How did mid-2000s computer users get along with just 1 GB of RAM or less?

As of today, anything less than 8 GB of RAM seems impractical. A handful of tabs in a web browser and file manager can quickly fill that up.

Shortly after booting, 2 GB of RAM are already eaten up on today's operating systems.

When I occasionally used an older laptop computer with 6 GB of RAM (because it has more ports and better repairability than today's laptops; before upgrading the memory), most of the time over 5 GB were in use, and that did not even include disk caching.

It appears that today's web browsers are far more memory-intensive than 2000s web browsers, even if we do similar things people did in the 2000s: browsing text-based pages with some photos here and there, watching videos, messaging and mailing, forum posting, and perhaps gaming. Tabbed browsing already was a thing in the 2000s. Microsoft added tabs to their pre-installed browser in 2006, back when an average personal computer had 1 GB of RAM, and an average laptop 512 MB!

Perhaps a difference is that people today watch in 720p or 1080p whereas in the 2000s, people typically watched at 240p, 360p, or 480p, but that still does not explain this massive difference. (Also, I pick a low resolution anyway when mostly listening to a video in background.)

One could create a swap file to extend system memory, though that is not healthy for an SSD in the long term. On computers, RAM is king.

  • 5
    Thanks to js.
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    My 2 cents here is that stuff evolve (not always good)

    But you say 'people today watch in 720p or 1080p'... That was true like 7 years ago.

    More and more are watching at 2k or more.

    More ram usage can be a good thing too. If it is available, why not use it ?

    Webpages are also for more complex than just html and css. Now the browser must take care of all the javascript, all the react and other fancy bling bling.
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    Beaten to it.

    Websites aren't just text and images with maybe a bit of Dom manipulation anymore.

    It's that, and tons of trackers, ads, fetches, connections, websockets, modules, and what have you.

    Hell, even fucking crypto mining if you get infected with certain extensions...
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    Websites become more bloated every day. All that crap in the background, from trackers to ads eat up a lot of resources. Keep several tabs open and you have that crap running constantly. Add the spyware from a proprietary browser and OS and your memory will be gobbled up
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    Meanwhile on my laptop: only Edge with a few tabs is open -> 9 of 16 GB of RAM in use 😒
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    Many here have a kind of single perspective here - focussing on "content" displayed.

    Most browser nowadays are close to an Mini OS.

    You do not get all the gimmicks when you don't change the whole paradigma of what an browser engine is.

    As one example:


    Thats just GPU acceleration.

    Not talking about the diverse and broad set of additional stuff, like the JS compiler, CSS rendering optimizations, Prefetching, Pipelining, Plugins, allowing local device access for e.g. WebGL, ...

    A browser really is a Mini OS.

    Yes, it can display simple text html.

    But it isn't designed to do simple text html - the design is for the majority of pages, with bling bling. Hence the resource usage will always be excessive, no matter what content displayed.

    Given WebGL, security issues, etcc - another reason why resource usage is higher is the necessity for sandboxing, isolation of processes etc.

    That wasn't common few years ago.

    I could go on for a longer list, but point should be obvious: A browsers design nowadays is nothing like a browser 20 years ago.

    Stop comparing this, as it is an entirely different thing.
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    Hey I don't know if you remember but computers back then we're FUCKING slow.

    Sure, the hardware can be crazy nowadays, but even a cheap laptop is fast.

    Back then, shit was AWFUL. Glad we're out of that era.
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    The difference is in human nature and business reality.

    First of all, I can build a complex web app, that feels reactive quite quickly. Give me two weeks and you have something nice. Like your version of reddit.

    But to do that, I have to put in lots of libraries. A calendar? Library. Sockets? socket.io, here I come. Plus I use Vue or Angular.

    That's okay, though, because the website loads within 2 seconds and is snappy. Because users have fast computers and networks now. And therefore it's fine. And I can prototype a complex feature in a few hours.

    Every library is built to accomodate the requirements of everyone. Not just my website. It's huge. But it's okay, because networks are fast. And try telling my boss that implementing the calendar takes 1 week instead of 2 hours, because I want to make it more efficient, even though the users don't mind, because their computers are fast.

    You see the dilemma? We develop for humans and they're happy.
  • 0
    I remember in 1980 something getting my first 1Mb RAM computer !

    My first was a 1k RAM computer !

    I remember upgrading that 1Mb RAM computer to 2.5Mb so I could have a pretend RAM HD to play with, since some applications insisted on it !

    Ah the joys of a Word Processor with built in spell checker as you type in the 1980's !
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    A find a single webpage now can easily eat up 1Gb of RAM !

    Is one of the reasons why I upgraded recently from 24Gb to 64Gb.
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