I’ve recently had to service and/or repair a few computers whose largest issue was that they had far too little RAM. One in particular was running Windows 7 Pro and had only 512mb of RAM – this half the required memory for this operating system. So either the person who installed Windows 7 on this computer wasn’t aware how much RAM it had or wasn’t aware that that it would take a severe performance hit for not having enough of it.
What is RAM?
RAM stands for Random Access Memory. Don’t worry too much about the name. It refers to the way in which RAM stores information and isn’t technically accurate for modern types of RAM anyway but the name has stuck.
What you DO need to know is that RAM is temporary memory where your computer can store information that it’s thinking about or working on while it is turned on. It is volatile memory – meaning that it will not be retained when the power source is disconnected. RAM is also pretty fast memory for the computer to read and write to. Information stored in RAM can be worked on and accessed very quickly.
Computers generally use RAM for storing the current applications you have open for quick access and the documents or files you have open. What sits in the RAM is controlled by the operating system.
You can think of RAM like having a large open desk with lots of clear space when you begin work. If your desk is large enough, you can layout all the resources and equipment you need to perform your work. If your desk is too small you end up shuffling things around, moving them on and off you desk and stacking things up.
In much the same way, if a computer has plenty of ram it has space to work. Space to hold all the resources it needs at the given moment and quick access to the information it is working on. It doesn’t need to shuffle things off onto your hard drive or constantly re-arrange things in ram to have access to the information it needs.
What’s with all these numbers and acronyms like DDR and GB?
(You can skip this part if you want to avoid technical explanations but I’ll try to make it as painless as possible).
This is where it can get confusing…
Firstly, your ram will come in a certain size or amount of Ram – eg. 2Gb, 4Gb, 16Gb etc. Gb is short for Gigabyte and is a measure of now much information your RAM can store.
SDRAM, DDR1, DDR2, and DDR3 are different types of ram. Think of this like models of cars. Actually it’s more like the engine model in your car. Not all engines will work in all cars. In a similar way your computer will only be able to take certain types and speeds of ram and if you’re not sure – it’s best to check with a computer technician before buying new ram.
Along with the type, ram runs at a certain speed and with certain timings (hold onto your brains for this part). Ram that is labelled “DRR3-400″ means it is type DDR3 and runs at a maximum frequency of 400Mhz. This is sort of a ‘how many things a second’ can you manage rating.
Sometimes there is also information given about data transfer rates of the ram and timings. Most often these are given as a series of numbers E.G. CL7-7-7-18. These numbers indicate the number of clock cycles the ram will take to perform certain tasks. Generally speaking the lower the numbers, the tighter the timings are and the more expensive the ram will be.
Data transfer rates are usually noted with a ‘PC’ suffix. PC3200 ram for example runs at 3200 megabytes per second.
Why do I need ram?
Computers use ram to store information on a temporary basis. Usually for calculations or holding documents that you are working on and programs that you have open so you can work on them and switch between them quickly.
If your computer runs out of ram it uses a portion of your hard drive space as ram – this is called a SWAP file or partition. Hard drives are slower than ram so you can see a performance drop if you run out of Ram and the computer starts using hard drive memory – especially if it has to do this on a consistent basis.
As I mentioned in the introduction, if you have plenty of sufficiently fast ram, your computer has the space it needs to work and can access the information it needs more quickly. Overall, the appearance it gives is that of an overall faster computer.
How much RAM do I need?
There are 2 equally true and equally cliche answers to that question.
1. It depends
2. The more the better (to a point)
Let me start with a baseline. Your operating system requires a certain amount of RAM and Microsoft publish recommendations on the amount of RAM you should have for each of their operating systems. Although Microsoft calls this the recommended amount, I would suggest thinking of it more as a minimum for acceptable performance.
|Operating System||Recommended Amount|
|Windows XP Home Edition and Proffessional||128MB|
|Windows Vista Home Basic||512MB|
|Windows Vista Home Premium, Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate||1GB|
|Windows 7 32bit||1GB|
|Windows 7 64bit||2GB|
Once you get past the requirements for your operating system, you need to have some for your programs. The more memory hungry your programs are (3d games, video processing etc) the more you will need. Also the more you have open at any one time, the more you will need.
Note: Unless you are running 64bit operating system, you will not see any benefit for anything above 3Gb of ram as your system cannot recognise more than 3Gb.
At the time of writing this, computers currently come with 2-4GB ram. If you don’t have this much in your computer currently, you should consider upgrading. Especially if it seems slow or takes a long time to respond.
If you have a 64bit operating system and you run memory intensive applications or have a lot of applications open you may see a benefit of increasing your ram up to 8Gb or more.
References and further reading:
Windows XP System Requirements – http://support.microsoft.com/kb/314865
Windows Vista System Requirements – http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-vista/products/system-requirements
Windows 7 Systems Requirements – http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows7/products/system-requirements
eHow – How to read memory chips - http://www.ehow.com/how_7289009_read-memory-chips.html
When you’ve finished with your computer there are actually several options for the state that you can leave it in. The various options have pros and cons in terms of startup time, power consumption and memory usage.
Leave it on
You may be running a specific service or application on your computer that requires it to be left on all the time. Some business IT departments require work computers to be left on at night for doing backups and desktop maintenance. Under these circumstances, you may have no choice but to leave your computer on.
I’ve heard some people tell me that leaving computers on actually saves power because the computer hardware is more stressed than when starting up and shutting down than it does if it’s left on. The fact of the matter is that it does use more power to leave a computer on than any other alternative. And the stress on the components during startup is no more than the stress incurred on a computer when doing resource intensive tasks it will be asked to do during the time it is on anyway.
Shutting down is the complete and full way to turn off your computer. All the services and applications are closed (usually gracefully) and the computer is completely turned off. Your session and the documents or programs you were working on are not retained – but this can be good if looking to reset your session. And no memory is tied up in the process. Once shutdown, the computer no longer needs external power but the startup will take longer because it has to start windows from scratch.
- System is completely shut down.
- Only very minimal power is used while shut down for some optional services such as wake-on-lan.
- No additional hard drive space is required.
- Session state is not retained.
- Startup times are longer.
Use Shutdown if you are going to be away from your computer for a long period of time.
Sleep is a temporary mode where the current state of your session – all the windows, pages, applications etc you have open – are saved to ram (temporary memory) and the rest of the computer is turned off. This saves on power as extra components such as your fans, hard drives, monitor etc aren’t using any power. But the computer requires a small amount of power to keep the ram alive and keep your details in the ram.
Sleep mode is very fast to resume from because ram is very fast. Typically a session can be restored in a few seconds. The main downside is that the computer must have a permanent source of power and will drain some power over time. If a laptop is running on a battery only in sleep mode, it will drain the battery and eventually, when the power gets low enough it will go into hibernation mode (see below).
Windows can perform maintenance tasks while in sleep mode and network adminstrators can still wake and access sleeping computers to perform backups or do system administration tasks. Some workplaces may require employees to leave computers in sleep mode overnight for this reason.
- Fast resume time
- Session state retained
- Computer can still perform maintenance and be accessed remotely if set up.
- Requires a small amount of permanent power – will not work for desktops if the power is unreliable or not available for the entire sleep period.
- Can drain a battery to zero if left for long periods of time – time varies depending on the size, age and quality of the battery and the power drain of the laptop.
- Doesn’t reset the computer so any resources are not released as they would be during a shutdown or reset.
Use sleep if you are going to be away from your computer for a short period of time or if you have a network or computer administrator that requires it.
Do not use if you are on a desktop and can’t guarantee a consistent power supply or on a laptop if it is going to be on battery power for an extended period of time.
Hibernation is a tradeoff between shutting down and sleep mode. In this mode, your session is saved to your hard drive and then the computer is powered down. In this state the computer does not require any external power because the state is saved to the hard drive. The computer will resume from this state faster than when it is shut down completely but not as fast as sleep mode. This mode requires you to have some free space on your hard drive for saving the session state.
- Does not require any power while in this mode.
- Session state is restored
- Startup is faster than a fully shut down computer
- Cannot be accesses or perform maintenance tasks
- Startup is slower than sleep
- Requires some hard drive space set aside for saving session state to hard drive.
- Hibernation file can become fragmented and occasionally corrupt over time but restarting can usually resolve this.
I discovered, quite accidentally, an interesting feature in Windows 7. Aero Shake.
Basically you can grab any window in windows 7 by the title bar – the bar along the top of the window – with your mouse and shake it backwards and forwards, and it will minimise all the other windows you have open. If you shake the window again, the minimised windows will pop back up. For any keyboard junkies – you can achieve the same effect with Windows Key + Home.
This can be really useful if you want to clear out the clutter of all of your windows and focus on one thing for a while.
This feature is included in the Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise editions of Windows 7. Click this link if you want to find out more and see a video of Aero Shake in action.
First a disclaimer:
While I’ve made every effort to make sure that this information is correct at the time of writing, I am not a lawyer, and this post should not replace solid legal advice. It is meant for educational purposes only.
This information is dependent on several sites that I’ve gleaned some of this information from and to changes in legislation over time.
What is it?
This is new legislation that makes it easier for Copyright holders to penalise people for copyright infringements via peer-to-peer file sharing. It is also referred to sarcastically as the 3-strikes law and the Skynet Law.
It came into force in New Zealand on 1st September 2011 (although data was allowed to be collected 21 days prior, no letters could be issued until this date) .
How do they detect infringements:
The most likely method will be by companies paid by the copyright holders participating in the pool or swarm of users that download the copyrighted material. When you use peer-to-peer networks certain information about your connection is shared with the other peers. This is primarily, your IP address. This can be linked to your Internet Service Provider and they can track which account was using a specific IP address at a specific time.
So Copyright holders will most likely pay other companies to join in on these downloads (legally, because they will own the copyright), record the ip addresses of others downloading the files and send notices to the ISP from there.
- Copyrighted material downloaded using Peer to Peer applications such as bittorrent and Limewire.
- material uploaded or downloaded from the Internet (and)
- using an application or network that enables the simultaneous sharing of material between multiple users.
What’s not covered?
- Downloading files straight from the internet – i.e. using file hosting services such as MegaUpload or Rapidshare. Technically, these sites are covered already under section 92c of the legislation – not part of this amendment.
- Streaming content from sites such as Youtube or Netflix.
- Content that is not copyrighted. In other words, peer to peer network applications are not illegal per se, it’s just downloading copyrighted material using these applications that is illegal.
- Mobile phones are excluded until 30 September 2013
- Content that was downloaded more than 21 days prior to 1st September 2011.
Who’s at risk
The account owner of the internet connection is liable.
An ISP can only trace an IP address to an account owner. Not a specific person using that particular connection. So if you have a family of 5 people, the account holder gets the letter, not necessarily the person who actually did the download. The same applies to companies offering free wifi, businesses with multiple users, schools, universities etc. Only the named account holder is liable for any fines regardless of whether or not that person actually downloaded any copyrighted material.
What is the process:
The basic process is that the copyright holder will detect that a particular ip address is downloading copyrighted material. They will send a notice to the ISP that the IP address belongs to. The ISP then looks up their records and forwards the notice on to the account holder.
You will receive 3 notices, each a minimum of 21 days apart. If you receive letters in 21 days between notices, they do not count as additional letters but can be used to calculate your fine after the 3rd letter. You can argue these letters but exactly how to do that is not clear as yet.
Show me the money:
It costs the copyright holder $25 to send a letter to an ISP. This is the fee agreed upon by ISP’s to cover the admin charge of looking up the account holder’s details at the time and for the ip address involved and sending them a letter. This charge is to be revised in March 2012 (6 months after the initial law came into affect). You receive 3 warning letters which must be at least 28 days apart. Any additional letters you receive during this time do not count towards your total of 3 warnings but can be used decide on your penalty after the 3rd letter is received. You can contest these letters after they arrive.
After you receive 3 warnings, you can be charged up to $15,000 for copyright infringement.
This law has been heavily criticised especially in the tech industry for the following flaws.
- Assumption of guilt. Letters are sent to the copyright holder and it is assumed that that person downloaded the copyrighted material. Even if there a number of users using that connection.
Has it worked?
To date: Not really.
Very few (if any) letters have been received by ISPs and passed on to users. Many believe that this is because of the fee that ISPs are charging the copyright holders and because there is no centralised procedure for paying these fees and distributing the letters.
Currently most ISPs are insisting that if a copyright holder wants to send them a letter, they must register an account with the ISP, pay the fee and send them the letter before they will process it.
It is said that various copyright holders are working on a centralised system to make this process more streamlined and to reduce the fee by making it easier for the ISPs to recieve the fees and letters. There is a built in review of these fees in the law 6 months after it comes into affect.
However, many ISPs saw a drop of around 10% in internet usage around the 1st September – some argue that this 10% drop was not necessarily all illegal file sharing but it does seem to be a co-incidence.
Recommended Further Reading:
01/11/2011 – The first wave of copyright infringement notices arrives – http://www.stuff.co.nz/technology/digital-living/5887377/First-copyright-infringement-notices-issued
There’s a great post from LifeHacker.com who details how to add attach your computer to your TV so you can watch movies/videos.
Rather than recreate their post, I though I would just post the link here:
When I recently bought a new desktop pc to replace my main home one, I took the opportunity to set it up as a dual boot system with Windows 7 and Ubuntu (version 10.10). I set the default operating system as Ubuntu and intended to use this as my primary so I could learn more about Linux and see if it is indeed possible to live without Windows. But I do like to play things safe, so I had Windows installed as a ‘just in case I can’t manage it and need a comfortable alternative’. In ran this setup for 4 months and then re-assessed the situation.
Firstly let me say that I’m not out to start a holy war. There will be people out there that are avid Windows fans and there will equally be others out there who are avid Linux and Mac fans. This blog isn’t intended to say that one is overall better than the other, just record my experiences with Ubuntu.
Firstly – installing Ubuntu was a breeze. I could even boot of the Live DVD first and then browse the internet while Ubuntu was being installed in the background! And there are many different options for installing Ubuntu – you can use Wubi to install it as a Windows app and fake a dual boot. You can install it as a virtual machine. You can dual boot it with other operating systems. Or you can just go cold turkey and install it with no other operating systems around.
With my install there were approximately 7 questions in total and the only marginally tricky section was working out how to partition the hard drive and where to set the root partition.
- It’s FREE – that’s right. Free. Completely, legitimately open source and totally legal to just download it of the internet, burn it to a dvd and install it on as many computers as you like. You can’t get better value for money than that.
- Internet – Firefox (my preferred browser) is installed by default and my network settings were picked up automatically. Brilliant.
- Office products – Again, Open Office is available by default and flawlessly opened all of the documents I needed to work on.
- Video – after installing the ‘restricted extras’ package all my videos and dvds played back beautifully.
A few of my favorite things:
- Eye candy – some of it doesn’t look as polished as Windows but the effects that you can customise with Compiz are awesome.
- Multiple virtual desktops – I love that it’s built-in by default. I’ve been using VirtualWin to achieve the same thing in Windows but this is so much better.
- Security – I like the way that the kernel is structured, that software is delivered and that users don’t have admin privileges that makes it a very inhospitable environment for malware and viruses to live.
- Performance and Optimisations – everything about Linux seems to be just slightly more streamlined and better thought out than Windows. The install size is smaller, the boot times were faster, the menu layout was more logical. It was nice to be using a system and think “wow, someone was really thinking when they wrote this and they’ve done a great job.
The not so good:
- Games – while the range of free games (I had particular fun with Tux racer and Frozen Bubble) is good and the attempts to allow people to play Windows games on Linux (Wine and PlayOnLinux) are also good, they don’t match the games developed for Windows. These games would probably keep the average 10 year old happy but for serious gamers, you’re going to need a copy of Windows or a console somewhere to satisfy the urge.
- When things don’t work – they REALLY don’t work. I had a few issues with my video card initially – It would display a basic picture but I had to install restricted third party drivers to unlock the full potential of my card. This took a lot of trolling through forums, entering command line instructions and editing config files. While I myself aren’t too deterred by this, it takes a lot of time and hassle for something that should be a lot easier. I had a few other cases where I couldn’t get things to work the way I wanted (like getting burg to respect my choice of default operating system and using crontab to schedule tasks) that weren’t as straight forward as they could have been. Don’t get me wrong – I love the command line and appreciate the power and flexibility it has. But it can be infuriating when things don’t work flawlessly on the first attempt.
- Website design – there didn’t seem to be any particularly awesome editing apps for html/css design work. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough but the best I found was Konkeror and I found the interface a little clunky and hard to find things.
- Hardware support – I found a few usb toys that I had that were strictly Windows only it seems and my printer (Epson Stylus Colour RX430) printed ok for me but it was shared through my computer to the rest of the network and it did some bizarre things to pages printed from other Windows computers on my network (like only printing the left hand side of the page). I think hardware support is very good but not perfect.
In the end…
I really love Ubuntu. There are so many things about it that just make it awesome. And for some people it would be perfect. But for me I need to have faster access to games when I feel like it (I do not want to reboot every time I feel like a quick Plants vs Zombies round) and I like being able to fix things a lot faster than I can in linux sometimes.
So I have left Ubuntu Installed, but changed my default to Windows 7. There are some areas in which Ubuntu kicks Windows out the back door. But there are not enough of them for me to make the switch entirely. I intend to boot into Ubuntu frequently when I have some time to do the updates, check what’s new and have a play around but for most of my day-to-day tasks, I’ll stick to Windows.
But who knows, maybe one day (especially with the current rate of development) Ubuntu may iron out all the bugs that prevented me from moving over and I’ll make the switch then.