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64 bit machines and 64 bit support are becoming more common, which begs the question: is it hype, or is it worth it? And how much RAM is enough?
You recently answered a question about "Why does my computer crash after adding RAM?" That got me thinking about 64 bit systems which are being offered more and more by manufacturers. As I understand it, Vista 64 bit is supposed to accommodate quite a bit more RAM than 32 bit systems (ie: Vista Basic = 8GB, Home Premium = 16GB, Business/Enterprise/Ultimate = 128+GB according to Microsoft.) And I'm guessing that Windows 7 in 64 bit will probably follow suit.
So... if someone buys a new computer (either laptop or desktop) with a 64 bit system, will the comp have a motherboard/BIOS that will accommodate the larger RAM or is this another marketing ploy to get people to spend money for something that won't live up to its potential? From a practical standpoint, can one have too much RAM? In other words, based on existing games, software, programs, etc is there really a need for 16GB or (gulp!) 128GB RAM? If one does maximize RAM would that eliminate the need for a page file? And finally, some packaged versions of Vista came with both a 32 and 64 bit install disk. If someone decides to install the 64 bit system what negative effects, if any, could occur to graphics cards, optical drives, etc?
I certainly don't see any marketing ploys designed in here, but as with anything, a salesman can twist it in several different ways.
What we need to look at are the differences between hardware capabilities, software capabilities, and as you say, understanding just what's really needed.
At the hardware level, machines have differing physical RAM capacities. By that I mean that the hardware will be capable of handling only so much RAM. The year old desktop I'm typing this on, for example, has a maximum capacity of 8 Gigabytes. My older laptop? It's maxed out at 4GB.
And both are 64bit capable processors.
There's nothing wrong with a 4GB or less system running a 64 bit operating system. The issue is that there's really no incentive to do so since a 32 bit operating system will do just as well (with one exception right at the 4GB boundary).
There's also no point in having more than 4GB of RAM if you have a 32 bit operating system installed - the system won't use it.
Exactly how much RAM your system is capable of accommodating is simply another factor in system design. The additional hardware required to support the additional RAM is not free, so system manufacturers frequently offer a variety of options ranging from inexpensive motherboards that support only a maximum of, say, 4GB, to more expensive ones that handle much, much more.
It's simply something you need to be aware of when you purchase a machine.
Is there really a need for 16GB or 128GB of RAM? For most people, probably not yet. But for others, quite possibly.
For example, I recently upgraded my desktop to its maximum capacity of 8GB in anticipation of installing the 64 bit version of Windows 7. While most people might not need that much RAM today, I can use it. I tend to run virtual machines, each of which can eat up a gigabyte or two of RAM instantly. By expanding the amount of RAM in my system to its maximum, I'll be able to run multiple VM's simultaneously, rather than one at a time as I do now.
A web server or database server, or even an individual workstation that's used for very heavy data processing might well benefit, meaning operate much faster, by having as much RAM as you can afford.
Different people, and different applications, have different requirements.
Remember, many years ago we hardly envisioned a need for 128MEG of RAM, much less the 1-4 GIG we now take as commonplace. Someday, I'm sure as operating systems and applications continue to grow, we'll look back and wonder how we got along with "only" 4gig.
Can you have too much RAM? Not really, in the sense that the only thing it might hurt is your wallet. If you have more than you actually need, the excess is simply benignly not used.
Can you eliminate a page file by having more RAM? Absolutely. The whole point of a paging file is to backfill when the system, or applications, request more RAM than is actually available. If you always have enough RAM then the page file would never be needed.
I actually ran my desktop that way for some time: 32bit Windows XP with 4GB of RAM and no paging file. I ended up reenabling my paging file after I accidentally ran both World of Warcraft and one of those virtual machines simultaneously which caused my system to run out of memory.
It's not really a function of how much RAM you happen to have, but how much RAM you happen to need to do whatever it is you do. A user who never does anything but browse the web might run with some minimal amount of memory, and no page file at all.
The only negative effects that I've heard so far regarding 64 bit systems are that some drivers aren't available. As with any transition of this sort, that's getting better, but may end up leaving some older devices behind. I've also heard occasional complaints of some applications not working, but that seems to be rare now. 64 bit Windows includes a 32 bit compatibility layer, just as 32 bit Windows had a 16 bit compatibility layer for years.
In addition my understanding is that Windows 7 will include an optional "Windows XP mode" that boils down to nothing more than a virtual machine. For those of us already comfortable with virtual machines, that represents yet another way to ensure compatibility with legacy software.
So, no ... it's not a marketing ploy. Some folks actually need that much RAM. When you purchase a new machine, its maximum RAM capacity should be something you at least be aware of for possible future expansion.
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