Bits & P.C.s: Add more money

Now that Santa has brought you that new computer, it’s time to spend some money fixin’ it up. No, I’m not crazy, but unless the computer has at least 512MB of memory, you should spend the $50 or so to add more.

The reason for this is that Microsoft states that Windows XP will run in 64MB of RAM. In reality, if you want to run any programs you will need a minimum of 128MB. Some of the computers are coming with 256MB, which is OK if you are only running one program at a time. If you are running a spreadsheet and a word processor together, you will see a performance increase when you take the memory up to 512MB.

Another often overlooked fact about memory is that many of the computers sold today have the video adapter built into the system board. In the past, a separate video card was installed that contained its own memory. What you view on the screen is actually the video memory that is sent to the monitor. The more memory that is used for video, the higher the screen resolution can be or the graphics may be more complex or faster.

With the computers that have the video built in a portion of the system, RAM is used. On some computers this may be up to 32MB. If you only have 128MB in the computer, your available memory is down to 96MB. When you take away the 64MB that XP requires, you will be left with only 32MB for your program to run.

With this small amount of memory available to the program, XP will start to use the pagefile. The pagefile is space on your hard drive that Windows uses to allow programs to run that require more physical memory than what is available. Since the hard drive is much slower than RAM, the program will slow down, and the computer may lock-up or appear to freeze as the data is written to or read from the hard drive.

When you add the additional memory, the video will still take its 32MB and XP its 64MB, but with 512MB you will still have 416MB available for your programs. This allows the programs to run in RAM and will minimize the use of the pagefile. This means that the program will function better and the occurrences of lock-ups and freezes will be much less.

Another low-cost addition for the cable and DSL modem users is a router. The router is a device that has two functions—it will allow you to connect more than one computer to the Internet at a time, and it will also provide you with a hardware firewall. The firewall function is important; since you have an always on Internet, connection, it will prevent intruders from gaining access to your computer.

Even if you only have one computer connected to the Internet the router is a good idea. They only sell for around $50: a software firewall will cost about the same.

Richard Heller is an independent computer specialist who specializes in repairs, installation, upgrades, technical support, Internet sharing, data recovery and diagnostics. If you have any computer or service-related questions, please send them to The Rock River Times, e-mail, or call 243-1162.

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