Ram And Computers Tutorial

A simple tutorial about RAM and computers.

There are a number of tips and tricks for making the best use of RAM, but if you're running Windows 9x or higher and have less than 64 megs of RAM, go out and buy more. I hate to say it, but it's the truth. When I first installed Win98 on my computer I had 32 megs of RAM. I found that as soon as I booted up and connected to the Internet, my computer's memory load was clocking in at over 200 percent - with nothing running save Windows and my dial-up connection. Yikes! A trip to the local computer parts store remedied that, and may be what you need as well. But if you've got lots of RAM and your computer is still running really slowly or you're getting the dreaded "out of memory" messages, there are a few things you can do. Some of them are even free, so if you're not flush at the moment and not a techie, there are still some tips here that I hope you'll find useful.

The first tip is for anyone who has 64 megs of RAM or more. (No, not really, that's the second tip. If you don't have at least 64 megs of RAM and you're running Windows 9x or higher, go out and buy more. Enough said, and it's not that expensive anyway. Go for as much as you can afford - you can never have a big enough hard disk or too much


Here's the second tip: Make sure that your computer is set properly. The default setting for a Windows 9x machine is "Desktop computer." On the surface, this makes sense, that's probably what your computer is, after all. But the Desktop computer setting seriously limits the number of calls your system can put out to the files and programs it needs to run properly, which often results in system hangs, crashes and "out of memory" messages.

Fortunately, there's a quick fix for this. If you set your computer as a Network server, you won't run into this problem. Don't worry, you won't be setting up a network by doing this, but you will be telling Windows to be somewhat more generous when it comes to allocating page file space.

Here's how to do it: Hit Start-->Settings-->Control Panel. Once you're in the Control Panel, click on System. This will bring you to the System Properties panel, and from there click on the "Performance" tab. Under the advanced settings (about two-thirds of the way down the panel), click on File System. There you'll find a drop-down box with choices of Desktop, Mobile and Network server for your computer. Choose Network server. Just above the drop-down box is a sliding bar titled "Read-ahead optimization." Drag the slider bar to the far right, or maximum, setting. Windows will probably make you reboot before the settings take effect, but if you have adequate RAM, this will likely solve many of your "out of memory" errors, system hangs and crashes.

Let's go back to the System Properties panel again (do this without rebooting if Windows will let you, since you'll have to reboot to make this setting take effect, too). You'll see another little box that can be clicked on, this one called "Virtual Memory." Windows is set up by default to manage virtual memory itself (virtual memory is any part of the hard disk used for file swapping when there isn't enough physical RAM to manage the task). Click on Virtual Memory, and then tick the radio button that says "Let me specify my own virtual memory settings." This isn't Microsoft's recommendation, and Windows will tell you so, both on the panel and with a pop-up warning, but it makes sense to set the size of your own swap file. For one thing, it will stay in one place, letting your system get at it faster, instead of having to search for free hard disk space anywhere. I prefer a fixed-size swap file, but other people like to give it a little leeway. In the case of my machine, I have 96 megs of RAM, and a set swap file of 175 megs. The general rule of thumb (and it's worked well for me as well as for my clients) is to set your swap file at about 2 to 2-1/2 times the amount of your physical RAM. If I wanted to give it a bit of space either way I could set the minimum size as 150 and the maximum as 180, but 175 works, so that's what I put in both the minimum and maximum boxes. This not only speeds up your machine, but also makes defragging a bit quicker - your swap file is in one place, so Defrag doesn't have to clear up bits of swap file space spread across your hard disk.

A big RAM-eater: Go to Start-->Programs-->StartUp. If you don't know how to edit your Registry, don't try to without getting a good front-end Registry editing shell, like the one that comes with OnTrack's Fixit Utilities 2000, or you could cripple your entire system. Taking some things out of the StartUp menu won't hurt, though. A lot of programs have an irritating habit of installing themselves in such a way that they automatically run at Windows start-up, and that eats a lot of RAM. Do you really need a little icon for RealPlayer in your system tray when you're not actually using RealPlayer? I doubt it - if you have RealPlayer installed, you've doubtless got an icon on your desktop that you can click which will open it just fine, and it's integrated with Netscape anyway so it's not a problem if you're browsing sites with RealPlayer content - it will start itself without your having to do anything. So take it out of your StartUp menu - when you're in the menu itself, just right-click and delete the entry. The same goes for AOL Instant Messenger and any other programs you can live without immediately starting as soon as Windows starts.

Anything that starts with Windows eats RAM, not only slowing your boot-up time, but also slowing down your machine overall - those programs are running the whole time you're in Windows, and you don't need most of them running constantly. There are some important services that need to run with Windows, but those are mostly tucked away in the Registry, not in your StartUp menu. The only things I can think of are to tell the installation program that you don't want whatever program you're installing to start when Windows starts if it's gracious enough to give you that option, taking it out of your StartUp menu if it isn't, and writing to the software vendor to complain about the way it does this without giving you a choice.

A not so obvious offender: Lots of fonts. These all load when Windows is booting up, and if you've got a ton of fonts on your machine, they will cause a considerable drag on RAM and other system resources at start-up. Delete, or transfer to disk, the ones you don't use often. If you have

hundreds of fonts on your machine, get rid of some of them! You'll be amazed at the difference in speed when you boot Windows.

You might also want to invest $15 US in a little program like Silicon Prairie's MemTurbo. I like MemTurbo because it doesn't add a lot of unnecessary files to your system (which would eat more RAM), and you can easily configure it to sit in your system tray and recover RAM whenever RAM shortage reaches a critical level that you determine, or at specified intervals of time (say every half-hour). It's semi-intelligent software, and while it won't give you back as much RAM as some other RAM-recovery programs do, it won't flush anything out of the Windows cache that Windows needs to run either.

The RAM-recovery programs that do that can have a sort of converse effect on what you're trying to achieve - you'll have more free RAM, but your machine will run more slowly because Windows is replacing all the files it needs to run properly that your RAM-recovery program just knocked out. I set MemTurbo to recover 24 megs of RAM if possible once the available RAM dips below 7 megs. MemTurbo will also show you how much of your RAM and paging-related resources are free at any given time if you're curious. And there's a cache-tuning panel in MemTurbo, so you can set your system to a given profile to make RAM work better for you depending on what you mostly use your computer for - Power User, Games, CD Writer, a custom profile you can specify yourself, or no profile at all. Again, I'm partial to it

because it doesn't eat up more resources than it gives back (a problem with some RAM-recovery programs), and it doesn't put a lot of files on your machine that you don't want.

Another thing that's becoming more important these days is video cards. It sounds strange, but think about it for a minute. A lot of web pages are using animation, JavaScript and any number of high-end graphics and multi-media files. As are computer games. As are graphics programs that we work with on our own computers. It takes a lot of RAM to view those pages, play those games and run those programs. If you don't have much RAM on your video card, your system RAM needs to pick up the slack, which is going to slow your machine to a crawl. If you're a web surfer and do occasional

graphics work, plan to kit out your machine with at least 96 megs of RAM (128 is preferable) and an AGP video card (if you can - if not go with a PCI card) with at least 16 megs of onboard RAM. Gamers can get cards with as much as 128 megs of onboard RAM, and if you're seriously into on-line gaming or do a lot of high-end graphics work, a video card of that caliber is definitely worth considering. Very few people can get by with video cards that have 1, 2 or 4 megs of RAM (and 4 megs used to be high-end not very long ago) anymore. So if you've done everything else and you're a gamer or a graphics artist, this might well be where your problem is.

If you suspect your video card may be the problem, there are a couple of things you can do. First, check out the manufacturer's home page and download and install the latest driver for it. Almost all computer hardware (modems, sound cards, video cards, network cards, printers) need software called drivers to communicate with the operating system properly, and new drivers generally come out every six months or so to address problems found in earlier drivers, as well as to improve the general performance of the particular piece of hardware. If you still have your

manual, check to see if you have a video card that will allow more RAM to be installed on it. If you don't have the manual to hand and there isn't information on the web page, give the manufacturer a ring to see if this is a possibility if the card is of a fairly recent make. If it is possible, great, you've saved yourself the expense of a whole new card. Alternatively, if the card is too old to install more RAM, you might be able to get a discount trade-in for a newer card by the same manufacturer, or a computer store might offer you a trade-in discount for a new card made by a different manufacturer. You might not be able to do this, but it never hurts to ask. If you're a serious graphic artist or gamer and your video card isn't up to speed, you're probably going to have to upgrade or replace it anyway.

And whether you are a graphic artist, a serious gamer, or just a frustrated web surfer, I hope these tips have helped you out.

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