In the computer world, there are numerous metrics used to measure a computer’s relative quality. These numbers are presented as “features” or “perks” to sway buyers toward one computer over another, and they can include everything from the speed of the core processor chip to the size of the hard drive, all the way to the amount of RAM (random-access memory) the computer has onboard. You can learn more about these items – as well as about plenty of other computer hardware principals – from Udemy’s Computer Essentials course. For now, however, we are going to focus on only one of those items (RAM) and how increasing the memory on your computer, or freeing the memory up, can effectively boost the performance of the rest of the machine.
What is RAM?
Before we get to the strategies involved in maximizing your computer’s use of memory, we need to understand what RAM actually is. Many amateur computer users get memory mixed up with hard drive space, and assume that to buy themselves some extra storage space for their music or film collection, what they need to do is increase their memory. This is not the case: all hard storage on any computer disk is handled by the hard drive. However, say a hard drive has 500 gigabytes of storage space and it’s halfway filled: that’s an awful lot of data to sort through, and the hard drive cannot actually access it all at a moment’s notice on its own. However, the computer will use the hard drive as virtual memory. This virtual memory is slower than RAM, so it’s best to add more memory than to run out and switch to virtual memory.
That’s where RAM comes in. Everything you are actually using on your computer at any given time, be it a program, a song you are playing, or a document you are working on in Microsoft Word, is transferred to your computer’s RAM for easy access. When you close a program or move onto another song, the old data is wiped from the memory disks to make way for other applications that your computer needs to use. The data remains on the hard drive and can easily be transferred back to your RAM if you need to access it, but if you aren’t using it directly, then it doesn’t need to be occupying space on your computer’s memory. This is why a computer with 500 gigabytes of hard disk storage can get by with, say, 4 gigs of memory: even if you have 400 gigabytes of stuff, you probably will never need to access more than one percent of that at a time.
Learning to Get the Most out of Your Memory
Needless to say, the less data you are accessing directly at any one time, the more free memory you have available, which in turn allows your computer to run more quickly and efficiently. If you are someone who tends to multitask on your computer and have been noticing major slowdowns on lately, there is a good chance that it’s because your RAM is working overtime to hold all of the things your computer needs to access. To speed up the machine, then, you have to clear out your RAM to free up some space and make things easier for your computer.
Shutting Down Inessential Programs
There are a few general ways to increase the free memory on your computer. The first is to simply become a more efficient computer user, so you can avoid pushing your memory to its limits and therefore causing machine slowdown. Sometimes, you can be overusing your RAM without even realizing it. You might just be browsing the web, listening to a song on iTunes, and writing a paper for school, none of which should push you over your RAM limit. However, most computers run a lot of different programs in the background, so there may be items using your memory without you even realizing it. To increase your RAM, then, you will want to target these programs.
Generally, this is easier to do on Mac computers than on Windows machines. On a Mac, most of the programs you have running at any given time will be shown in the tray at the bottom of the page. If you see a program down there that you aren’t actively using, close it so that it is no longer running in the background and taking up precious memory.
On Windows machines, you can view all of the software running in the background in the “Services” section (Right click “My Computer,” select “Manage,” got to “Services and Applications” and then to “Services”). This will give you a list of the software currently running on your machine, as well as an “extended” tab that offers explanations for what each piece of software does. You’ll want to do some Google research to find out which pieces of software are and are not essential, but doing some work in here can cut down on your use of memory. Be sure to check out our Windows 7 training course if you’d like to learn more about working with this operating system.
Cutting Down on Start-Up Programs
When you are installing new software, it may seem convenient to have it start itself right when you boot up your machine, but these “start-up” programs can easily turn into a memory black hole. In Mac, you can manage your start-up applications by opening up your System Preferences menu, selecting “Users and Groups,” and going to the “Logon items” tab to check and uncheck programs you want to open when you start the machine. In Windows, you will want to go to the “Start” menu and select “Run.” Type “msconfig” and you will be taken to a screen where you can manage the properties of your machine. Select the start-up tab and check or check your start-up programs.
Upgrade Your Machine
Going through the process of getting rid of start-up programs, or making it so programs don’t run in the background, can increase the amount of open RAM, as can simply deleting programs that you don’t use anymore. However, if you truly want to get more RAM for your computer, you will have to do so through hardware updates, not through software tweaks. With Mac, you will probably have to send your computer to Apple if you want a RAM upgrade, simply because do-it-yourself customizability is not something Macs are designed for. With PCs, though, you should have no problem taking the machine apart yourself, buying some RAM units for cheap online, and inserting them into the computer yourself. Just make sure the RAM you buy is compatible with what you already have in your computer.
Whether you have been struggling with a lagging computer or simply need to increase memory on your computer because your machine is going to be used for memory-intensive tasks like video editing, which you can learn more about on Udemy, there are plenty of good reasons to either upgrade your RAM capacity or keep your current RAM free. You can even use these tips as you build your own computer (learn how with this Udemy course!) and push for maximum levels of performance. By simply remembering the difference between hard drive storage and RAM storage, and by knowing how background programs bog your computer down by taking up memory, you should be able to keep your machine running in tip-top shape for years to come.