RAM - The main cause of system slowdowns.

One of the main services I used to provide was a computer maintenance session which is used to resolve many of the issues which cause system slowdowns. However on many an occasion, despite my best efforts, there is only a minor improvement in the systems responsiveness. This is caused by the systems not having a sufficient amount of RAM. Many systems which were bought several years ago were sold with an amount of RAM that although adequate for when the system was purchased, is now not enough. Every piece of software running on the computer uses a certain amount of system resources. The Operating system itself requires a minimum amount of RAM to perform its functions. The problem often arises though that system updates and other programs place an additional burden on the system resources and over time these requirements grow and unless the system is upgraded then the system can begin to feel unresponsive.

Let’s use the motor car as an example. The engine is the computers Processor, the petrol tank is the systems RAM , the driver is the Operating system and the boot is other programs. When you first get the car it is being used to drive to and from work and the fuel tank etc is big enough to carry out this task without issue. If you then give someone else a lift to work the car has to expend more fuel to carry out this additional task. This then requires you to fill the petrol tank a little more often. In computer terms this is done by paging parts of memory to the hard disk which takes a lot longer than reading it from memory. If you then add more people and luggage the engine has to then work harder and therefore use more fuel. This then means that you have to fill up more often. The same is true for the computer the more programs you ask it to run the more often it has to swap pieces of memory to the hard disk. A solution to frequent fill ups in the car example is to make the fuel tank larger. The same can be done on the computer by increasing the amount of RAM that you have installed in the computer.

Upgrading the RAM is a fairly straight forward process and can be done by most users. If you do not feel confident in replacing or upgrading the RAM then you local computer shop or more technical friend or family is likely to do this for you for a small fee or free depending on who you ask.

The first step though is finding out if you can upgrade your RAM. The easiest way I have found is to us a tool by memory manufacturer and seller Crucial. The tool can be found at http://www.crucial.com/uk/systemscanner/. If you are using IE it will run in the browser or you can download the application if you prefer to use another browser.

Once ran it will show you a page similar to this .

Crucial scanner results page
Crucial System scanner Results page

This page displays information on your system specification including the type of RAM you have installed on the left and a list of compatible upgrades with prices, based on Crucial parts. At the bottom right it also shows some Solid State Drives which you can ignore unless you would like to boost system performance even more by replacing or installing an SSD as your Operating System Drive, but that is a topic for another article if required.

In my example you see that I have 4 memory slots which can take up to 2GB per slot. I have chosen to do exactly that and I have 8GB of RAM installed on my system. I also run a 64-bit version of Windows to be able to use this amount of RAM. Most users will not need this amount of RAM at present however as with all things that will change as time goes on.

A 32-bit version of Windows or any operating system will only see a maximum of approximately 4GB and be able to utilise 3GB or 3.5GB depending on the Operating System.

A 64-bit operating system can utilize much more and in the case of Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate this can be up to 192GB. Windows 7 Home Basic and Starter can utilize up to 8GB and Windows 7 home Premium can utilize up to 16GB.

Installing or upgrading the RAM is similar to changing a light bulb or a fuse in a plug. There is only one way to install the RAM as in almost all instances the RAM slot has a slot with a raised section in a unique position and only RAM of the correct type will fit if orientated the correct way. If you turn the RAM around the matching notch on the ram will be in the wrong position to cover the raised section in the memory socket.

This is an example of desktop memory modules notice the notch is in a different position on each.

Desktop memory examples courtesy of Wikipedia
Desktop memory examples courtesy of Wikipedia

Align the memory module with the slot and press firmly but gently down until the retaining clips pop into place.

For a laptop the memory modules are similar but smaller.

Laptop memory examples courtesy of Wikipedia
Laptop memory examples courtesy of Wikipedia

And here is its matching socket.

DDR SO-DIMM slot PNr°0341.jpg
"DDR SO-DIMM slot PNr°0341" by D-Kuru - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 at via Wikimedia Commons.

To install the laptop memory module again gently align the module in the socket at an angle and then push the top of the module towards the laptop until the retaining clips click into place.

Always purchase upgrades from a reliable source I recommend Crucial and Ebuyer.com as examples but there are many reliable online and offline retailers. Prices do vary depending on where you go and an online retailer is unable to install the upgrade for you unlike a local PC shop. In many instances if you purchase the RAM from a local retailer they are more likely to install it for free. The process takes less than a few minutes.

My recommendation’s for the amount of RAM for each version of Window are :

Windows XP - 2GB Windows Vista and Windows 7 - 4GB Windows 8 - 4GB or 8GB preferably

If you can afford to upgrade and have a 64-bit Operating System then More is always better however once you get to about 8GB, which is what I have. Unless you have a specific reason for installing more RAM then I would recommend remaining at 8GB. Between 4GB and 8GB the difference is not going to be noticed much by you unless you regularly run heavy-duty programs such as Adobe Photoshop or a particularly demanding game. At which point your system will notice even if you don’t.

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