Computer Memory and Speed
Computer memory is the single hardware component in your computer most
likely to create a performance bottleneck. With advertising emphasis
being placed upon processor (CPU) speed, it is also the most overlooked.
If your PC contains an Intel® Pentium® 4, AMD Athlon™ XP,
or Motorola PowerPC™ G4 (Apple Mac) processor, you have sufficient
computing speed for most of today’s computing requirements.
Hardcore gamers, of course, demand maximum speed, often
overclocking both CPU and memory. For the rest of us, insufficient
computer memory or improperly functioning computer software are usually
the responsible culprits when our computers become slow.
How Is Computer Memory Used?
Computer memory, for those not familiar with the inner workings of a
personal computer, is the computer hardware component within which
in-use programs and data reside while the computer is running.
Technically referred to as Random Access
Memory, or RAM, computer memory is used by the
CPU (Central Processing Unit — the
“brain” of your PC) as a repository from which information
can be fetched and into which results can be stored.
When you turn on your computer, information is loaded from its permanent
data storage location on your hard drive into RAM so that it can be
accessed by the CPU. The CPU cannot “talk” directly to
the hard drive due to the tremendous difference in speed that exists
between these two components. Were this allowed to occur, your computer
would be incredibly slow. In terms of speed comparisons, think
of your CPU as a racehorse, your computer memory as the hare, and your
hard drive as the tortoise.
Information is moved from your hard drive to RAM in relatively large blocks
based upon requests made by running programs (applications or the operating
system). The CPU, under program direction, then selects specific
information it needs from what has been loaded into computer memory.
Data fetching circuitry in the modern CPU is designed around “prefetch
algorithms” — complex mathematical constructs which attempt to
predict or anticipate what information the CPU will need
next. Prefetch of data greatly enhances processing efficiency. (For sake
of simplicity, I have deliberately excluded discussion of memory
caching, an integral part of data prefetching and memory-to-CPU
transfer, from this discussion.)
Computer Memory and Performance
Sufficient computer memory is essential for optimal performance of your
computer. When insufficient memory is available for a particular task,
the operating system will swap one or more tasks of lower
priority to your hard drive, temporarily deactivating them to make more
room available in memory for the higher priority task. Task
swapping or memory swapping (The two terms are used
interchangeably.) is a routine function of all operating systems.
When insufficient memory exists to perform essential tasks, the number of
memory swaps performed by the operating system increases dramatically,
leading to serious performance problems. (Remember from our discussion
above that transfers between RAM and the hard drive are slow
in comparison to transfers between memory and CPU; this means that
memory swapping is a very inefficient activity.) Furthermore, some
operating systems cannot handle a large volume of memory swaps properly,
leading to effects such as video display anomalies (abnormalities or
glitches) or even system crashes. I have personally observed
this phenomenon in Microsoft® Windows® operating systems;
Windows XP is still not perfect, but is much better at dealing with memory
issues than are older Windows operating systems.
Find the Right Computer Memory Module
Obtaining the right computer memory module for your computer system is even
more important than having enough memory. Cheap generic computer
memory may not be stable (resulting in operating system crashes or in
unusual behavior that may be difficult to diagnose, thereby costing you
both time and money), while incorrect or mismatched RAM can create
significant performance problems and may even result in hardware damage or
irreparable harm to the computer memory module itself.
How do you find the right computer memory module? There are several
excellent providers of computer memory, but only one manufacturer
combines performance, reliability, discount pricing, excellent customer
service, fast, free shipping for internet purchase, and an easy-to-use
Memory Advisor™ tool to assist you in locating the exact
memory you need for your computer. We exclusively use memory by
Crucial Technology, a division
of Micron Technology, for all our system building and system upgrades
because we have found it to be well-priced and highly reliable. In fact,
we have never experienced any problem with Crucial memory. For this
reason, Crucial Technology is a Ten Spider Enterprises Recommended
Merchant. Crucial will help you buy RAM memory, laptop ram
memory, flash memory and even camera digital memory.
Authored by Kenneth L. Anderson.
Original article published 19 October 2003, updated 29 July
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random access memory suppliers.
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