Memory & Your Computer (continued)

Below are our recommendations for typical users of Windows, Windows 95, and Windows NT. More comprehensive information, including our recommendations for users of OS/2, specific applications, Engineers, Designers, is available at or by e-mailing Take some time to assess your own personal computer situation and see if it measures up. It could save you a lot of frustration.

Windows® & Windows for Workgroups®: Our baseline recommendation is 12MB -24MB. For many single applications, 12MB will be sufficient. But you'll need additional memory for more demanding business usage (large files, networking, with several applications open simultaneously) For these users, we generally recommend 16MB - 32MB. Users of complex documents, Internet access, complex graphics, or presentation software may require even more.

Windows 95®: Our Baseline recommendation is 16 - 32MB. Although Windows 95 will load with 8MB, you'll need 16MB to work with its own native applications. Tests show significant improvement in Windows 95 performance at 32MB and beyond, particularly for anyone using complex documents, accounting, business graphics, presentations software, spreadsheet analysis, Internet access, or network connectivity. Users of statistical applications, large databases, or video conferencing may see optimal performance at up to 96MB.

Windows NT®: Our baseline recommendation is 32MB - 48MB. Tests show improvement in Windows NT performance of 30% - 40% at 32MB and up to 63% improvement at 64MB. Once again, heavy users of statistical applications, large databases, technical analysis, complex presentations, and video conferencing are likely to achieve optimal performance between 64 and 96MB.

Macintosh® O/S: Our baseline recommendation is 12MB - 24MB. The Macintosh operating system manages memory in substantially different ways than other systems. Still, System 7.5 users will find that 8MB is a bare minimum. When using PowerMac applications with Internet connectivity, plan on a range of between 32MB and 64MB.

What to look for: Before buying more RAM, you'll need to check the type of RAM your computer uses, and the maximum amount that your system can handle. To determine how much memory you need, consider the types of tasks that you perform on your computer on a regular basis. Graphics-based tasks and number-crunching (such as queries to a database or calculation in a spreadsheet) will require more RAM than other tasks.

Don't ever throw away the manuals that come with your purchases. Someday you may want to expand your memory, and you will need the book to know what to order, how to install it, and how to reconfigure your PC to take advantage of it.

If you are adding RAM to your PC, there are several things you should note for compatibility and greatest speed. For instance, you should always fill the motherboard or proprietary expansion card of your 486 PC before adding memory to an add-on card. This is because the CPU uses a 32-bit data path in addressing motherboard memory, which is much faster than the 16-bit path on the standard PC bus. Also, you must buy chips that can be read and written fast enough for your computer.

Consider buying faster memory than required. Faster costs more initially, but can save in the long run if you later upgrade to a faster motherboard. If your computer requires 70 nanosecond parts, you can usually mix 60ns and 70ns parts without fear, provided that they are as fast or faster than required. Memory speed ratings seem to be a common source of confusion for users. This is probably because everyone wants as much speed as their hardware will permit, but many people are unsure of the maximum ratings of their equipment.

When you buy faster memory than your processor requires, you won't process data any faster than if you bought the slower memory. Many people  do spend the extra 5-10% and buy memory faster than required. For some, the reason is "margin for error," and they want the extra security they feel using better than required. Others are looking into the future. We all know that the next generation of processors is going to be faster and require quicker memory. Consider buying the second fastest memory even if you don't  need it. The fastest memory usually has a premium price, and you won't pay that if it isn't required.

Remember your history - the amount of memory you need to do your work today probably won't be enough two years from now. Look for flexibility and expansion capacity in your purchases. To get an idea of how much things have changed over the last decade, an excerpt from Inside the IBM PC, written by Peter Norton in 1983, describes the merits of IBM's new XT computer:

"So IBM has equipped all XTs with what it considers to be the minimum gear for a serious personal computer. Now the 10-megabyte disk and the 128K [one eighth of a megabyte] of memory are naturals for a serious machine."

Remember that there's no such thing as too much memory. And with the prices of the most popular types of 60ns SIMMs and 10ns DIMMs below $2 per megabyte, it's better to err on the side of too much, rather than too little memory. It's almost a certainty that the "extra" RAM you buy today will be consumed by the next generation of hungry software applications.

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