It's been said that you can never have enough money, and the same holds true for RAM, especially if you do a lot of graphics-intensive work or gaming. Next to the CPU itself, RAM is the most important factor in computer performance. If you don't have enough, adding RAM can make more of a difference than getting a new CPU!
If your system responds slowly or accesses the hard drive constantly, then you need to add more RAM. If you are running Windows XP, Microsoft recommends 128MB as the minimum RAM requirement. At 64MB, you may experience frequent application problems. For optimal performance with standard desktop applications, 256MB is recommended. If you are running Windows 95/98, you need a bare minimum of 32 MB, and your computer will work much better with 64 MB.
Windows NT/2000 needs at least 64 MB, and it will take everything you can throw at it, so you'll probably want 128 MB or more.
If you run Windows XP, it is probably in the range of 512 MB to 1 GB (get 2 GB to cover all your extra needs).
Windows Vista (64-bit) lists 1 GB of RAM as minimum, 4 GB is recommended.
Microsoft recommends a minimum of 1 GB of RAM for 32-bit versions of the Windows 7 operating system, and a minimum of 2 GB for 64-bit versions. If you plan on taking advantage of the Windows XP Mode feature, you should bump those requirements up to include an additional 1 GB of RAM. In general, it is highly advised to use 4 GB of RAM for both, especially if you're running a 64-bit version.
Linux works happily on a system with only 4 MB of RAM. If you plan to add X-Windows or do much serious work, however, you'll probably want 64 MB. Mac OS X systems should have a minimum of 128 MB, or for optimal performance, 512 MB.
The amount of RAM listed for each system above is estimated for normal usage -- accessing the Internet, word processing, standard home/office applications and light entertainment. If you do computer-aided design (CAD), 3-D modeling/animation or heavy data processing, or if you are a serious gamer, then you will most likely need more RAM. You may also need more RAM if your computer acts as a server of some sort (Web pages, database, application, FTP or network).
Multiple software threads that run all at once every time you boot up your PC continue to proliferate. Multitasking software includes what we really need, such as anti-virus tools or firewall software, or useful programs to which we have all grown accustomed that permanently run in the background until they need our direct attention. Most users, for example, have their email client and browser permanently available. Instant messengers such as AIM, ICQ MSN or YIM increasingly pop up on a growing number of desktops, while a media player plays music while you work. And all of these consume some memory, leaving fewer resources available for applications that you want to launch.
Another question is how much VRAM you want on your video card. Almost all cards that you can buy today have at least 16 MB of RAM. This is normally enough to operate in a typical office environment. You should probably invest in a 32-MB or better graphics card if you want to do any of the following:
- Play realistic games
- Capture and edit video
- Create 3-D graphics
- Work in a high-resolution, full-color environment
- Design full-color illustrations
When shopping for video cards, remember that your monitor and computer must be capable of supporting the card you choose.
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