Jul 11, 2012
“I’m unhappy with the speed of my computer and can’t afford to purchase a new one. Some people have told me that I can make my computer faster if I buy more memory. Will more memory make my computer run faster?”
Under the right circumstances, yes — more memory can make your computer run faster. Don’t rush out and buy more memory just yet, though. First, let’s take a look at what computer memory is and find out whether your computer actually needs more.
About Computer Memory
Computer memory — more accurately called Random Access Memory or RAM – provides the high-speed temporary storage space that your computer needs to store the operating system and its associated background services, running programs and open files. When you close a file or program, the portion of the memory in which it was stored is returned to the computer for use with other programs and files. If your computer has enough memory to store your running programs and open files, adding additional memory will not improve its speed. If your computer has so many things going on that it has to make extensive use of virtual memory, however, you may run into some speed problems that you can resolve by installing more memory.
About Virtual Memory
Back in the days of MS-DOS, the amount of memory installed in a computer presented a serious limitation. If the computer had insufficient memory to store the code for a program, the program simply wouldn’t run. Virtual memory is a feature of Windows that eliminates this problem by using a portion of the hard drive as storage space when the computer is out of physical memory. If your computer doesn’t have the physical memory available to launch a new program, Windows “swaps” an inactive program to the hard drive to create more free memory.
Virtual memory is a great feature that prevents your computer from crashing or becoming unstable when it runs out of physical memory. However, you can start to run into problems when the computer has so many active processes that it has to utilize virtual memory constantly. This leads to a condition known as thrashing – the computer has so little memory available that it has to swap large amounts of data to and from the hard drive each time you open a new program or switch to a different window. You’ll know this is taking place because doing anything on your computer results in a long wait while the hard drive chugs and the hard drive access light blinks. If your computer is thrashing constantly, you probably need more memory.
How Much Memory Does Your Computer Have?
In Windows, you can easily determine how much memory is installed by opening the Start Menu, right-clicking Computer or My Computer and selecting Properties. You’ll see a screen like the one to the right, which displays the amount of memory your computer has next to Installed Memory (RAM). You’ll also see whether your computer has a 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows installed, which is crucial in determining how much memory you can add. If you have a 32-bit version of Windows — unless it is one of certain “Server” editions that overcomes this limitation — there is no reason to expand your computer’s memory past 4 GB because the computer won’t be able to use it. If you are running a 64-bit version of Windows, the sky’s the limit.
How Much Memory Do You Need?
Windows XP tends to run happily with as little as 512 MB of memory, while 512 MB is the bare minimum for running Windows Vista. Windows 7 requires at least 1 GB of memory. In general, though, you want your computer to exceed the operating system’s minimum system requirements by as much as possible. In light to moderate usage environments — browsing the Web, working with office software, playing the occasional game — 2 GB of memory is typically plenty. However, with memory as inexpensive as it is, upgrading to 4 GB can’t hurt. Past 4 GB, you are unlikely to see a speed benefit by installing additional memory unless you run an application that makes heavy use of RAM such as VMware.
Top image via Wikipedia.