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Installing Windows 7 with 256MB RAM

written by: Felix•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 6/10/2009

Microsoft promised that Windows 7 would be much lighter than Windows Vista. How light? Can it actually run in only 256MB of RAM? Let's find out!

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    Microsoft's Promise

    Windows Vista proved itself to be unsuccessful and unaccepted on the market for several reasons. First, it had a completely new user interface that alienated previous Windows users - learning Vista was like starting all over from the beginning. Secondly, it was known as a "memory hog" that needs a lot of RAM just to run continuously, and this did not even include the additional memory required to actually run applications. And thirdly, it caused the processor to operate harder and hotter, which increased the chance of your processor breaking down.

    Microsoft tried to fix this problem by hurriedly developing Windows 7, a continuation or the Vista "remake." It has several new features; the most famous one being the integration of minWin, a new architecture that will prevent Windows from taking a lot of RAM cache when running.

    Windows 7 was announced to the public on January 2009, promising "a new Vista" and promoting it to be the next breakthrough after Windows XP (Project Blackcomb). The official minimum requirements for Windows 7 were released as:

    Processor: 1.0 GHz CPU

    RAM: minimal of 1GB (32-bit) or 2GB (64-bit)

    Hard Disk: 16GB of disk space (32-bit) or 20GB (64-bit)

    VGA: At least 128MB of memory, with support for DirectX 9.0.

    While these are the minimal requirements for Windows 7, there are still ways to install it in less RAM. For this purpose,the ultimate aim will be to see how well Windows 7 performs in reduced RAM, and we'll try taking it all the way down to 256 MB.

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    Testing With 256 MB of RAM

    Normally Windows 7 cannot be installed on systems having less than 512 MB of RAM. The installation DVD will prevent you from continuing the install. There are certain ways to change this - either by editing an .xml file or by patching the winsetup.dll. You can also test this in other ways, which we will look at near our conclusion.

    Skipping right to the action, Windows 7 actually does work in 256 MB of RAM. The version tested here was the Ultimate version, but presumably it should've run better if the Windows 7 Professional/Starter/Home Basic version was installed instead. Compared to having the right amount of RAM, the boot up to the Windows 7 desktop took at least 40 seconds, almost triple the amount of time required with 1 GB. Starting task manager and looking at the processes reveals that Windows 7 uses exactly 183MB of RAM while in idle state. It looks like this actually proves that Windows 7's use of MinWin makes it efficient.

    Although Windows 7 works with just 183MB of RAM while in idle state, using it for normal use is highly not recommended. After all, 256 MB of RAM is very basic, and gives you a Windows Experience Index of 1.0. There is no way to run any good programs here, except for the built-in ones such as WordPad and Paint. I tried to install Microsoft Office 2007, too, but running Microsoft Word 2007 caused a system crash. The same thing happened when I tried to scan the computer using Windows Defender.

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    Not Recommended: How to Install

    First of all, as I have stated before, this is not recommended. Try this only if you have a computer that you aren't using anymore, and don't try this for any mainstream use, including internet browsing and word processing. There are several ways to install this:

    Using VMWare:

    The easiest way to do this is by using VMWare. Install Windows 7 with a minimal 512MB of RAM. After finishing the installation, go to the options and change the amount of virtual RAM to 256MB. This wil certainly bypass the RAM limit on the installation DVD.

    Physical Installation:

    Similar to using VMWare, but you can first install it with 512 MB, then after finishing, replace the RAM of your computer with a 256 MB RAM.

    NOTE: Stated again. This is not recommended and might break your computer.

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    Conclusion

    Windows 7 has proven Microsoft's promise of having a lighter OS compared to Windows Vista. It has proven itself capable of running on a 256 MB computer (even though it cannot practically run anything else). October 22, 2009 is when Windows 7 will be legally released to the public with all SKUs except for the Enterprise version. When the general public experience Windows 7, we will will know if the popular conception is that indeed Microsoft kept their promise of lightweight OS.