Memory Upgrade - the first step to a much faster PC !

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Memory Upgrades - The First Step to a faster PC

Why does this help so much ?

Memory is usually the easiest and cheapest component to upgrade in your PC or Laptop and can have the biggest effect on performance.  By doubling the computers RAM you can effectively give the computer a much larger percentage of working memory - for example even 10 times more.  Here's why....

Consider a Windows XP computer with 512mb RAM and a standard configuration.  Potentially 80% (around 400mb) could be used up with the main operating system functions, services, drivers and basic applications before you even run a user application such as Internet Explorer, Word, Outlook and so on.  This means your computer only has around 100mb of RAM to use for all these applications. 

It deals with this by using a "swap file" which is an area of your hard disk reserved as "virtual memory".  The computer works out what you need right now and puts that into real memory while storing other memory requirements in the virtual memory.  When these are needed they are moved into real memory and the space they now occupy is moved to the swap file.

As you can imagine this greatly slows down your PC, and if you throw a memory hungry application into the equation such as Desk Top Publishing, Graphics Packages etc then your PC will slow to a crawl while your hard drive is being thrashed at full pace.
In this example an upgrade of an additional 512mb (giving 1024mb total) will increase the available memory from 100mb to 600mb - an increase of six fold in application memory and a huge improvement to the computer's speed, and a much much lighter load on your hard disk.

What memory can my computer take ?

Obviously the best way to get a guaranteed upgrade is to take your PC to a reliable service engineer and ask them to do it for you, therefore ensuring you get the correct memory, however this is usually at a high premium.  If you want to do your own upgrade, here is some good advice which may help....

1. Firstly how many memory slots does my computer have ? - open up your computer case and count them, identifying what slots already have memory in them.  It is common for modern system boards to have 2, 3 or 4 slots whereas older boards can have much more.  Memory always comes in a round binary number so with most modern computers it can be 128mb, 256mb, 512mb, 1024mb (1gb), 2048mb (2gb), or 4096mb (4gb).  There are others but 99% of the time with today's computers it is in this range. 

If, for example, your computer has 4 memory slots (which need to all look the same), 2 are populated and the total memory in your computer is 512mb then it is a safe bet you have 2 x 256mb modules installed.  Your computer would be significantly faster with simply another 2 x 256mb modules installed in the empty slots.  If however you only have 2 slots and therefore the slots are full, then you will need to remove the existing memory (for example 2 x 256mb modules) and replace it with 2 larger modules (for example 2 x 512mb modules).  This is a common situation in Laptops.

2.  What type of memory ?  Now this is by far the most confusing bit and will need some research.  If you have a branded computer such as Dell, HP/Compaq, IBM etc then it may be easy to find this infomation from the manufacturer, however for all computers there is a simple way....  Carefully remove one of the existing memory modules and 99% of the time there will be a white sticker at one end of the memory module with various numbers and codes on it.  Write these down then enter them into a Google search and hey presto you will almost certainly get pages and pages decribing exactly what this memory is.  

For example my own laptop has 2 "HYS64D32020GDL-6-B" modules, which at first glance does not tell me anything useful.  Put this into Google and I immediately identify them as "Infineon 256mb PC2700 333 DDR SODIMM's".  All I need to do now is search Ebay for a pair of 512mb PC2700 333 DDR SODIMM's (around £10 each so just £20-£25 to double my laptop's memory)....  and don't forget I can get some of my upgrade money back by selling my own pair of 256mb modules after the upgrade.  £10-£15 total upgrade cost and a laptop that seems to work 5 times faster. 

How much do I need for my Operating System ?

Microsoft have a list of minumum, recommended and maximum specifications but the following are simple rules of thumb for a "reliable" system compared to one that technically works but is very slow...

Windows XP

  • Windows XP light use / Internet only - 512mb recommended and definately not less than 256mb
  • Windows XP normal Home / Office use - 1024mb (1gb) recommended and not less than 512mb
  • Windows XP Advanced gaming or graphics/multimedia processing - 2048mb (2gb Ram) recommended and definately not less than 1024mb (1gb). 

Note - XP can have issues addressing more than 3.5gb of memory so often 4gb RAM will show as just 3.5 gb which is fine for almost every application you can think of.

Windows Vista

  • Windows Vista light use / Internet only - 1024mb (1gb) recommended and definately not less than 512mb
  • Windows Vista normal Home / Office use - 2048mb (2gb) recommended and not less than 1024mb (1gb)
  • Windows Vista Advanced gaming or graphics/multimedia processing - 4096mb (4gb Ram) recommended and definately not less than 2048mb (2gb). 

Note - Vista is in my humble opinion more efficient at managing resources than XP, however due to its advanced graphics and larger footprint, you need more MB available as per the recommendations above.

I hope this guide has been useful.....


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