RAM: A Key to PC Performance

RAM is not a long word, but it can have a major impact on the performance of your computer.
Dec 2010
by Robin Wark

Your computer needs Random Access Memory to carry out its various tasks. Some people say that, like money, you can never have enough RAM. If your computer responds slowly or seems to continually need to access the hard drive, it needs more memory space. You can address this issue by trying to:

  • Free up space
  • Adjust virtual memory settings
  • Use ReadyBoost
  • Install more RAM

Below you'll find a brief explanation of each process.

Free up space
An easy way to try to free up some memory space is by having fewer programs and files open at once. For example, if you have Photoshop, Live Messenger, Microsoft Word and your web browser (like Firefox or Internet Explorer), all running at once it is likely going to slow you down. You might also have unneeded processes running that you are unaware of. You can use software such as PC Health Advisor to see which processes are running and close now the unnecessary ones. Also, you can control what launches when you turn on your computer by using PC Health Advisor's Startup Manager.

Adjust virtual memory settings
Your PC has what is called virtual memory, which is simulated RAM. When you don't have enough RAM available, your computer will swap data from RAM to your hard drive. You can increase your virtual memory, which means enlarging the space reserved for RAM overflow.

Adjusting using Windows XP:

  1. Click "Start," and then select "Control Panel"
  2. Click "Performance and Maintenance," and then click "System"
  3. On the Advanced tab, under Performance, click "Settings"
  4. On the Advanced tab, under Virtual memory, click "Change"
  5. Under Drive [Volume Label], click the drive that contains the paging file that you want to change
  6. Under Paging file size for selected drive, click the "Custom size" check box. You can enter the amount of memory you would like to reserve for virtual memory by entering the initial and maximum size. To stop your PC's central processing unit from constantly changing the paging file, it is a good idea to set the initial and maximum size to the same value.
  7. Click "Set"
  8. When you are prompted to restart the computer, click "Yes"

Adjusting using Windows 7:

  1. Click "Start" and choose "Control Panel"
  2. Choose System and Security and then click "System"
  3. In the left pane, go to Advanced system settings. If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  4. Select the Advanced tab, and then, under Performance, click "Settings."
  5. Go to the Advanced tab and, under Virtual memory, click "Change"
  6. Uncheck the Automatically manage paging file size for all drives check box. Under Drive [Volume Label], click the drive that contains the paging file you want to change. It is usually the C: drive.
  7. Select "Custom size", set a new size for the Initial size or Maximum size. It is suggested that these values match. Click "Set," and then click "OK."

Use ReadyBoost
Windows 7 and Windows Vista allow you to use a flash memory device, such as a universal serial bus (USB) flash drive or secure digital (SD) memory card, as an additional memory cache. This feature, called ReadyBoost, works with most flash storage devices. If using Windows 7, you can use up to eight devices for a maximum of 256 gigabytes (GB) of memory. The flash drive you are using should have at least 1 GB of available space. It is recommended that you use a flash drive that has at least double the amount of RAM on your PC.

  1. Plug a flash drive or flash memory card into your computer.
  2. In the Autoplay dialog box, under General options, click "Speed up my system."
  3. In the Properties dialog box, click the "ReadyBoost" tab, and then do one of the following:

    • To turn ReadyBoost off, click "Do not use this device."
    • To use all of the available space on the flash drive or memory card for ReadyBoost, click "Dedicate this device to ReadyBoost." Files already saved on it are safe, but Windows will use the rest of the available space for ReadyBoost.
    • If you don't want to use the maximum available space on the drive for ReadyBoost, click "Use this device," and use the slider to choose the amount of space you want to use.
  4. Click "OK."

Install more RAM
Adding more RAM to your PC can boost its performance. It is important to research your computer and the installation process carefully before doing so. Opening your computer and installing RAM can void your warranty, so you might want to have a certified technician perform this task for you. As well, even though you might have a number of open slots, you can only add so much RAM to your computer and see a difference in its performance. It is also important to check your manual or on the manufacturer's website to find out what kind of RAM your machine takes. When installing RAM, it is important to make sure your computer is grounded to ensure that static electricity will not harm it, yourself or the RAM you are trying to install.

There are various ways to address a lack of memory space on your PC. You might want to try a couple of different ways to see what works best for your PC.

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