Laptop Memory Upgrades - How to decide if a memory upgrade is warranted

How can you decide whether your laptop, notebook, sub-notebook or netbook etc. could benefit from installing more memory? Let’s take a look at the vital signs that should help you answer just that!

The general word on the street aka '…you need more RAM!'

It is widely propagated by many that upgrading the memory within our laptop will considerably boost performance. While this statement is true, it leaves one wondering if the results are always the same. That is a common problem with generic statements like the above, just because it has made a friend’s laptop breathe a new sign of life, will it do exactly the same for me? The reality is that it may, or may not, and to what degree is really down to our own specific situation.

Learn more about why adding more memory can speed up your laptop.

In that case is a laptop memory upgrade right for me?

While it is not possible to conclude whether upgrading your laptop’s memory will boost system performance by exactly 27%, 52% or for example 74%(all these figures are ballpark guesses) via any other method than running specific benchmarks after an upgrade, it is possible to take a more human approach and still arrive at a plausible degree of certainty. This will inform us how much of a benefit a future laptop memory upgrade might be. From this we can then decide whether it is worth the cost.

Setting a course for action - upgrading pragmatically

In order to arrive at a valid answer to the above we first must lay down some facts that will automatically prove helpful. First of all if we have an older laptop ( more than 5 years old) and use it to run modern software then upgrading its memory may help but ultimately it’s processor speed and architecture will hamper from it having the most affect. In an opposite light, if we have a newer laptop ( less than 2 years old) and also use it for running modern software then upgrading its memory will likely have a greater performance effect, however in this case the hard drive speed will equally become the bottleneck. In fact, even if you have a laptop with a Solid State Drive (SSD) it too can be of an older generation that also becomes a bottleneck.

The above is what may be referred to as a basis for understanding the benefits of laptop memory upgrades. The processor, memory and hard drive are the three key contributors to general computer performance. Consequently, all influence the performance contributions of the other two (whatever the combination) and so ultimately model system performance in joint force. Does that make sense? Let’s take a quick look at each to show you how.

A hard drive is important because each time we start any software it must first load that into memory, as a result its speed will be the deciding factor to how soon the benefits of memory kick in (play an active role). A processor (also known as CPU – Central Processing Unit) plays a more central role - everything we do with our laptop will involve the processor in some form. If it is busy engaged in processing other tasks then even if we have ample memory, the benefits of the latter will be delayed until the processor can execute the foreground task (any that is part of the program we are currently using).

Making a decision focused on your own requirements

From the above we have learned that how much a new laptop memory upgrade contributes to our laptop’s performance is largely influenced by the processor and hard drive in our laptop, i.e. how modern they are and also how fast. With that in mind it is time to make an educated guess, but before we can do that we need to consider some other variables that stem from our current situation.

Firstly, we need to determine if we are running out of physical memory when using our laptop for everyday tasks. In order to check this, load all the software you normally use and then in Windows (NT/2000 or newer) press CTRL+ALT+DEL at the same time. This will fire up Task Manager. Next, click on the on the “Performance” tab. Finally, look at the section that states “Physical Memory (K)”, this name may defer slightly depending on the version of Windows you are running. In the same area you should see a label such as “Available”. This is the amount of free physical memory in your laptop. If this value is low in comparison to the “Total” label next to it then this indicates you are already overloading your laptop and purchasing a laptop memory upgrade could indeed help and inject a speed boost.

Secondly, ask yourself if your usage habits will change in the foreseeable future. For example, if you have just took on a job as a web developer and plan on using software such as Adobe Dreamweaver thenyour memory usage will grow dramatically. In this case you may want to upgrade. Let’s look at another example, this time you may be a graphics artist using equally demanding software such as Adobe Photoshopbut with a difference. You may already have enough memory installed for what you do today, but what if you get a new request from a client to make a series of graphics and need to edit them concurrently (havethem opened in separate windows)? Such scenario may also warrant upgrading your laptop’s memory. All in all whatever you do when thinking through this part make sure you also plan ahead.

Thirdly, identify the Operating System you are using, or intend to use (should you want to upgrade this too). This part will play a particular role especially in newer laptops that support over 4GB of memory. 32bit versions of Windows (NT, 2000, XP, Vista and 7) only support up to 4GB of memory in total. In reality however much less of this is made available, this is because other devices in the laptop (i.e. the graphics card) need their own memory address space and this needs to fall within the 4GB range of memory addresses. If you plan to upgrade to 4GB or more you need to be running a 64bit version of Windows XP, Vista o 7 as otherwise a vast chunk of the additional memory will not be usable by your software, if otherwise stay below 4GB in total. Older laptops that run Windows 98 or Me (both 16/32bit hybrid Operating Systems) have problems when more than 512MB of memory is installed (even if the memory controller supports it). Windows 95 based laptops are also problematic and realistically work best with up to 64MB memory (again, regardless if the memory controller supports more).

Now, gather and think through all the findings, these along with the knowledge learned above should enable you to make an expert guess and help you decide whether a laptop memory upgrade is indeed right for you.

Find out how much memory your laptop requires for different types of software.

In summary

Be sure to extract the fundamental truths from the above. Always remember that each time you hear “upgrading memory will boost your computer’s performance” (or any derivative of such statement) it is a generic deposition and therefore usually only valid to a specific use case (i.e. what the laptop is used for).

Furthermore, appreciate that the processor, memory and hard drive (or solid state drive) in your laptop are three key contributors to overall system performance and all influence each other’s potential. As a result, you need to take into account the age and speed of each when determining how much significance any further laptop memory upgrade will have to system performance. Finally, ask yourself some questions that expressly concern what you use your laptop for at present but also what you intend to use it for in the foreseeable future. At the same time, take into account your laptop’s Operating System remembering the limitations of older versions of Windows (95, 98 and Me) and that of 32bit versions of newer versions of Windows (NT, 2000, XP, Vista and 7).

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