Understanding Computers
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  Improving your memory
640 Kilobytes of computer memory ought to be enough for anybody.
- Bill Gates, 1981
So your computer seems slow and you're thinking of ditching it for a new system? We'll be glad to take the old one off your hands, but maybe all you need is $100 of extra memory. (Or to reinstall your operating system, but that's another column.)
Memory is yet another confusing computer term, because most people already have strong ideas about the word. In humans, memory refers to information and sensory experiences which are stored in our brains. Computers are a different matter. Even though we say that a Hard Disk Drive (HDD) has 'x' number of gigabytes of memory, we computer nerds do not consider this to be "memory." It is storage space, like the shelves and cupboards in your kitchen.
Memory, to computer folks, refers to Random Access Memory. (RAM). RAM is the computer's counter space or kitchen table. RAM is "working" memory. Whenever a computer performs a task, it starts by copying everything it needs into RAM and then gets down to the business with it. RAM is dynamic, but that doesn't mean that it's always moving around. It means that the contents of RAM only last for thousandths of a second at a time. When the power goes off, everything in RAM disappears. Gone forever. Wouldn't it be nice if the same happened with the after dinner mess in the kitchen?
So why does it matter how much RAM you have? The amount of RAM in a computer strongly affects its speed and efficiency. These days, software takes a lot of memory to accomplish anything. Because my kitchen table is really small, we can only have a couple of items there at a time. We bring out each item when it is needed and put it away to make room for the next. In my kitchen this laborious process is called "dinner." In your computer it's called "swapping". Swapping causes the system to run slowly. Look at it this way: if the milk is already on the table, it'll take less time to pour yourself a glass than if it were still in the fridge. I need a bigger kitchen table. You need more RAM.
The only harm in having too much RAM is to the pocketbook. You need 16 megs of RAM to get Windows 98 to run and 32 megs to get it out of first gear. 64 megs provides a comfortable cruising speed. This machine is running on 256 megs, more than I need, but I'm a nerd. The amount of RAM on your system is displayed on the last line of the System Properties window. Click the Start Button, select Settings and select Control Panel. From the Control Panel double click the System icon.
Oddly enough, RAM is a commodity. Just like artichokes and gasoline, the price of RAM varies in accordance with unpredictable market forces. There are also many kinds of RAM, so make sure you know what you need.
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