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How to improve your memory.

Memory is almost everything in a computer. The more memory your system has, the faster the operation of the system. Terry Corbitt explains what Computer memory is all about and tells you how to upgrade your system.

As applications software becomes more feature rich and therefore more corpulent, it will require more RAM (working memory) in which to run. The first signs that you do not have sufficient RAM is when your computer takes longer to carry out tasks.

It is often overlooked that RAM is more important than processor speed for the majoriry of computing tasks. For example, a 700MHz processor based system with 32Mb of RAM will take longer to carry out tasks than a system with a 500MHz processor with 128Mb of RAM.

The reason for this is simple; RAM is very quick, much faster than a hard drive. but when the computer's RAM is full - usually the result of a combination of operating systems, application programs and associated datafiles - the hard drive is pressed into service as a temporary memory. This is called 'swapping', the process of copying data that is currently not in use from RAM to the hard drive and then copying it back to RAM when it is required for actual operations.

This results in a phenomenon known as 'disk thrashing'. If your computer appears to have stopped but the hard disk activity light is still on, the chances are that this is what is happening.

To determine how much RAM you need, you add together the amount required by the operating system, the applications that are open (including those running in the background or on the Task Bar) and the opened datafiles.

The majority of users will be using Windows 98 or Windows NT. Windows 98 requires at least 16Mb and prefers 24Mb; for Windows NT a sensible minimum is 32Mb. Windows will run with less but if you want things to run smoothly you are better off having extra RAM. If Windows finds itself with an excess of RAM, it will use it to cache hard drive data which will then further reduce the chance of disk thrashing.

After providing enough for Windows, you will next have to consider the applications and datafiles. The main problem here is that most Windows applications have been written for speed and not for compactness. Consider, for example, graphics formats. An image saved as a JPEG file will be approximately 10 times smaller than the same image saved as a BMP file but the processing power that is required to decode the BMP is roughly 10 times smaller than that required to work through the JPEG compression algorithms. So, with Windows applications, unless they are very well programmed, more memory equals more speed.

Upgrading your RAM

When you come to upgrading your RAM, there are a number of terms to contend with, for example, DRAM, SDRAM. DIMM, SIMM. Simm stands for single inline memory module and is commonly found in 486 and Pentium computers. There are two main types of Simm: 30-pins supporting 8bit addressing and 72-pins supporting 32bit addressing. Some types of motherboard will take this older type of memory in addition to the newer kind; the DIMM, which will support 64bit addressing.

DIMM is short for dual in-line memory module. This means that on a system with a 64bit memory path, such as that of a Pentium 11, you only need to add a single module at a time rather than two matched modules as was the case with 72-pin SIMMS. Conventional DIMMs run at 66MHz which is fast enough for the older generation of motherboards.

However newer boards with quicker processors have 100MHz memory. This is often denoted as PC-bO memory and is essential if you are running a fast computer. Basically you should match the RAM to the system bus, there is no benefit in adding PC100 memory to a 66MHz motherboard but you are wasting performance if you use 66MHz memory in a 100MHz motherboard.

Even SIMMS and DIMMS breakdown into different types. The slowest of these is fast page memory (FPM); slightly quicker is extended data out (EDO). Both are different types of dynamic random access memory (DRAM). Further up the speed scale there are synchronous Dram(SDRAM), You cannot determine the type of memory by looking at a memory module. The only sure way is to access the manufacturer's website to look up the part number on one of the chips.

Reference lists

There are other features that can only be tracked down with the help of reference lists including whether a particular module supports parity or error checking (ECC). Parity is a form of error detection designed to detect memory errors and halt the system to prevent data corruption. The more expensive ECC memory incorporates a more complex form of error detection, which can detect and correct most data errors while your system is running.

When buying memory, match the frequency (speed) rating (66MHz, 100MHz, 133MHz) of existing modules and the motherboard. Speed is an important factor with SIMMS and DIMMs; all you need to know is that 6Ons is preferable to the slower 7Ons. You should avoid mixing different speed modules in a memory bank as, even if the memory is recognised at all, there are likely to be data errors.

Notebook computers are more difficult as they use proprietary memory modules and it is best to specify more memory than you estimated that you will need when you purchase your machine.

Memory is only manufactured, at a chip level, by a few big companies such as Toshiba, Samsung and Hitachi. It is then built into module form by several other big companies who, although they mainly sell to large computer manufacturers, usually have retail channels too. Surfing the Web can reveal those companies. You type in the name of the computer you are planning to upgrade and they return information on the type, specification and part number of the appropriate module.

Doing it yourself

If you are carrying out the upgrade yourself there are a number of points that should be observed:

1) Ensure that you are properly earthed before beginning the upgrade.

2) Memory modules can be static sensitive and should not come in contact with materials such as a nylon.

3) Depending on the age of your computer system you may have to remove some of the older units to make room for new ones, for example, removing four 1Mb SIMMs in order to make room for four 4Mb SIMMs.

4) Memory modules sometimes come with gold contacts and sometimes with tin. Take care to match gold with gold and tin with tin. If you mismatch these components, a small potential will be introduced which can increase the rate at which the contacts corrode.

4) Once the physical installation is complete, you may find that the systems BIOS needs to be altered to recognise the memory count. This is usually achieved automatically by rebooting the system; failing that, entering the BIOS and saving and exiting should do the trick.
COPYRIGHT 2001 IC Publications Ltd.
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Corbitt, Terry
Publication:African Business
Date:Jun 1, 2001
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