Can you tell me if it would be worth my while upgrading the RAM on my
machine? I have 512 RAM at the moment, Win XP, Inspiron 510m. I mostly use my
system for browsing the net and chatting on-line. Sometimes web pages take a
long time to open or video chat freezes. Would extra RAM help this?
It’s impossible to say whether additional RAM would help the specific
symptoms you’re experiencing. It could, but there are probably hundreds of
other possible explanations for those symptoms as well that don’t involve the
amount of RAM on your system.
So let’s look at what some of the more likely problems are, and whether more
RAM might be something to try.
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I’ve long held that adding RAM to your system is one of the cheapest and
quickest ways to improve your system’s performance. RAM prices have dropped so
dramatically in recent years that even if we don’t think it’ll help, it’s high
on my list to try anyway, just because.
512 megabytes of RAM could be enough for a fine Windows XP system,
but in all honesty, it depends on your specific system. If you have lots of
things getting loaded at start up, if you like to run lots of programs at the same
time, if you run few programs that like to use lots of memory, 512 megabytes
can actually be a limiting factor pretty quickly. Naturally there are two
approaches: reduce the number of programs running or the memory that they might
use if you can, or add more RAM.
low on RAM, keep an eye on your disk activity light.”
How do you see what’s running and how much memory is being used? That’s
easy: you can do it with Task Manager, or my preferred utility Process Explorer. Once you run Process
Explorer you’ll see a complete list of the programs running on your machine.
Click on the Working Set column header and see who’s using the
most of your computer’s RAM. In Process Explorer you can also click on the
Virtual Size column header to see who’s using the most total
virtual memory (both in RAM, and swapped out to disk).
I actually advocate both cleaning up running programs and having lots of
RAM. I hate having programs running that I don’t need, even if only on
principal. And as I mentioned above, having more RAM doesn’t hurt.
Now, about those symptoms of yours…
Slow loading web pages are extremely difficult to diagnose. They’re more
often associated with slow internet connections, or other traffic eating up
your bandwidth. Make sure you’re not trying to do a bunch of things that use
your internet connection at the same time.
Occasionally browser speed will be affected by disk speed as it manages your
internet cache and history. Also, realize that the first time you visit a web
page it may often be slower than subsequent visits. The first time the browser
must download everything, but on subsequent visits your browser may be
able to avoid downloading some of the page contents by simply using the items
it already has in its cache.
Browser performance can also be affected by your machines processor
utilization. Independent of memory, if another program is performing
calculation-intensive work while you’re browsing, it can impact everything,
including how quickly your browser downloads, draws, and reacts to your user
And yes, it could be memory. Again, depending on the configuration of your
specific system and what you happen to have running at the same time, RAM could
be an issue, and more RAM could help.
Video chat freezes are even more difficult to diagnose.
If it’s just the video chat application that’s freezing, I actually tend to
blame either the application itself (try a different video application or
service), or the speed of your internet connection. Video can use a
lot of bandwidth, and some applications don’t handle it well when
there’s not enough bandwidth to deliver the video in a timely fashion.
I’d also look at video drivers – specifically making sure that the drivers
for your video card are up to date. Some cards are better than others, and more
importantly, drivers occasionally have problems that can manifest in this way.
This is particularly true if it’s your machine that crashes or freezes
and not just the video or video application.
And yes, it could be memory. Just like slow loading pages, depending on the
configuration of your specific system and what you happen to have running at
the same time, RAM could be an issue, and more RAM could help.
In most situations where you suspect you are running low on RAM, keep an eye
on your disk activity light. If you’re not explicitly doing something on disk
yourself, and that light is flickering a lot, or even on solid, then there’s a
good chance that you’ve used up all available RAM and the system is using
disk-based virtual memory.
And lastly, more RAM may not help, there are just too many possibilities to
know for sure.
But more RAM won’t hurt either.