How Much Memory Does Vista Need?

With Windows Vista coming soon to a retail channel near you, one of the important questions to ask is, “How much memory does it really need?”  There are the official minimum requirements of 512 MB, but we all know that minimum requirements don’t translate to a great experience.  What are the real memory levels that get good performance?  After having used it for several years during the development process, I figure I’m in a pretty good place to help answer that question.  Vista definitely requires more memory than XP did to achieve similar levels of performance.  That is to be expected with all of the new functionality invovled.  To run Vista at its best, I recommend you have at least 1.5 gigabytes of RAM.  In my experience, the following is a mapping from XP RAM to Vista RAM requirements for eqivlaent performance.

XP RAM      Vista RAM

128 MB       512 MB

256 MB       1 GB

512 MB       1.5 GB

1 GB           2 GB

In my experience, XP ran very well with 512 MB and only slightly better with 1 GB (unless you were putting it through a very serious work load).  To get this kind of performance out of Vista, you really want 1.5 GB.  1 GB will work but it will be sluggish at times.  Anything less than 1 GB will feel very slow.

If you have experience with Vista through the business release or a beta, what sort of memory performance levels do you see?  Do you concur with my recommendations?


Note:  This is not official guidance.  This is based merely upon my personal observations.  Your mileage may vary.

Comments (32)

  1. tzagotta says:

    I don’t disagree with your table, but I think there is more to it than just RAM.  For example, I have a 6-year old laptop that is a P3 @ 850Mhz with 512MB of RAM (max. possible for that model).  When I first loaded Vista, it was terribly slow, and after a while, I noticed that it had loaded the plain-vanilla VGA driver.  After I installed an XP-compatible driver specific to my video hardware, the performance became faster and quite a bit more acceptable.  I even find that I can run Visual Studio 2005 on it, albeit a bit slowly, but it is acceptable for off-site work now-and-then.

    All that said, I agree with your theme that Vista runs best with more memory, and 1-2GB seems to be the sweet spot.

  2. Ryan Bemrose says:

    I don’t completely agree with the first line of the table.  I’ve had Vista run quite acceptably in 512Mb with XP display drivers (no glass or DWM).

    My most recent 128Mb WinXP experiences had the computer choking on its own swapfile before the user has finished logging in.  I couldn’t hear the speakers over the sound of the HD thrashing.

    If you’re using Vista with WDDM-enabled video, though, then I agree that 512Mb is untenable.

  3. SteveRowe says:

    I had a laptop with 512MB and an XPDM driver and still found the performance quite slow.  Lots and lots of hard drive thrashing.  YMMV.

    As for the comment about the VGA driver, you’ll find XP excruciating with a VGA driver too.  

    There are definitely a lot of things that go into making Vista a good or bad experience.  Memory is just one aspect of it.  I think for average tasks (surfing the web, writing a document), memory has become one of the most important.

  4. Hendrik says:

    Here’s my table, running Vista since build 5270. Steve, I think you’re a bit harsh on Vista.

    XP RAM Vista RAM

    256 640

    512 896

    1024 1.5 GB

  5. Luc says:

    I’m running Windows Vista with 768 MB and it’s very fast.

  6. Luc says:


    Aero doesn’t use system RAM but only the memory on your graphics card.

  7. Juha says:

    Would a ReadyBoost capable device make a difference here? Or is Vista’s working set that much bigger?

    What parts of the system is the extra memory spent on, so to speak?

  8. SteveRowe says:

    Hendrick,  I didn’t try all of the various steps in between.  I definitely noticed slowdown in my 1 GB Vista system that I don’t tend to notice with 512 MB XP systems.  It’s very usable, but not as snappy as it could be.

    Luc, I had a laptop with 768 megs and a 2.4 ghz processor and found it to really drag.  It’s good to know that 768 megs is working well for you.

    Juha, I haven’t tried one so I can’t speak.  ReadyBoost seems like it would help alleviate the disk grinding I noticed but I can’t speak from practical experience.  There are a lot of things that use up the memory.  Sidebar, Aero, the indexer, the shell, etc.

  9. 4sysops says:

    Microsoft's official recommendations are 512MB for a "Vista capable PC" and 1GB for "Vista Premium Ready". Of course, nobody takes such recommendations seriously, anymore. Steve Row, a Microsoft employee, just posted an i…

  10. Sandy says:


    I think you’ve some hardware or software incompatibility because Windows Vista on my system with 512MB runs fast, very fast, faster than XP!

  11. Kevin Moran says:

    I think that the graphics card has much to do with the performance of the Vista machine. Been running Ultimate with Dual core and 1Gb of Ram, been very stable and fast but required a new graphics card with 256MB on-board to get best results.

  12. Puk says:

    @Kevin Moran

    You can buy a Geforce 6200A AGP 8X 256MB DDR with less than 50$ and it runs very fast with Aero

  13. Skynet says:

    I think that 2GB of RAM is the inferior limit.

    I’ve tried beta 2 of vista on my Intel Dual Core at 3ghz with 1gb of ram. System was very fast, and aero was perfect with the geforce 7600gt. But with a few applications opened, like word, excel and media player, performances drammatically reduced (and 1gb of used ram was reached). In Xp these programs and os take togheter less than 400 mb. Finally i ran 3dsmax, which i work with, and i had no words…

    In my opinion a basic user needs 1gb at least, but a power user who works with 2d/3d applications, or audio/video editing, needs 2 or more gb of ram, while to do the same things with xp 1gb is more than sufficent.

  14. Workbench says:

    I find it ludicrous that an operating system requires this kind of memory overhead even compared to the bloated Windows XP.

    The MS OS has its good points but overall I think it’s held people back. People were walking all over it’s features with lesser-known OS’s (most notably the one on the Amiga), in the 80’s. The Amiga OS came on a floppy and it was designed from the ground up to offer pre-emptive multitasking and a WIMP user interface. If you have ever used that machine you will know what real multitasking is.

    It’s getting ridiculous with the MS, and all it’s doing is increasing an already bloated hardware/software solution to the point where it becomes prime hacker fodder. In a mission-critical environment I would not recommend it, far from it and using it at home in my SOHO I find it cumbersome and inefficient. It’s just that so many people are sold on it through marketing despite alternatives I have no choice but to use it.

    Vista is a classic example of MS’s marketing..slow, inefficient, unstable, bloated and requiring years just to get it to the point where it is usable. You spend more time debugging the software than you do using it, and from an end user perspective that is not what computers are all about, they are supposed to evolve. I had this problem in 1987 when I decided to test Mac’s and Amiga’s for creative work, and I still have the same problem today only of course, using faster processors inside the PC. Now that the Mac has x86/x86-64 compatible processors as well as the ability to run alternatives like Linux and virtual machine technology, I can’t see MS retaining its customer base not on a personal professional level. At last.

  15. SteveRowe says:

    @workbench, I cut my teeth on the Amiga.  It was an awesome machine for its time but that was 20 years ago.  Yes, it had pre-emptive multitasking before any of the other PC OS’s but it was also missing some key things like memory protection.  The Amiga was years ahead of its competition but it has been more than 20 years since it was released.  The PC today has capabilities beyond it in every arena (multitasking, audio, video, chrome, etc.)

  16. john says:

    so ms release what sounds like yet another crummy os-after decades of suffering ive had enough-im off to apple.theres only so long you can put up with garbage-when are we all going to admit whtsa staring us in the face-windows is no damn good!!!      bye!

  17. zack says:

    I’m currently running Vista on my AMD Athlon 2800+ w/ 1GB of Ram and Windows XP on my AMD Athlon 2700+ w/ 512 MB of Ram which I just upgraded to 768. Let me tell you that Vista is exta smooth at 1GB, but gets SLOW as I opened Microsoft Word + IE7 + A movies (while running Anti-Virus in background). Windows XP in 512 MB and same programs open was faster. I found my CPU usage constantly at 70%-100% and memory (1GB) at over 50% using Vista. XP rarely goes over 50% and memory always below 30%.

  18. Sam says:

    Vista Home Basic runs fine on 1GB of RAM. Even with Word 2007, IE7, Media Player, Slide Show and a couple of other applications running RAM use is just 46%!

  19. Mercenary says:

    If you want to do any gaming at all, on any operating system, you need at least 2 gegs of ram, if you run vista, at least 3

  20. Rob Mattheu says:

    It seems like with the years they’ve had to develop it, MS could have made the code leaner or equal to XP.   I understand their desire to help sell new equipment (after all, it ensures you buy more products), but I can’t help but think that a fat bunch of code equals a fat bunch of problems in the long run.  

  21. SteveRowe says:

    @Rob – When you add features, you add code.  More code means more memory and more processing power.

  22. jane says:

          Half Gig of RAM causes slow CPU on most tasks. I tend to believe 2Gigs would be about right.







  25. Earl says:

    First of all, everybody is complaining about Vista and the ram and what not. To make improvements in a OS, you have to make improvements in your hardware. Thats almost a rule of thumb. Second, what if Microsoft made XP over again with 1 or 2 improvements. You better off to call that service pack 3. Then everybody would complain that they dont make big enough improvements in there OS. They are in a hard situation. I understand that the ram seems kinda high, but it would happen soon anyways to make 2 gb a standard. 3 years ago if you had 512mb, you were looking good and there was no need for anymore ram. And now if you have 512mb with xp, you are ok but not the best. I am trying to stay positive about this and i am going to give Vista a far chance.

  26. Miles says:

    I am running Vista on a Core 2 Duo 2.13 MHz Dell Dimension E520, with 1Gb RAM and 256 Mb ATI 1300 Pro Video Card.  Not top specs, but I can run Firefox, McAfee virus scan, a movie on Media Player and Windows Photo Gallery, all smoothly and efficiently with Aero, while scrolling between screens.  My memory is running at 91% when running all these applications.

  27. Dave says:

    I am trying to run Word 2007 on Vista With a Core 2 Duo T5050 processor and 1g of ram, Slow as a snail

  28. Mark says:

    Hey guys. I’va been reading all the comments in this blog, and such. This whole conversation raises up one question for me… should I get Vista or XP for my new pc that I am getting in 2 months.

    I think I’ll be getting an Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 processor (2x 2.13 GHz), a NVIDIA GeForce 7600GS video card with 256 MB of RAM, and 2GB of memory.

    I’ll be playing games like Wolrd of Warcraft, or Armed Assault (what, I’m just 14 years old), so will games and some document programs like Word or MS Works perform better on XP or Vista?

  29. SteveRowe says:

     I can’t comment personally on the games but I’m running pretty close to that system.  I have a Core 2 Duo 6300, a GeForce 6800GS, and 2GB of memory.  It run very smoothly.

     Everything is moving to Vista.  If you get XP now, you’ll have to deal with upgrading to Vista later.  It’s cheaper to get Vista now.

     Doing a little research leads me to this article on ExtremeTech (,1697,2090575,00.asp).  It says, "Vista runs WoW just beautifully."

  30. cardic says:

    Windows Vista is very scalable and so it flies also with 512MB.

    You need more RAM if you use a lot of applications simultaneously, but on average usage 512MB is good enough.

  31. I have an ‘older’ machine, a Toshiba M400. Vista isn’t blazingly fast on this machine. Here are some