Jump to content

All about Memory - Hard Drives vs RAM


Recommended Posts

  • I want to increase the RAM on my computer..."
  • "Will adding more RAM to my computer speed things up?"
  • "If I update the RAM in my computer, is there really THAT much of a performance boost/gain?"
  • "My computer is telling me I don't have enough memory. I just cleared off a bunch of stuff and still have the error message. What's wrong?"
  • "I won't lose anything by adding RAM, right?"


The example questions above are all about the same thing, RAM or Random Access Memory. It's the part of the computer that your opened software and background processes work in. It's not only your photo that you are editing, but the programs you are using, it's the browser that's opened, or the iTunes or Pandora that's running in the background while you edit. EVERY file that is being utilized from the Operating system to the processes running in the background occupy a little slice of the RAM in order to work. A hard drive memory number is something different, that's storage. Here is a basic example that I learned years ago from a Senior Technician....



Think of a computer as a Library.

You are the CPU, the Processor, the person who wants to gain knowledge or accomplish a task from the Library. So you head over to the card catalog (or these days, a computer or even your smartphone) and look up an index to see where the book is located that contains the answer to your question. So you find out where you need to head to in the Library and head over to one of the bookcases.  The bookcase is the Hard Drive. It stores and houses the books. While standing at the bookcase, you notice that the books are in a particular order and are located on a particular shelf. The shelf is known as the Partition. Now, the "Rules" say that the books must be organized neatly and the books can't be on top of one another or crammed against each other while in the bookcase. Oh...they must be easily accessible at all times and have a small gap in-between them so that you can pull them from the shelf without effort.

You pull the book off the shelf, walk to where your are sitting and place it on the table. That book is the Software or Program that you want to use. It could be Word, Firefox, Photoshop, Lightroom, whatever. It's a program that now occupies space on the table that you are sitting at. The RAM, in this example, is the Library Table. You aren't quite finished with the current book, but you need more info from another one to complete your task. No problem, you look a the index and head over to the appropriate shelf and pull the new book. "The Rules" also state that the books CAN NOT overlap on the table, but can be next to each other. Oh, and the sides of the book can't go over the edges of the table. Everything must fit within the table/desk's edges...

So you pull the 2nd book and put in next to the 1st one and keep researching/working.Now, if you have a lot of RAM, in other words...a very LARGE table/desk, you can have lots of books and utilize them all-at-once. Everything works effortlessly. You get stuff done. But what happens when you pull a very large book like one of those HUGE atlases before we had Google Maps? The "Rules" say you can't overlap books and everything needs to fit on the table without going over the sides. Hmm...

Well let's face it, there aren't just books on the table; there are purses, backpacks, pencils, pens, paper, etc. that are also on the table and occupy space. These items are the "background processes" that your software and operating systems use. Windows calls these items "Services." A Print Spooler is a type of Service. A antivirus program running in the background is a book that you aren't reading, but is sitting there on the table.  The table just doesn't only have opened books on them; if that book is on the table, it is occupying a section of real-estate on the table, even if you aren't actively using it.

Well, you either need to remove some books and put them back on the shelf to clear up working space, or you have to shuffle things around, like your backpack, laptop, paper, pens/pencils and the existing books on the table.  It takes time and effort shuffling things around. You like reading a book in front of you, not stretching your neck across the table/desk. So you MUST shuffle stuff around. Things take longer to accomplish. You get tired from moving all the items around. You might even get sweaty and overheated....See how this is like a computer? As the CPU, the harder you have to work, the hotter you get and the slower you run. By having a large enough table to to you work from, makes things easier for you. There is a lot less effort on your part, and tasks are done without thinking. Stuff just gets done.

If your bookcase (i.e. Hard Drive) becomes too full, bad things can happen. Not only does it take the CPU a bit longer to pull the book from the shelf, having too many books on the shelf can cause it to collapse, in which case the Librarian must come over and attempt to recover the books and put them in their proper order. While they do this, you can't accomplish anything and are left waiting. Sometimes you even have to pay a "fine..." That's why I always state that Hard Drives are not dumping grounds. You can't keep piling items on the bookshelf without any sort of repercussion. Sooner or later a full hard drive, or in this example a bookshelf, will crash.


Now I'm sure if you have made it this far, you are wondering how cache memory fits in this example. Cache Memory (or Swap Files, Scratch Disks, etc.) is an area on the bookshelf that is next to the table. This bookshelf can be the one you pulled the book from, or another bookshelf located in the library, usually one close-by to the table. You are allowed to temporarily put your books that you want to use on the empty shelf from the table. You don't want to close the book, you just need a "helping spot" in order to complete your task(s). But you have to keep getting up and walking over to that bookshelf to read that book, even if it's only a few feet away. It takes longer doing it this way, but it's a way to supplement the lack of space on the table. So cache memory is an area on the hard drive that is utilized or treated as RAM. That is why if you have a "Full Bookcase," you won't have much space left-over for cache files. That is why Bridge or Photoshop complain about not having enough room for their Scratch Disk.

Make sense?

When this bookcase gets really full and disorganized, Photoshop complains that there is something wrong with the Scratch Disk. It just does not have room on the bookshelf to work properly and is asking for more resources/space. Remember, the rules say everything MUST be neat and tidy. What PS is asking is for you to clean off that shelf and put things back to where they were, or throw them away if they aren't needed. So yes, adding more RAM to your computer WILL make things faster and work better. You WILL NOT "lose" anything on your HD by adding or replacing your RAM. The main benefit is your CPU doesn't sweat as much and your computer "breathes" easier. Currently, it's good to have a MINIMUM OF 16GB these days, with 32GB-64GB being preferred. If you have the ability and funds to max out your RAM to 32GB or even 64GB, go for it. There is no such thing as "Too Much RAM" or "Too Much Hard Drive Space." More is better.

Now here is the one caveat: The Operating System. A 32-Bit OS, like really older versions of Windows:  XP, Vista & some versions of Windows 7, will only "see" RAM up to 4GB, EVEN IF the motherboard in your computer supports more. In reality, a 32-Bit Windows system will usually only show 3.5GB on a 4GB system. Things get a little weird in the 32-bit world with larger HD's and larger RAM pools to use.  Fortunately in 2019, this isn't as big of an issue since most, if not all, current operating systems are 64-bit based.  With a 64-Bit Operating System, you can increase your RAM to 32GB with no problems. If fact, Windows 10 Home 64-bit supports 128GB of RAM and the Windows 10 Pro Versions support up to 2 Terabytes of RAM!!! But we are a long way from that number. By then, I have a feeling a 128-Bit OS will be the new "norm" and the ability to go even higher than 2 Terabytes will be supported. 

"OK, so you have convinced me, I want to add more RAM for my computer..."  Head to Crucial.com and select the "System Scanner" tab. Then click on the "Scan my Computer" button. It will prompt you to download the scanning software. Go ahead and download / run it, it's harmless. After you run their scanning tool, it should take you to a page with your RAM options.

DO NOT PAY ATTENTION TO THE SSD DRIVES IT RECOMMENDS! That topic is for a whole other discussion. I swear, more people focus on that because they are so used to talking about storage space (Hard Drive) and not working memory (RAM.)

But I digress...

If you look at the top left column of the page Crucial takes you to, it will tell you what is currently installed, how much your system can go up to (max-out) and what is in each slot. On the right has it's recommended "kits," again we are aiming for 16GB-32GB these days. Now some computers have a limited number of slots, in which you will have to remove the existing RAM and install larger sticks. Other computers have empty slots in which you get to keep your existing RAM and just add on to it. (Best option.) Sometimes you have to pull the smaller sticks out of the existing slots and add the larger Crucial.com sticks and then put the existing RAM in the empty slots. YMMV. It really depends on your computer.

Bottom Line: Yes!! Upgrade your RAM if you have the funds and ability. Just like Hard Drive Storage Capacity, there is no such thing as "Too Much" RAM.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This topic is now closed to further replies.
  • Create New...