- Alex –
More RAM, More Power
Adding more memory to your system is the best money you can spend on a system upgrade because you get the most bang for the buck. If you own a computer that’s a few years old and not exactly considered a power house anymore, but your budget is tight and you don’t have the cash to spring for an entire new system, you definitely want to look into adding more RAM. No, it won’t quadruple the speed of your processor, but it will give you a noticeable increase in performance.
Applications these days need more and more memory to run efficiently. If your system has only 16 or 32MB of memory, Windows needs to utilize virtual memory. This is a chunk of hard drive space that is being used to simulate memory. Windows will try to keep applications that are currently being used in real memory and move other applications into virtual memory. This process is called swapping, hence the name swapfile for the disk space used as virtual memory.
The problem is that if you have a few programs open Windows will have to do a lot of swapping. But there is a big performance difference between real memory and virtual memory. Real memory can be accessed much faster than the disk drive, especially if you have an older drive that doesn’t support faster transfer rates like ATA-66 or ATA-100, and/or has a slow spindle speed like 5400RPM or less.
When you add more memory, Windows can keep more applications and processes in real RAM and access them much faster, which leads to an overall performance increase.
How Much Is Enough?
Since applications, operating systems, and their system requirements grow at a steady pace, there is really no definite answer to this question. But here are a few guidelines that will help you decide what’s the optimal amount of RAM for your machine:
- Windows 9x/ME – The sweet spot for Windows 9x is 128MB. If you upgrade from 16 or 32MB to 128MB, you’ll get your money’s worth. But upgrading to more than 128MB will yield only a marginal performance increase
- Windows NT/2000 – Windows NT and Windows 2000 address memory differently than Windows 9x/ME and take much better advantage of higher amounts of memory – the more RAM you throw at it, the merrier. To get decent performance out of NT/Win2K, you should have at least 128MB, preferably 256MB
Remember that memory is cheap (at least right now), so be generous. Memory would be the wrong place to cut corners.
To find out what OS and how much RAM you currently have, go to Start / Settings / Control Panel / System / General. The amount of memory will be indicated in KiloBytes (KB), so you’ll need to divide that number by 1024 to get the amount of MegaBytes (MB) since one MB equals 1024 KB.
Memory vs. Resources
If you’re running Windows 9x/ME you might run into problems with low system resources. Don’t confuse this with low memory, those are two different items, and upgrading your memory will not help resolve resource issues. For more info on system resources refer to our article about Managing Windows Resources.