What is RAM?
Random Access Memory or RAM, is the place where the computer stores its programs that are currently in use and being worked upon. RAM is the polar opposite of a hard-disk in the sense that a hard-disk stores all the programs and data irrespective of the computer being switched on or off. However, unlike the disks, the contents of the RAM are erased the moment you switch off the computer.
How much do I need?
You can never have enough of money, you would never have enough of RAM, especially if your computer uses a lot of memory intensive work, gaming or streaming. Next to the CPU itself, RAM is the most important factor in computer performance. If you don’t have enough, adding RAM can make more of a difference than getting a new CPU! As for the exact need of RAM, it depends on the kind of actual work you intend to carry out on the on the computer. If it is going to be “light” operations like browsing, MS-Office, emails and flow charts etc, you will not need too much of it. However, the moment computer aided design, dream-weaver, FTP and stuff like that comes in, your RAM requirement shoots up.
Why do I need to upgrade, does it work?
If your system responds slowly or accesses the hard drive constantly, then you need to add more RAM. Upgrading your RAM is often the first thing which you can do to speed up your computer. If insufficient RAM is available in your computer, modern operating systems will copy data from RAM to the hard disk. Your hard drive is much slower than RAM, so your entire computer will slow down.
The Virtual Memory Manager or VMM is a component which gives the RAM high importance. To a certain extent, upgrading your RAM will help your computer to run faster on a select few types of operations and functionalities. Everytime you run a program or a web browser, the processor of your computer identifies the executable file for the program on the hard-disk and then loads it into the RAM. The amount of RAM consumed depends on the size of the program’s executable file. The processor also calls all the DLL’s which would be required for that program(s) to run. These DLL’s take up more RAM memory. Thereafter, the processor loads the data files which would be required for the applications to run . Again, these files too occupy RAM space. After all these, when the actual application runs, it again asks for RAM, the more instances, the greater RAM you need. Big applications can easily take up 100MB of RAM. Multiple instances of tapped browsers are known to be “RAM intensive.
Moreover, the operating system also requires RAM space to work. All these things put together, the RAM which you have on your machine may not prove to be sufficient. Have you ever thought about how is the extra RAM which is needed come from? How does the RAM you have on the computer manage all these requests for space? Well, all this is done by the virtual memory manager. The VMM system scans the RAM and searches for sectors which are emtpy or not needed in the current operations of applications. This additional space which has been acquired is then put in a place we call “Swap” on the hard-disk. For instance, if you are working on a specific task which requires multiple browsers to be open and at the same time, and/or a couple of MS-Excel sheets open, but have not used it for about 30 minutes; the VMM will remove all the space occupied by Excel, its DLL’s and the data to the hard-disk. The next time you want Excel, the VMM will remove some other unused or idle process and load excel back into the RAM memory. This is called swapping of programs. But this process sometimes takes time and you can actually “feel” the swap happening because the hard-disk is slower compared to a RAM.
If you have a very small amount of RAM (say, 256 megabytes), then the VMM is always swapping things in and out to get anything done. In that case, your computer feels like it is crawling. As you add more RAM, you get to a point where you only notice the swapping when you load a new program or change windows. If you were to put 2 gigabytes of RAM in your computer, the VMM would have plenty of room and you would never see it swapping anything. That is as fast as things get. If you then added more RAM, it would have no effect.
If the RAM you have is indeed very low (say 512MB), then the Virtual Memory Manager is constantly swapping data to facilitate functioning of the different programs and applications. This is when you feel like the computer is slower than a snail and will lose a sprint race to a turtle. When you add more RAM, more often that not, you only see the swapping whenever a new application or program is loaded and / or you change windows. However, in this case, if you upgrade your RAM to about 1GB or 2GB, the VMM would have a lot of space and one would not feel or see the swapping of data happening. If, after this, you add more RAM, it would not be of much use. Its then time for you to upgrade your processor – rather the computer itself.