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Do I Need More Memory?

What is memory?

Most casual computer users (this is about 65% of all computer users) and many regular users of computers in the workplace do not have any idea what memory is. Some thing it is the speed of the computer, but most people think that it is the capacity of the computer's hard drive.

It is true that a computers hard drive can be classified as memory, but when a person refers to a computers memory, this is not what is being discussed.

A hard drive is only memory in that it stores all of our files, documents, pictures, and programs that make computing life enjoyable. Beyond that calling your hard drive your computers memory is like calling a file cabinet the heart and brains of a corporation. It is only a long term storage device. When you place something onto your hard drive, it is like placing a piece of paper with words or images, into a folder in a file cabinet. As a matter of fact, that is why your files are stored in locations named folders.

On the other hand, the part of the computer that is called memory is actually several microchips soldered to a PC board, and inserted into some slot inside your computer. These little boards also store information inside your computer, but the information that is stored there is only temporary. You can think of this like the picture on the screen of your television. The image is displayed until the next image is transmitted and displayed in its place.

The memory of your computer is called Volatile. This means that when the power is disconnected from your computer, either by turning it off, or a power loss, whatever is stored in your memory vanishes, much like the image on your television disappears when you turn it off.

The primary function of the memory is to be the workspace for the computer. As the computer starts up, or as you open programs, the computer places the contents of required files into the memory. When you close the program, the computer will clear the memory and use it for other programs. When you prepare a meal, you take the components for the meal from their storage spaces, and bring them to your workspace on the kitchen counter, and there you create your culinary masterpiece. Once you are finished cooking, you place the ingredients (those that remain) and place them back into storage.

How does memory work?

The memory that is on your computer typically comes in increments of 32 Mega Bytes (Current computers customarily come with at least 256MB of memory or 8x32MB). The first IBM computers only required 16 Kilo Bytes of memory to operate which is 1/16000 th of what we get today. These computers worked perfectly well for their capabilities. Today's Microsoft Windows XP would not even begin to load with that 16KB of memory.

Picture your memory as if it were a yard stick (a meter stick for those of you in the metric world). When the computer begins to load, the first thing to happen is that Microsoft reserves for its own use, a segment of memory at the very beginning of the memory sequence. This is the Kernel Processor. It is the heart and soul of the computer. Without this area of memory being reserved, nothing would work.

From there, Windows, or any operating system for that matter, begins to load other components that make the computer go. These include programs to play sounds, to display information on your monitor, to communicate on the internet, and many other functions. These programs are called drivers. These are essential little programs. For example, if your video display drivers did not load, you would be looking at a blank screen on your monitor, instead of reading this article. Each one of these programs takes up more of your computer's memory, and the space in the memory that they use is taken continuously while the computer is turned on.

Once the drivers are loaded, there are other programs that load. Many people use chat programs that load when the computer is turned on, others have calendars that load and remind them of their daily routine, and so on. These programs also take a chunk of memory.

Your yard (meter) stick is quickly being consumed by the programs that load. What makes things worse is the growing propensity of software developers to write even larger programs that use even more memory.

To get around problems with limited memory, most developers have broken their large programs into small components that are called “Dynamic Link Libraries.” If you look at a folder listing of many of your program folders, you will see a large and plentiful supply of files with names like win32sr.dll, xqys26.dll, comp1234.dll and so on. The DLL stands for Dynamic Link Library. Going back to the cooking analogy, a DLL is much like a cooking utensil. To prepare a meal, you need several different utensils. However, you do not hold all the utensils all the time. You only have two hands. While cooking, you will put down one tool, and pick up another and so on until the dinner is complete. This is how the DLL's work. As the program needs different tools to work, it will trade DLL's in and out of memory.

When Windows starts, the system creates a large file on the hard drive. This is called a swap file. Windows uses this as a place to swap in and out the DLL's that the programs are using. The most currently used DLL's are stored in memory, and less frequently used DLL's are stored in the swap file until they are needed. When memory is getting used up and a program needs a DLL for a particular task in the computer, it will move the least used DLL into the swap file, and load the required DLL into memory. The reason for this is primarily speed. For the computer to read and write to the hard drive, takes about 10000 times the amount of time as it takes to read or write to memory.

Has the light turned on yet? Are you getting a notion of where this discussion is going?

So, why Do I Need More Memory?

The memory in your computer is finite in capacity. The more programs that you have loaded and running on your computer, means that more memory is required to run the programs. When you get several programs running at the same time, you may notice that your computer seems to get slower and slower. This is because your computer has to spend more time loading and unloading DLL files from memory and the swap file.

One of the biggest culprits of this memory demand is a result of viruses, and spyware that insinuates every corner of the internet. Because of the wide variety of these evil programs, Anti-virus software developers have had to create programs that use even more memory inside your computer, to protect you from these threats. As you load a program, each file that is accessed, is scanned by your virus protection program. Not only does this slow your computer down, it will take a large chunk of your free memory, causing the programs to read and write to the swap file even more.

In one instance, a customer complained that they installed a new internet security program onto their computer, and after the installation, it took about 15 minutes for the computer to boot up. This was caused by the fact that he had very little memory, and a lot of programs loading. Each file was being scanned, and this took up so much time writing to and from the swap file on the hard drive.

When you increase your memory, you are in effect increasing the length of the yard (meter) stick. The programs that load, like windows and drivers, do not use a larger chunk of the total memory capacity of your computer. This allows the memory to hold a larger numb of these DLL's without having to read and write to and from the swap file. Because these files are in the much faster memory, the programs operate faster.

In the case of the client mentioned above, when he doubled his memory capacity the boot time changed from 15 minutes to only 2 minutes.

If I add even more, will it work even faster?

As a rule of thumb, the more memory the better. This question is best answered based upon how much memory you had to begin with. If you had 128MB of memory, and doubled it to 256MB, you would notice a large improvement in speed. If you had 256MB and increased to 512MB, you probably would see an increase, but it may not be as impressive as going from 128 to 256. If you go from 512MB to lets say 1,024MB (1Gigabyte) you would probably see only a marginal improvement unless you are running some seriously intensive spreadsheets, or graphics programs.

The reason for this is because of the fact that a program will only use so much memory. For example a program that is 10MB in size, will only use 10MB of memory at the very most. In this case, the more memory that you have will do very little.

The Amount of memory that you have, or increase to is up to you. I have 1,024MB on my computer, but then I use some software that is very calculation intensive, and that helps tremendously.

Is memory the end all of my speed problems?

This is not that simple of an answer. The answer is yes and no. If, for example, you have all the memory in the world, and your computer still runs slow, you may have something else on your computer, such as a virus or spyware. Both of these can cause your computer to run extremely slow. In this case, more memory will not help at all.

If your problem is a slow download speed from the internet, more memory will not help there either. The amount of memory, or drive space will not affect the speed you connect to the internet.

If your computer slows down with more and more programs running, or if your computer slows down after installing new software, then yes, more memory will probably help you out.

Our articles:

6/29/2006 Do I Need More Memory?

12/14/2004 Internet Security

12/5/2004 Spy-Ware VS Viruses



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Carpenter Computer Service
423 Highway 110 E. Suite #D
Heber Springs, Ar 72543
(501) 362-1762