- The Washington Times - Monday, August 6, 2001

How much random-access memory, or RAM, should your PC have? Can you mix memory modules on a system and still get it to work? What about any new software to make memory function better?

I've confronted all three questions recently, and the answers are at once encouraging and a bit astonishing.

The more RAM you have in a given PC, the better. The reason is that a maximum amount of RAM gives your software and programs some room in which to breathe.

Under Microsoft Windows 98 (and Windows ME and, to a lesser degree, Windows 2000), the repeated opening and closing of programs and windows and so forth takes its toll on available memory. Windows XP, due near the end of October, does a better job of memory management but this comes at a price: you should have at least 128 MB of RAM for either the "home edition" or professional versions of XP, Microsoft says, and preferably more.

But even if you don't plan to upgrade to Windows XP, having additional RAM can boost the sluggish performance of an older PC. It's a quick, easy and relatively inexpensive upgrade for a computer.

The price of RAM is still low. Shoppers can find 256 MB modules at prices of between $40 and $57 in most cases for desktop PCs. Portable PCs generally have different styles of memory slots and RAM for these models can cost a bit more; however, I found a 256 MB module for about $117, which is far less than it would have cost 12 months earlier.

Mixing modules: One thing that was more or less a byword for computer users over the years, however, is that mixing memory modules was verboten. Either in terms of speed modules can run at varying speeds, say 100 MHz or 133 MHz, for example or in terms of size, 64 MB, 128 MB and 256 MB modules were said not to play well together.

That was then. This is now: you can mix modules in terms of speed or size, apparently with little ill effect.

One example is the portable PC on which I'm writing this column. It came with a 64 MB module, to which I added a 256 MB one. The harmonious result was 310 MB of RAM, more than enough to handle what I do when on the road. And when I want to upgrade, I can add another 256 MB module, if I want.

The same happened with my desktop PC. There, two 256 MB modules wouldn't work, for reasons that no one could figure out. But, take a 128 MB module and add a 256 MB one, and, voila! 384 MB of RAM results. The kicker here was that the 128 MB module ran at 100 MHz, while the 256 MB module was clocked at 133 MHz. Combined, both ran at 100 MHz.

According to the experts at Crucial Technology, www.crucial.com, both changes can be attributed to advances in PC system board technology. Older PCs, known as "socket 7" systems, depended on single inline memory modules, or SIMMs, for memory parts and RAM had to be installed in matched pairs. Most of these older computers didn't have problems as long as each pair had the same capacity. However, there were a few systems that had to have the SIMMs of the largest capacity in the first memory bank and the lower capacity parts had to be installed in the following bank(s). So the parts would be installed in order depending on capacity.

Once dual inline memory modules, or DIMMs, came into mainstream computing it became very easy to upgrade a computer. With DIMMs, consumers could add modules of varying capacities to a system and not run into any major compatibility issues.

Software to boost RAM: A $29.95 program, RAMrocket, defragments and recovers RAM from any Windows-based PC, enabling large applications to run simultaneously without a hitch. The software recovers all of a system's available memory with just a single click, boosting application speed. RAMrocket can also be set to boost memory automatically, delivering maximum speed to your desktop applications and making computer crashes a thing of the past. With every boost, RAMrocket delivers a RAM increase, and a graph of the system's available memory spikes to reveal the amount of newly accessible RAM.

For example, the RAMrocket meter on my computer showed 159 MB available. With one click and about 10 seconds, that number jumped to 191 MB, a gain of 32 MB. Using another option in the software, called "Free All RAM," I was able to go up to 207 MB of RAM free. The program is available from developer Ascentive on their Web site, www.ascentive.com, and is well worth investigating.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to MarkKel@aol.com, or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m. Eastern time, on www.adrenaline-radio.com.

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