Aero as resource hog? Not exactly…

In the midst of an otherwise interesting account of one IT professional’s experiences with Windows Vista, Andrew Garcia of eWeek lets fly with this bit of misinformed commentary:

Aero Glass is an uninteresting resource pig, completely unworthy of all the resources it consumes. Forty percent of my system memory is consumed out of the box right now, and Aero Glass is the largest consumer. For what exactly? A 3-D ALT-TAB screen selection screen, translucent window edges and a handful of Sidebar widgets. This feature single-handedly hamstrings Vista installations with only 1GB of RAM, making slower computers swap memory with just one or two applications open.

It’s really hard to know where to begin pointing out the errors in that one paragraph. But I’ll try:

  • Aero and Glass are two separate things. Aero is the full Vista interface, complete with taskbar button previews of window contents and Flip 3-D task-switching option. Glass is the transparency effect used in the Aero interface by default. It can be turned off with a single click.
  • The Flip 3-D hotkey is Windows logo key+Tab, not Alt+Tab.
  • Sidebar widgets have nothing to do with Aero. They run in the context of Sidebar.exe, which can be shut down at any time.
  • You can run many, many programs in 1GB of RAM under Vista. The idea that you’ll run out of RAM with one or two programs open is just nonsense.

And then there’s the notion that Aero is somehow the "largest consumer of RAM" on a system. Wrong.

I have four Vista systems within arm’s reach here. Each one is running the full Aero interface, and the typical memory consumed by the Desktop Window Manager (dwm.exe) is between 20MB and 36MB of RAM on each. On a system with 1GB of RAM, that adds up to a not-so-whopping maximum of 3.5% of all installed memory. If you turn off Aero and use the Vista Basic interface, RAM usage for DWM goes down to 2MB or less. But you have to push the system pretty hard to get to the point where you notice that.

I actually covered this topic in two of my ZDNet Mythbuster pieces a long time ago. They’re still valid:

Vista Mythbusters #1: It’s not a hardware hog

Vista Mythbusters #5: Aero isn’t rocket science

15 thoughts on “Aero as resource hog? Not exactly…

  1. Not only that, but the amount of CPU power that it consumes is insignificant. GPU resource usage can be oushed up a couple of percentage points by Aero though (although that depends on the graphics sub-system).

    One claim that I’ve not looked into is Aero and power consumption, especially on notebooks. A project for another day…

  2. Hey, Ed,
    I’ve really been appreciating your attemps to keep the conversation about Windows Vista sensible.

    I wish people understood that there is nothing to be gained by spreading random FUD about Windows Vista.

    I’d be interested in seeing Andrew Garcia’s credentials.

    Keep up the good work!

    Take Care,

  3. I love when self positioned Windows cognoscenti accuse another’s argument to be off-base and then proceed to point out what are actually trivial factual errors that don’t change the fact that ‘Windows Aero’ does consume an inordinate amount of resources, and won’t run well on 1 GB RAM machines. Sorry Ed, that is FACT.

  4. @ Dave

    “Sorry Ed, that is FACT.” Did you read the entire entry? He dispels the rumor of Aero being a hog with actual FACTS instead of just saying it is a FACT. I use Vista with 1GB of RAM and it consume very little CPU time since it uses the GPU and DWM is currently only using 14 MBs of memory.

  5. Maybe it’s because I’m using Process Explorer instead of the built-in Task Manager, but I’m seeing my DWM process consuming about 114MB of memory used (physical memory working set). Of course I do have dual monitors running at high resolutions, so that’s probably a good reason for the bloat. I’m also running a total of 2GB of RAM, so it’s not like I’m strapped for memory anyway.

  6. I have 3GB of RAM on one system and 4GB on another, and my main system has two hi-res monitors, a h 24-inch LCD at 1920×1200 and a 21-inch LCD at 1600 x 1200. 36MB RAM usage.

  7. I find it amazing that the two of you – EdBott and Garcia both work for the same company.

    Get a handle on it! You are both correct!

    You both are using figures fom different measurement sources!
    Garcia has lumped Aero and Glass and other related or interactive DWM processes (like Sidebar) as one, as hat’s how most people use it, because that’s how Microsoft markets the hype!
    Be more subtle when attacking Garcia, as he might be your Boss one day šŸ™‚

    For info this is Garcia’s background ..

    miffed aussie

  8. That bio link for Adam Garcia has absolutely nothing about his credentials. It has his name, his e-mail address and a Bio section that says “No Description.” It then has a list of links to the article he has written for eWeek. What about that establishes his credentials in any way, shape or form?

    Also, ZDNet and Ziff Davis are two separate entities. Everyone knows that.

  9. Why should dwm.exe be the #1 consumer of memory on my system, sitting at the tippy-top when I sort WTM to the “memory” field?

    (Oh yeah, that’s also a FACT, in CAPITAL LETTERS, if that makes any difference with you guys)

    It’s a darn HOG. Nick-picking labels (“oh, it’s Aero and Glass and not Aero Glass!” Whoop-dee-do!) and playing semantics aren’t going to change that.

  10. Wut,

    You really need to read up on what DWM does. Yes, it uses more resources than the old-style Windows graphics architecture. It also does a lot more and enables 3D transitions that were literally impossible with that older architecture. Previously, every program sent individual window messages to the graphics card, which then created and destroyed individual windows on its own. The result was tearing, jaggies, and weird visual artifacts when you dragged things around on the screen.

    In Vista, DWM handles the entire video workspace. All programs send instructions to DWM, which composes the entire desktop with the help of the GPU. The net effect is much smoother.

    On the systems I am looking at here, DWM typically uses about 50MB at its peak, and that’s with some very big display resolutions. Given the benefit, that doesn’t seem like a lot to me. On a 1280×800 notebook, it uses about 23MB of RAM. At current memory prices, you can upgrade a desktop or notebook PC to 2GB for $20-40, which means you are talking about 1-3% of system RAM being used for desktop display management. I fail to see why this is a big deal.

  11. I’ve been running Vista since the new computer arrived at Christmas, and I re-loaded Vista yesterday from Recovery Discs after a hard disc meltdown. So let me tell you what I’ve noticed.

    When the machine came from the factory, I never even noticed DWM.EXE, it was running so far down the list in my Task Man list. Vista ran like a Swiss watch — I was impressed. Since the reload onto the new hard disc, DWM.EXE is the #1 resource hog according to TMan, and delays, stalls, and freezes have been commonplace (and I’ve got 2GB RAM). Still, TMan lists the resource pull at for DWM at “only” 40-50MB, which while probably 10X-15X higher than before, still shouldn’t stress the system.

    But something regarding DWM.EXE is drastically different between the factory install (when Vista ran great) and the recovery install. I just haven’t figured out what caused what yet.

  12. Uhhhhh, just turned off Aero and DWM went from 42MB down to 1.3MB. Still, I ran Aero fine before the recovery install, so there’s still a problem somewhere.

  13. It is plain simple, windows aero does consume resources offcourse it’s an eye candy let’s say even a 100mb more memory. No one forces us to use it, it can be disabled and with cheap memory prices a 100mb consume memory wont affect pcs performance.

    if ur using an integrated display adapter expect performance drop because graphics processing is handled by your processor while in the case of a dedicated display adapter the GPU handles all graphic processing
    if you think aero is such a resource hog then don’t use it and stop trying to convince the ones who likes to use just because you CANT BUY THE HARDWARE IT REQUIRES.

    in the end
    we enjoy aero
    you haters
    just drool over

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