Published on October 26, 2009 11:00 PM

Windows 7: How Much Memory?

The same question returns with each new version of Windows: how much RAM do you need to run the OS? With Windows 7 now available, we wanted to have a look to see if adding more RAM would speed it up. Encoding, gaming, 3D rendering or loading, how much memory are you going to need for Windows 7?

Straight to the tests: click here

To answer the question we used two different machines, with more or less the same configurations as those used in our article "Windows 7: faster than Vista and XP?". The first machine is an entry-level model with a slowish dual-core and a mid-range graphics card. The second is a machine of war, with the fastest Intel processor and a high-end graphics card.

Various tests: video, audio, gaming, loading…

We have centred our tests on several categories of software that take up more or less resources. Among them are video and audio encoding, video editing, 3D rendering and gaming. For games we checked to see if load times were affected by the quantity of memory or not. Of course, we also checked to see if the load time for Windows 7 was shortened by adding more memory.

We started on the principle that the current minimum for a computer is 2 GB. Given the current price of a gigabyte of memory, it seems unthinkable to use less memory on a desktop or laptop (not including netbooks).

On the entry level machine, we used four different memory configurations: 2 GB, 3 GB and 4 GB (on 32 and 64-bit versions; see inset). On the top-end machine, we went up to 6 GB of RAM.

Windows 7 isn’t any faster with more RAM

After different tests we can tell you that adding memory on top of 2 GB to a machine on Windows 7 will not drastically improve performances. Increases are slight and limited to a few pieces of software. These will benefit from added memory to carry out operations more rapidly. This is a little more marked on the high-end machine. The same goes for the games tested: load times and frames per second are identical on all the configurations.

Our advice: 3 GB minimum, 4 GB if possible

So then, should you stay at 2 GB and not succumb to the low memory prices so as to add more? No, of course not! First of all, we didn’t test all the software imaginable and certainly not the most recent video games.

Take the example of the very popular World of Warcraft. With this title, played online, it isn’t rare for it to need 1.5 GB of RAM, and sometimes even more. With a total of 2GB RAM, the game will be fluid but you won’t be able to switch to another app very rapidly.

But why would you want to do this in the middle of a game? Well, in this game you might; it isn’t rare to want to search for information on an object. This means you’ll want to use an internet navigator. With 2 GB, switching to the navigator may well take quite a bit of time. If you move up to 3 GB, this kind of operation will immediately become more fluid.

This brings us to multitasking. Problems come when you want to run several applications that use 1 or 2 GB of RAM and this isn’t that rare anymore. Although these apps are fluid they suffer when another application puts equivalent demands on the configuration.

We advise you to chose a minimum of 3 GB of RAM so that you have the option of using several pieces of software at the same time. We think, currently, the ideal is 4 GB of RAM, which isn’t outrageous when you think that the average price for 1 GB is currently under 15 pounds.
32-bit or 64-bit? Both tested and compared
On the first machine, we installed the standard 32-bit Windows 7 Ultimate. Without going back over this in too much detail, suffice to say you can’t use any more than 3.25 GB of RAM on 32-bit versions of Windows.

On the second machine, we used the 64-bit version of Windows. We ask the simple question: on a high-end PC, does installing 4 GB of RAM or more have a beneficial impact on performance?

64-bit editions aren’t limited as to how much RAM they can use and this is why we went for this version here. This also means 64-bit features in processors (if the application has been so designed) can also be exploited. Nevertheless, 64-bit versions of Windows have always had the reputation of being less well optimised and not being so well equipped in terms of drivers.

64-bit Windows: ready to go

This hasn’t really been a problem since Vista. It’s true that 64-bit drivers are now very common and most software is now able to run with a 64-bit OS. In fact, only a few very specific professional applications and a handful of games won’t work (some simply require you to change a setting).

We also wanted to see which version was best when using 4 GB of RAM. To check this we used our entry-level machine.

Hardware details

Entry-level PC

- Intel Pentium E2220
- ASUS P5Q3 Deluxe
- ATI Radeon HD 4770

High-end PC

- Intel Core i7 975 Extreme
- Intel DX58SO
- PNY GeForce GTX 285

Memory modules

- Corsair CM3X1333C9 DHX
- Corsair TR3X1600C8 Dominator

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