Friday, September 7, 2007

#9 Got enough RAM?

by Jeff Smith

So just how much RAM is enough?
Chances are, if you've never added any RAM to your computer since you bought it, you could definately use some. Most PC manufacturers put what is considered the bare minimum of RAM in the computers they build.
How much RAM you actually need varies from user to user. But first, for those of you scratching your heads, RAM is short for Random Access Memory. If you thought of your computer as a person, RAM would be kind of like short-term memory, or concentration power. The more RAM you have, the better your PC will run, and the better it will be able to handle multiple simultaneous tasks.
Different operating systems require different amounts of RAM just to run. In Win95 days, 128 megabytes of RAM was considered living high on the hog. But now, Windows XP requires 256MB before you can even install it, 512MB is recommended, and if you play a lot of graphically intense games, you'll want a gigabyte or two of the fastest RAM your machine can handle.
You can tell when your machine is hurting for RAM when you experience big slowdowns when using your computer intensely. You'll notice the hard-drive light flickering on and off, and maybe a low sound like your computer is constantly clearing its throat. These symptoms are a result of your computer using your hard-drive as "virtual" RAM. When you're doing more than what your RAM can handle, it will shove off older information to the hard-drive to be picked up later. In Windows, this is called your pagefile, and in Linux it is called your swap partition.
Using virtual memory allows your computer to run programs and tasks that it really doesn't have enough RAM for, but the price for this feature is a slow system and excessive wear and tear on your hard-drive, increasing the likelihood of a crash. Your hard-drive cannot transfer information anywhere near as fast as RAM can, so it essentially becomes a bottleneck for data moving around your computer.
Before going out and buying RAM, make sure you know what kind you need. RAM has changed in speed, capacity, and in physical characteristics through the years. There's are utilities available on the net to help you identify what RAM you need. If you need one of these, drop me a line and I'll direct you to them. And keep in mind that your computer will run at the speed of the slowest RAM installed in it.
Next week I'll be going over common computing abbreviations and anacronyms. By the end of next week's article, you'll be able to speak geek with the best of us.
See you then.

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