The words ‘Windows’ and ‘frugal’ have rarely been seen in proximity to one another, but even by those standards a new claim that Windows 7 gorges on memory is unusual.

Devil Mountain Inc draws its stats from its 23,000 PC Exo.performance.network (XPnet) network running XP, Vista and Windows 7, so we can take its conclusions seriously. It reportedly found that almost nine out of ten of its Windows 7 machines were at the critical 90 percent memory consumption level, and these were machines with an average of 3.3GB of RAM.

Can Windows 7 really be that bad? Its memory consumption has been well received thus far, at least by the mediocre standards of past Windows OSes. The report didn’t specify how many machines from its pool were running the latest OS, but the implication that it has a memory leak problem is hard to take seriously without more data.

This is an unfair way to condemn Windows 7, or of any OS for that matter.

There are normally only four ways for a PC - any PC - get to 90 percent or more memory consumption.

It does not have enough RAM. Vista had this problem but only because PC vendors initially believed Microsoft’s gormless recommendation that 1GB of RAM was sufficient. Running it in that much RAM was like throwing a polo mint at a starving man.
 
The machine is running a heavy application load, or one of the apps is using more memory than it should. Browsers have a habit of doing this. XPnet doesn’t specify which browsers predominate in its figures, but it would be interesting to know. Machines left turned on for days or weeks would also be likely to show a similar problem.

On a similar vein, the PC is running non-optimised or incompatible apps that the OS is struggling with. This includes drivers and some browser plug-ins. Windows 7 is new after all.

The machine in question is infected with some kind of malware. This stock explanation is over-used but it is still possible. It is unlikely that this is skewing the figures much, but it is a factor.

It would also be interesting to know whether the badly affected machines were upgrades or came with Windows 7 installed.

My suspicion is that these figures are being cocked by something. I notice the company reports that 85 percent of Windows 7 machines were found to be running at peak I/O load, while 44 percent were overloaded processor-wise. This hints that the machines in question are probably not up to running the OS and might be older machines upgraded from XP. In that case a memory upgrade on its own might not be enough.

I’m not great fan of Windows, or Windows 7, but it seems to me that if anything is at fault here it’s the whole model of over-complex operating systems sold to us because people still see such complexity as a significant feature in itself.