Windows 2000 machines aimed at business would sit on the shelves with 128mb fitted. When the corporate buyers came along, more memory would be specified, maybe 256mb. Windows 2000 would rattle along quite nicely with 256mb powering it, but if it was fitted with 512mb, it would fair fly. But bear in mind that almost all of these machines had a video card sitting in a slot. The 256mb only had to push programs and data around. This was also true of Windows 98/ME machines of the day. They may have only been 2 or 4mb Matrox Mystiques or similar, but RAM on the video cards helped out a lot. In fact, one way to get the performance up on a machine of that era was to get a better video card. Gamers used video accelerators which sat in an adjacent slot. Voodoo is a name that springs to mind.
So, did Windows computers run on the quoted minimum RAM? Yes they did, not particularly well and they had help from the video card. But times they were a-changing, and motherboard manufacturers started to incorporate sound, network and video capability. Unfortunately, many OEMs continued to supply XP machines with the same amount of RAM as the Win 2000 machines, but now they had to share with the integrated components. One could change the amount of RAM given to the video part, but unless the full amount was given over, video performance could not deliver. Web pages were starting to get heavy with color and animations, and games (not the Windows games) needed as much as could be thrown at them. Integrated video RAM was on the rise and has been ever since, yet system RAM at point of sale has been kept low.
Laptops suffer most because nothing inside can be too high powered. Heat and battery life are two big issues, and if anything needs more RAM, it is the laptop. But no, the OEMs fit the same amount of memory into a laptop as they do a desktop. So have you worked out why your laptop is slow? OEMs don’t fit small amounts of RAM because that is all that the machines require. They do it to keep the price down, even though a 1gb ram stick can be bought for the price of a family sized pizza these days.
There is no heroism medal given for trying to work on a computer which does not have enough resources. You don’t get a prize for trying to squeeze a modern OS onto a 20gb hard drive. What you get is lousy performance. You can argue the point that no more can be done on a 4gb Vista machine as could be done on 1mb and DOS, but to believe that you could ever win that one suggests to me that you have forgotten just how primitive it all was way back when.
Did XP run so well in 512mb? It certainly ran better than with 128 or 256mb, but put 1gb or 2gb in an XP machine and watch it fly. Applications appear very much quicker, updates are installed much quicker, the machine is no longer dogged by having to give up large amounts of RAM to video and games run more respectably, and multitasking is a breeze. Use an XP machine with over a 1gb of RAM and you will go back to your 512mb machine and cry.
Vista requirements are higher all around. You need 1gb RAM at least. That is 1gb, not 1gb – 256mb given to video. A 1gb machine with an integrated 256mb video card is actually a 768mb machine. BUT Vista needs at least 1gb all to itself, not shared with hardware components. Are you getting this yet? A 512mb XP machine with a 64mb integrated video card is not a 512mb machine. It is a 448mb machine. If you don’t allow the full RAM share to video, performance takes a dive overall.
There are computer users who will try to intimidate you, pour scorn onto you if you mention upgrading RAM. Do NOT listen to them. RAM is and always has been good, and the more you have of it, the better your computing experience will be.