Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Windows loves RAM, but whether or not adding RAM will resolve the issues you're experiencing depends on the issues. We'll look at an example.

Can you tell me if it would be worth my while upgrading the RAM on my machine? I have 512 RAM at the moment, Win XP, Inspiron 510m. I mostly use my system for browsing the net and chatting on-line. Sometimes web pages take a long time to open or video chat freezes. Would extra RAM help this?

It's impossible to say whether additional RAM would help the specific symptoms you're experiencing. It could, but there are probably hundreds of other possible explanations for those symptoms as well that don't involve the amount of RAM on your system.

So let's look at what some of the more likely problems are, and whether more RAM might be something to try.

I've long held that adding RAM to your system is one of the cheapest and quickest ways to improve your system's performance. RAM prices have dropped so dramatically in recent years that even if we don't think it'll help, it's high on my list to try anyway, just because.

512 megabytes of RAM could be enough for a fine Windows XP system, but in all honesty, it depends on your specific system. If you have lots of things getting loaded at start up, if you like to run lots of programs at the same time, if you run few programs that like to use lots of memory, 512 megabytes can actually be a limiting factor pretty quickly. Naturally there are two approaches: reduce the number of programs running or the memory that they might use if you can, or add more RAM.

"In most situations where you suspect you are running low on RAM, keep an eye on your disk activity light."

How do you see what's running and how much memory is being used? That's easy: you can do it with Task Manager, or my preferred utility Process Explorer. Once you run Process Explorer you'll see a complete list of the programs running on your machine. Click on the Working Set column header and see who's using the most of your computer's RAM. In Process Explorer you can also click on the Virtual Size column header to see who's using the most total virtual memory (both in RAM, and swapped out to disk).

I actually advocate both cleaning up running programs and having lots of RAM. I hate having programs running that I don't need, even if only on principal. And as I mentioned above, having more RAM doesn't hurt.

Now, about those symptoms of yours...

Slow loading web pages are extremely difficult to diagnose. They're more often associated with slow internet connections, or other traffic eating up your bandwidth. Make sure you're not trying to do a bunch of things that use your internet connection at the same time.

Occasionally browser speed will be affected by disk speed as it manages your internet cache and history. Also, realize that the first time you visit a web page it may often be slower than subsequent visits. The first time the browser must download everything, but on subsequent visits your browser may be able to avoid downloading some of the page contents by simply using the items it already has in its cache.

Browser performance can also be affected by your machines processor utilization. Independent of memory, if another program is performing calculation-intensive work while you're browsing, it can impact everything, including how quickly your browser downloads, draws, and reacts to your user input.

And yes, it could be memory. Again, depending on the configuration of your specific system and what you happen to have running at the same time, RAM could be an issue, and more RAM could help.

Video chat freezes are even more difficult to diagnose.

If it's just the video chat application that's freezing, I actually tend to blame either the application itself (try a different video application or service), or the speed of your internet connection. Video can use a lot of bandwidth, and some applications don't handle it well when there's not enough bandwidth to deliver the video in a timely fashion.

I'd also look at video drivers - specifically making sure that the drivers for your video card are up to date. Some cards are better than others, and more importantly, drivers occasionally have problems that can manifest in this way. This is particularly true if it's your machine that crashes or freezes and not just the video or video application.

And yes, it could be memory. Just like slow loading pages, depending on the configuration of your specific system and what you happen to have running at the same time, RAM could be an issue, and more RAM could help.

In most situations where you suspect you are running low on RAM, keep an eye on your disk activity light. If you're not explicitly doing something on disk yourself, and that light is flickering a lot, or even on solid, then there's a good chance that you've used up all available RAM and the system is using disk-based virtual memory.

And lastly, more RAM may not help, there are just too many possibilities to know for sure.

But more RAM won't hurt either.

Article C3288 - February 10, 2008 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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8 Comments
David Ball
February 11, 2008 4:42 PM

Some machines don't have dedicated memory for the video function - they "borrow" memory from the main RAM for video. This can reduce the amount of memory available for your applications; it's also much slower than using a video card with dedicated memory. Adding a dedicated video card to my daughter's machine made quite a difference in the video and application speed. However, as Leo demonstrated in his answers, there are many variables at play and a little investigation may be necessary to discover the best solution.

Nick Gimbrone
February 16, 2008 9:40 AM

There are many additional techniques for getting a feel of where the bottleneck is.

For example open task manager and watch its meters:
* is the CPU peaking out?
* is the network bandwidth maxing out the ISP's max?
* what does it say about the "commit charge", how does it compare to the "physical memory"?

Also, watch the "disk light" on the box, is it busy? If so, then you might also need more ram (to serve as a disk cache &/or avoid paging/swaping).

Make sure that the browser's cache size is large enough to avoid network downloads of content from sites you visit often, and that is willing to make use of that cache too (but it should validate its content on "every visit" ;-).

Older notebooks may not accept more than 512MB of ram, but most newer systems likely will (the one in question takes up to 2GB), and it will help in pretty much all situations that are not CPU or network limited.

Oh, and if you do upgrade the ram size, only use the proper memory for your system... and memory from a good supplier (I've seen lots of PCs that became unstable after putting bad memory in them, easilly discovered by a memory testing program ;-).

omar
April 9, 2008 3:44 PM

Hey there can u answer this, give two situations where memory is more useful when it is used as ram disk than using it as a disk cache

Leo A. Notenboom
April 11, 2008 7:57 AM

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Sounds like someone's homework question, so ... no.

Leo


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thomas smith
February 8, 2011 9:16 AM

i would think that 512 is on the low side for running xp. 1gig as a minimum is what xp likes has been my experience

Carl
February 8, 2011 11:11 AM

I have often spoken and heard the following pharse: "There's no such thing as a 'Dumb' or 'Stupid' or question." However the following question may be borderline in being dumb.

How do I determine what I need, or what is needed, in all the things running on my computer? I know I should have Security systems running and I like Automatic updates.
So what else is necesary. What happens if I disable all except the two mentioned?

Carl

Not s dumb question, and in fact a very common one. Problem is there's no answer. More here: What's the minimum set of processes needed to run Windows XP?
Leo
08-Feb-2011

frank
October 9, 2011 5:11 PM

Hi
my problem is choppy streaming,,
I have an older computer with minimal amount of ram,,,
I watch a lot of u tube instructional vids(I love it ,,you can learn how to do anything,,except this)
it used to run pretty good before,,,Ive installed"advanced care" and "norton" and constantly run them,,,,
will or maybe adding ram help at all,,,
and,,any other suggestions?
I,ve turned off my hardware acceleration and adjusted preformance setting already,,
Thank you Very Much

Mark J
October 10, 2011 1:06 AM

@Frank
Here's an article fromAsk Leo which gives a workaround to the problem of choppy streaming.
http://ask-leo.com/how_can_i_view_online_video_without_the_starts_and_stops.html

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