Some days ago I blogged about a questionable performance test of Service Pack 1 for Windows Vista. The same organizations just tested the performance of Windows XP SP3. The "Researchers" wrote that they measured a "performance boost" of, well, 10%.

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I don't know if 10% could be called a "performance boost". I am pretty sure that you won't be able tell the difference during normal PC work. What I find more interesting, however, is that they used the same machine from their Vista SP1 performance test.

I have been criticizing before that it doesn't make much sense to test the performance of Vista on a machine with less than 2GB RAM. Some readers have raised doubts about my assessment. So I want take this chance to clarify my point.

Imagine someone tried to find out if Service Pack 1 for Windows XP improved the speed or not. The "researcher" has a laptop in his "research lab" which runs just fine with Windows NT 4.0. It has 128MB RAM which is more than enough for NT. Since he would like to know if he could run XP on this laptop after SP1 has been released he runs his test on this machine.

I think you don't have to understand much about Windows to predict the result of this test. Of course, XP will get hardly off the ground with 128MB RAM and no service pack in the world could change this. There were about 5 years between the release of Windows NT 4.0 and Windows XP and Microsoft needed the same time to develop Windows Vista.

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So the situation is exactly the same. If you really want to know if a service pack is helpful for the performance of an OS or not, then you have to use adequate hardware for your test.

  1. Nelson 16 years ago

    I totally agree with you Michael. I do not know why there are some people that whine about windows vista performance when they are not using the right hardware. windows vista will not perform well if people are using less that 1.5 GB of ram. period.

  2. yagi 16 years ago

    Their test machine used 1GB of RAM? Seriously? Well, what the heck were they expecting? And I certainly don’t want to hear the excuse “That’s the recommended spec for Vista.” Because 128MB was the recommended spec for XP when it was released, yet they used 8x that amount on their machine. A fairer test would be to use 8GB for Vista (though 2GB would more than suffice).

  3. Hugh 16 years ago

    I also agree and I don’t think much of Vista (it’s OK, but things like built-in DRM and UAC don’t win me over). It’s a well known feature of any O/S to run it with inadequate RAM (or other critical resource) will hamstring the performance.

  4. Nelson 16 years ago

    Yagi, you are funny man… one question though, how much memory does windows vista supports? if I recall corrently, is up to 4 GB right?

  5. Killer B 16 years ago

    From Yagi:

    “A fairer test would be to use 8GB for Vista (though 2GB would more than suffice).”

    Of course you would have to use x64 Vista to do so, and I’m sure whoever did the initial test would whine about x64 driver compatibility…

    From Nelson:

    “Yagi, you are funny man… one question though, how much memory does windows vista supports? if I recall corrently, is up to 4 GB right?”

    Home Basic: 4 GB x86, no x64 version.
    Home Premium: 4 GB x86, I think 16 GB x64
    Business, Enterprise, Ultimate: 4 GB x86, 128 GB x64.

  6. Vista x86 only supports about 3GB RAM. Check this site for more information. Some of our admins already switched to Vista x64 because they need 4GB. I remember that my first XP machine had 256MB RAM. I had no performance problem with it in the beginning. Nowadays, 1GB is normal for XP. So it is only a matter of time until we all switch to Vista x64 simply because 3GB won’t be enough anymore.

  7. Nelson 16 years ago

    Michael, thanks for the info. I’m still using 256 MB on my computer at home with windows XP, and does not have performance issue. I got rid of many services and I optimized it for good performance. is a cloned machine I built. I use it for my music playing and watch TV with a TV tuner I added to it. is awesome I built it when Windows XP came out, and I never have had any problem with it. not even a hard drive failure. hopefully I will keep it for another couple of years and then build another one. I think is cheaper building a PC from scratch.

  8. Killer B 16 years ago


    Actually, that number is something like this:

    4 GB minus the amount of address space the hardware peripherals on the PC use up.

    The way I describe it is like a parking lot with one entrance on the left and a concert on the right. The valet parking attendants park all the cars in order from closest to the entrance to furthest away. The cars are RAM.

    The parking lot is 4 GB of addressable space. The concert is the reserved spot for peripherals. Once the cars start getting into the space where the concert is held, the concert is “sold out.”

    “What do you mean the lot can hold 400 cars? Only 300 of them are parked!” The concert is taking up the space of 100 spots.

    Windows XP and Vista x86 have this problem. Apparently Windows Server 2003 x86 doesn’t have this problem for some reason…

  9. Killer B., as far as I can understand it, it is not just that peripherals occupy this memory. It seems as if Vista reserves this RAM, even if it is not needed. So you would never see 4GB. That is like having the parking attendants send people away even if there is a lot of unused parking space. Therefore, you will just be wasting your money if you buy a computer with 4GB RAM and put Vista x86 on it.

  10. Anand 16 years ago

    Recently I came across a competent manufacturer in India who builds computers for Industrial Applications in a very small way.(builds very reliable quality-Even as OEM’s.) Told me that Vista will work better on 64bit with 2-4 GB RAM.(Depending on the applications on wants to use simultaneously)

  11. Anand Tulpule 16 years ago

    I also came across a competent manufactrer in Pune,India who builds computers for Industrial Applications for thhe past 19 years.(builds very reliable quality,Even as OEM’s).We are of the same opinion that vista requires 64bit with 2-4 GB RAM.User will thoroughly enjoy Vista.
    I have run Vista beta2 with 512 MB RDRAM on Dell 8200, and enjoyed using the same.It had many oops and crashes.Still I find Vista is very good. Only thing is I cannot afford an upgrade. Hence happy with XP SP3 superb!

  12. Alex 16 years ago

    Vista 32 and XP 32 would never see more than 3 Gb of RAM. That’s the problem. It resides in addressing of the memory. Simply put, there are 2 at 32 addresses in the memory that could be accessed by the system. You can make a simple experiment: open calculator, choose scientific view and calculate x^y, where x equals 2 and y equals 32. The result should be 0 on 32 bit operating systems. That’s because the system can’t address more than that value. So, if you want more than 3 Gb of RAM on your machine, go to x64 systems (be XP or Vista). BTW, I still use XP, after some disappointing experiences with Vista and yes, my system has 2 Gb of RAM and a dual-core processor. And after SP3 I recorder a performance boost. Not much, but the system starts in 3 to 10 seconds faster than SP2.

  13. Killer B 16 years ago


    There are some notable exceptions to this:

    The Windows Server operating systems–namely Windows 2000 Server and Windows Server 2003 x86. They can address the full 4 GB of RAM.

  14. dropo 15 years ago

    hm, I just read a comment from one guy, says that he uses SuperSpeed ramdisk program that is able tu use “Unmanaged” memory. Then it should be possible to store pagefile.sys on that ramdrive, right? 🙂

  15. Indra 15 years ago

    XP SP3 doesn’t have significant speed improvement if compared to SP2.
    But it does have better memory management than its predecessor.
    I often run out of physical memory when I was in SP2, now SP3 seems to know when an application has exited, it will clean up the memory, which the application occupied.

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