7 64 everyday system right now is using about 21% of 9 gb. The percentage would be higher with less memory but then perhaps to be fair I would have to bare bones the system to determine a minimum. I'll see what happens when I boot up one of my stripped down systems.

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On my e9280t 9 gb system:


W7 64 bit --------> 21% fully loaded

W7 64 bit --------> 13% stripped down

W7 64 bit --------> 12% safe mode


On my DV9700t 4 gb system:


W7 64 bit ---------> 27% fully loaded

W7 32 bit ---------> 32% fully loaded

VISTA 32 bit -----> 40% fully loaded

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