ABC of ICT

Pete Roythorne

Pete Roythorne asks how much memory your computer needs

A common question among computer owners and buyers is "How much memory do I need?" Some believe that, like money, you can never have too much. But is this always true?

If you've got an older machine and it's slowing down, then adding memory in the form of Random Access Memory (Ram) is one of the best ways to get it running faster. This is particularly the case if you've upgraded (or are planning to upgrade) your operating system (the program that runs your computer). Older machines had a lot less memory than they do today, because the operating systems required less memory. For example, Windows 98 had a recommended minimum of 32Mb Ram, but was better with 64Mb. However, Windows XP requires 128Mb as minimum.

For those of you running other operating systems: Linux works happily on a system with only 4Mb of Ram. However, if you plan to do much serious work you'll probably want 64Mb. Mac OS X systems should have a minimum of 128Mb to 512 MB.

These figures are based on estimated normal usage, accessing the internet, word processing, standard homeoffice applications and some entertainment, such as listening to music.

If you want to do computer-aided design, serious gaming, intensive graphics work or heavy video-editing, then you'll need more memory. These are memory-hungry functions that require huge amounts of data to be quickly available to your core software. If you don't have enough Ram, then your computer will look to the next best thing, virtual memory, in other words your hard drive. This will slow your machine down dramatically.

A quick scan of your preferred supplier's website will reveal that new computers can be loosely divided into categories of usage: light, medium and heavy.

The memory supplied will vary accordingly, and the break down works something like this: basic administrative usage (word processing, email, light internet, spreadsheets, fax and simple graphics programs), 256Mb; executiveexpanded home usage (all previous plus presentation and illustration software, photo editing, multimedia web browsing), 512Mb; and professionalgamer (previous plus font packages, multimedia software, Cad-Cam software and gaming), up to 1Gb.

Most machines now come with the ability to upgrade to 2Gb Ram, but unless you're using heavy graphic design or 3-D Cad work, this is probably overkill.

If you're not planning to upgrade your computer regularly it's worth getting as much memory as you can afford as having plenty of it is the best way to extend the useful life of your computer.

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Pete Roythorne

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