In context: It's no secret that PC enthusiasts are a diverse bunch – some like to fiddle with hardware to push its limits through exotic cooling, and overclocking, while others like to develop or install mods for their favorite games to experience the original work in novel ways. And then there are those who wish to see if Doom runs on a toaster or if the latest version of Windows can be made to run on a system far below the official system requirements.
PC DRAM prices have been on a steady decline in recent months, mostly as a result of gamers holding off on upgrades at a time when memory manufacturers are struggling to solve an oversupply issue that has seen profits evaporate. It's a good time to build a new PC as system memory and SSDs are likely not going to get much cheaper, and games are starting to come with more strict requirements in both departments.
Windows 11 isn't that heavy on system RAM, but it's designed to use as much as you have to speed up its operation as well as the process of opening of frequently used apps and files. Microsoft says you need four gigabytes of system RAM to run Windows 11, which is a significant increase from the two gigabytes required to run its predecessor (one gigabyte if we consider the 32-bit variant that will reach the end of support in 2025).
Behold, another possible world record!– NTDEV (@NTDEV_) July 11, 2023
Windows 11 on just 176MB of RAM, about 23 times smaller than the official system requirements (4GB of RAM)!
The base system is a heavily trimmed down image of tiny11.
Pointless and unnecessary? Absolutely!
Impressive? You tell me. pic.twitter.com/UeC6MY6wwz
However, that doesn't stop people like NTDev from trying to make it run on significantly more modest specs. Specifically, the Romanian developer behind the Tiny11 project managed to get Windows 11 to boot using only 176 megabytes of RAM, which is over 20 times less memory than the officially required amount.
As you'd expect, this isn't just a regular copy of Windows 11. To achieve this, the developer had to strip Microsoft's operating system down to the bare minimum set of components. That means that in addition to not having the bells and whistles that make Windows 11 so heavy on system RAM, the developer had to also remove things like Explorer.
That last bit is important because it turns out that sacrificing the default desktop file manager in Windows is what brought the memory usage down to around 150-170 megabytes compared to 200 megabytes on the previous attempt. As you can see in the video above, navigating the minified OS requires you to use the command prompt, so it's not exactly practical for actual use.
Fellow developer and Windows Insider freak @XenoPanther points out in a comment to the video that Windows 11 can be made to run in text-only mode on as little as 96 megabytes of RAM, though it's even less practical than NTDev's project. It's just as foolish as trying to run Windows 7 on a 5 MHz CPU paired with 128 megabytes of RAM or installing Windows 95 on a smartwatch, but it can be a cool and fun experiment that can soothe the geek within.