One of the real challenges in the PC world is keeping up with the program changes. I’m not talking about staying current on your updates, although that is a problem, too. I’m talking about still having enough computer power and memory to be able to use the computer, after all the bloated “upgrades” and “updates” are installed.
Some people ignore the whole issue or just think “my computer’s gotten slower.” It sure has…
Some of the culprits are the programs we run to keep our computer secure. Others are the big “office suites” and graphics programs. We also have the myriad of auto-running programs that many programs choose to start — each takes chunks of the available memory, leaving less for us to use.
In order to protect our computers in today’s Internet, we need an anti-virus programs, we need to run a two-way firewall program and we need an always-running anti-spyware program. All those take more and more memory and CPU power.
Changing the CPU may not be feasible for your current computer. But, you can almost always get the biggest, quickest performance increase via adding more memory.
Some major manufacturers sold early Windows XP PCs with only 128MB of memory. Some manufacturers still sell their cheapest models with only 256MB of RAM.
However, a realistic minimum for decent performance is 512MB. You will see another big performance bump if you move to 768MB (512+256, not available with DDR2 memory) or 1GB of RAM. For a new machine today, I would purchase a minimum of 1GB RAM, preferably 2GB. If your computer supports Dual Channel memory access, you have to install matching pairs of memory modules in order to enable Dual Channel; otherwise, assuming the system runs, it will revert to the slower Single Channel memory access.
Fortunately, adding memory is one of the easiest things you can do to your computer, especially if it is a desktop computer. Many manufacturers, such as Dell, include instructions in their manuals. Crucial Technology has good generic installation guides on their memory sales site, as well as guide to tell you which memory you need for your motherboard or computer.
I use and recommend Crucial memory for desktops and notebooks. They have an excellent Wizard to help you figure out which memory you need, whether you purchased a motherboard or a complete system. When I bought my Dell Inspiron notebook last year, I saved well over $100 by buying the notebook with minimum memory and then buying my memory from Crucial.com.
Let’s look at a real-world example, using today’s (12/4/05) Dell’s Inspiron 9300 notebook. In Dell’s “Configure” section, you can see Dell’s relative pricing for memory. This notebook uses of Dual-Channel Double-Data-Rate Random Access Memory (DDR2 RAM, in dual channel mode, using a matched pair of memory modules).
- Dell’s minimum configuration for the Inspiron 9200 has 512MB, 2 sticks of 256MB.
- The next step has 1GB, 2 sticks of 512MB, for an additional $125.
- The next step has 2GB, 2 sticks of 1GB, for $400 more than the 512MB minimum.
Now let’s look at Crucial’s prices (let’s ignore the 2 sticks of 256MB option, since you have to buy that from Dell).
- The next step has 1GB, 2 sticks of 512MB, for $120.27
- Not much of a bargain. It gets better at $108.24 with their current specials for 10% off and free shipping — and perhaps you can sell the 2 sticks of 256MB to someone, since you’ll have them, too.
- The 2GB step is a huge bargain, at 2 sticks of 1GB, for $220.18. The current 10% off and free shipping makes this even better. You can have 2GB in your computer for $198.16, less than half the increase at Dell, and you still get the two 256MB modules that you can sell on eBay.
Crucial is currently offering free standard shipping on orders over $40, free 2nd day shipping on orders over $75, and even free overnight shipping on orders over $200.
So, why should you consider 2GB and not just 1GB? Today, 1GB is getting to be the standard configuration that many programs expect. Programmers are getting sloppier and sloppier in their coding, taking more and more memory — because they expect it to be there and available.
If you are buying a new computer, especially one using DDR2 where you have to replace the memory modules in matching pairs to get “Dual Channel Mode,” I would go for 2GB today.
If you are buying a new computer, read more suggestions in my Buying a New Computer page.