30 Hardware and Windows Tips in 30 Days Tip 13: 4 Ways to Feed Your Motherboard's Memory Appetite Right
Whether you run Windows XP, Windows Vista, MacOS, or Linux, memory (RAM) maximizes your system performance. Follow our four rules to get the most for your money.
With high-capacity memory modules near all-time lows per GB, a memory upgrade is one of the most cost effective performance upgrades you can do for any system. But, to get the most out of your memory dollar, keep these four rules in mind as you prepare to spend your Christmas gift money on some speedups.
- Think big (but not too big). Someday, 32-bit operating systems will be just a faded memory, but until them, 2 (as in 2GB) is the magic number for onboard memory. Install more than 2GB of RAM, and Windows may have problems, especially if you have a PCI-Express video card with 256MB of RAM or more.
- For best performance with many systems, pick a (matched) pair. A lot of current systems use a dual-channel memory design, which treats matched modules (same speed, latency, and size) as a single logical unit. If you have different sizes of memory installed on such a system, it will boot, all right, but run in the slower single-channel mode. To see if you're running a dual-channel capable system in single-channel mode, watch startup messages (you may need to press a key at startup to display messages instead of the motherboard or system splash screen), check your system documentation, or use a memory configuration analyzer to check your system.
- Buy modules that match your system requirements. Although retail stores sell so-called 'generic' memory modules designed to fit in a lot of PCs, they might not be the best choice for your system. Because memory modules vary in clock speed, CAS latency, the number of chips used to build the module, and other factors, you should make sure the modules you want to buy fit your system. Crucial.com has a free analyzer that checks your system's current memory and recommends upgrades, and it and other vendors provide databases that match modules to specific systems and motherboards.
- Buy performance, not glitz. If you don't overclock your system, you don't need high-performance memory modules. However, if you like to fiddle around with system clock speeds, clock multipliers, voltage levels, timings, and other system tinkering, you'll appreciate modules designed to handle non-standard settings. These modules include integrated cooling and other special features. Some product lines to consider include PNY's XLR8 and Verto Gamer Memory, Kingston's HyperX, Corsair's Dominator, Crucial's Ballistix, and OCZ Technology's Limited Edition series, among others.
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