We all know there are many things on the software side of a PC that can be done to improve speed (after all, that’s what we at TuneUp do!), so it’s safe to debunk this myth and say hardware alone is not the answer. It is part of the answer though, but how much exactly? The benefit of having more RAM is that the OS has to access the hard drive far less frequently. The result: Windows feels much snappier. Now that prices for memory have come down so much, it’s important to actually test the theory of “More RAM equals more performance.”
This blog post analyses the results of tests on if and how much adding more RAM actually increases the performance of your computer. For that, we’ll equip a mid-range machine (from around 2007) with more and more RAM and subsequently benchmark the system in different areas.
We performed different benchmarks (boot up, application load times, PCMark Vantage benches, 3DMark Vantage benches etc.) on this notebook sporting a Core 2 Duo with 2.66 Ghz running Windows Vista. Here’s how we prepared the test machine and conducted the benchmarks:
- All tests have been performed on a machine we productively used for four weeks. It has been used for a variety of jobs, including web browsing, gaming, watching movies and editing videoclips. Why is this important? Because the “Superfetch” feature of Vista optimizes the cache to speed up boot and application load times. It needs a couple of days to adapt to your day-to-day computer usage. Performing benchmarks on a newly installed Vista machine corrupts the results!
- We used the Rundll32.exe advapi32.dll,ProcessIdleTasks command to make Windows perform file placement optimization tasks.
- We created an image of the entire hard disk. Before adding memory, we restored the image each time.
- We ran each benchmark test three times and used the average in our result table.
- All visual effects have been disabled.
- Volume Shadow Copy Service has been disabled. This services takes snapshots of your disks at regular intervals, which could interfere with the benchmarks.
Most of the mentioned guidelines are officially recommended by Microsofts Windows Hardware Developer Central. Click here for more details.
Keep in mind the 32-Bit Windows versions
No matter which edition of Windows Vista you are using, 32-bit versions are limited to address 3.5 GByte of memory only. To learn more about this limitation, hit this link. Since most users are still on 32-bit editions, we used this version to approximate the results. If you want to use 4 GByte of RAM or more, you will definitely need to jump on the 64-bit bandwagon. Beware of installing a 64-bit version on a machine with less memory since that might have a counteracting effect. Addresses in Windows are now 64 bits long, instead of just 32 bits. What this boils down to is a larger memory footprint of each application. Depending on which applications you use, Windows 64-bit might use 20–50% more of your memory. As you can see, 64-bit only makes sense with larger system memory.
Let’s get started!
The most effective performance boost is when you upgrade from 512 MByte or 1 GByte to 2 GByte.
Boot-up and shutdown time went down immensely: Upgrading from 512 Mbyte to 1 GByte shaved 70 seconds off boot time. Shutdown time also went down from 40 to a remarkably fast 12 seconds. It becomes obvious that Windows Vista needs to access the slower hard disk less often the more memory you add to your system.
The Windows SuperFetch, a Vista-only feature that populates the RAM with frequently used system files and programs (more details on that in a future blog post), is also able to preload your system memory with more data, thus speeding up the startup of applications and boot-up time. In our test with only 512 Mbytes of RAM, Outlook 2007 actually needed 36 seconds to start up and display an e-mail. Upgrade to 2 GByte and it took just 12 seconds. It’s the same thing with Internet Explorer 8 that we set up to load 8 pages simultaneously. With 2 GByte of memory, it only needed 5 seconds to start up—from 17 seconds with 512 Megs of RAM.
Gamers are the audience that may benefit the most from 2 GByte or more—especially memory heavy games such as RTS (real-time strategy) with tons of units, buildings, enemies, and so forth, since they can make use of more memory quite easily. 3D Mark Vantage, a benchmark representing state-of-the-art games, showed an increase of about 30% in gaming when going to 2 GByte.
The productivity benchmark, PC Mark Vantage, stress tested the system for about 1.5 hours with tons of performance tests such as Web site rendering, simultaneous HD video playback, and photo editing. It didn’t show an incredible increase, except for the Memory Suite department, which heavily relied on filling up and using memory. Most of the other benchmarks rely on the performance of the processor and graphic card.
Since memory is so cheap right now, there is really no need to deal with a sluggish system with little memory for your applications! What benchmarks can’t tell you is the overall responsiveness of Windows, especially when opening lots of programs and windows. With 2 GByte or more, there is literally no noticeable lag or delay when switching between applications.
Right now, only hardcore gamers and pros need more than that—if you’re working with several memory-hungry applications at the same time, you will not be satisfied with 2 GByte and might want to consider an upgrade to 4 GByte and potentially even more than that. Don’t forget to use a 64-bit version or all memory over 3.5 GByte will be wasted!
8 Responses to “Is More RAM the Only Way to Get More Speed? We’ll Find Out!”
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