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Does your Computer require more RAM?
Currently RAM is one of the cheapest components you can buy for your PC and fortunately its a component that can have one of the highest performance boosts when upgraded. But how much RAM do you really need and if your PC is running fine why would you require any more? If you have a recent PC you probably have a minimum of 512Mb of RAM installed with some having 1Gb. However if your not a basic computer user that browses the internet and simply sends e-mail then the chances are that this is the minimum that you can get away with. Gaming rigs and graphics designers now need around 2Gb of memory as starting point in order to be at the right end of the scale.
Why does more memory increase performance?
having more memory inside your PC increases performance by reducing the amount of data that has to be read and written to the hard drive. as the hard drive is a lot slower than RAM when it comes to the transfer of data, the less the hard drive has to be used the better. Obviously you can't completely remove the requirement to read information from the hard drive but by having more memory in your PC you can store more repeatedly required data in the main memory banks. This is turn means the 2nd, 3rd and Nth time that the data is required the game or application is more likely to be able to read the information from the memory and not need to read from the hard disk.
The extra speed gained from reading from RAM can be demonstrated yourself by simply running a simple benchmark. If you are familiar with benchmarking games then setup a benchmark and run it in a high quality mode, Doom and Quake games are useful for this type of test. Note down the FPS achieved in the benchmark. Now run exactly the same benchmark again without exiting the game. This time you should see an increase in the FPS. This is due to the fact that the second time you ran the benchmark a lot of the data the game required was already in the main memory and the hard drive was needed much less. The more RAM you have in your machine the more this test will show a difference between the first and second running of the benchmark.
If you don't see any increase in performance by the test you just did then the chances are that the hard drive is not the bottleneck in your system. In this instance you either have the game on too high detail or your PC is simply not going to be able to handle the game correctly. Accessing the hard disk is one of the slowest operations performed by your PC and should be the bottleneck when running benchmarks and games. By that same token adding RAM to your PC gives a massive system boost in this types of scenarios.
How do I know if I have enough RAM installed?
Windows task manager has an easy to use tool for checking this. Simply open window task manager by pressing ctrl + alt + del (windows XP) or right clicking on the toolbar at the bottom of the screen and selecting task manager. Select the "performance" tab and you will then be presented with the following screen.
At the bottom of the windows task manager below the graphs there is a section called physical memory. This states how much RAM your PC has installed and importantly here how much is currently available. It is important however not to simply open task manager and see this figure as that would be pointless. In order to asses if you have enough RAM installed in your PC you will need to open the applications and games that you regularly use and also any programs that you would normally run together (Browser and MP3 player for example). Then open the task manager and see how much memory your PC still has available. If this number is low < 100Mb then it is likely that windows is using quite a lot of virtual memory to substitute for a lack of physical memory.
What is Virtual Memory?
Virtual Memory is what the operating system uses when its running low on physical memory (RAM). Virtual memory is a section of your hard drive set aside to act as if it was physical memory, the hard disk is of course much slower and is a poor alternative to having the right amount of RAM in your PC.
A page or swap file is the file used to store the data on your hard drive. When the RAM is full or new data needs to be read to the RAM, the operating system pages or swaps out the old data to the hard drive and stores it in this file. The size of the file depends on the setting set by the OS or by yourself. The common size for a swap file was 1.5x the amount of RAM you have in your PC. This figure is beginning to become inaccurate however because is you have a lot of RAM e.g. 2Gb then a 3Gb swap file isn't needed maybe only 1Gb would be more than enough. However if you have a system with 512Mb of RAM then a swap file of between 512Mb and 1Gb would be about the right amount.
What is taking up all of my memory?
Now I know a few of you will have looked at the task manager and thought I haven't got that much running and why do have only a small amount of physical memory left. But maybe you need to examine what actually is running on your machine at the moment that can take a fair amount of memory up. Which of these are running on your system?
You may think that your not using many of these things on your machine. But take note that some of these programs reside in the system tray even from the moment you start your machine. Not the full program but a client is still there taking up some memory in order for that program to load quickly when its called upon. This can be a drain on resources of you don't monitor which programs load into the system tray.
Windows Task Manager again is a great little tool for finding out what programs are taking up memory. By loading the task manager the same as before as soon as your computer boots up you can find out which programs and processes are loading straight into memory before you even load the first of the applications you wish to use. Once inside the Task Manager select the "processes" tab and you should be presented with the following screen (Windows XP).
The first column displayed as "image name" lists the names of all the processes loaded into memory at the current time. The list is usually quite long as it includes all the processes that Windows is using. The second column is displayed as "user name" and is simply showing you what has started the process running. the processes that show a user name of SYSTEM have been started by the operating system and are usually required for the smooth running of the OS. Local services are similar and are also started by the OS as and when they are needed. Network services are again started by the OS and are used for networking facilities you may have on your PC. You should then see some processes with username you should recognise. These are process that have been started up as a preference when you log on to windows. Some are required and you will want to keep and others you may be able to do with out. For a list of common processes and what they are for visit this guide of Windows XP processes.
The session ID is a identifier that you need not worry about. The CPU column shows how much of the CPU's cycles are being used by that process at the current time. It is shown as a percentage of the total "CPU Time". Finally the section we are looking at in this article is the memory usage. This is a simple display showing exactly how much memory each process is taking up, allowing you to recognise what is taking up that precious memory and letting you decide whether or not you need that process to be active.
Once you have discovered how much memory the processes take up just after boot you may want to load up some applications that you normally use and see how much extra memory is being used by those programs. Remember that one application can load more than processes if it requires extra tools to do its job.
Hopefully this has provided an insight into how valuable having enough RAM to cover every application and game you use really is. It can be the most effective and cheapest upgrade you will ever make to your PC.
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