How's Your Memory?

This is not a quiz to determine whether you tend to lose your keys or forget to pick up milk for the kids. “How’s your memory?” is a question IT people frequently ask when clients report unusually slow running computers, system freezes and crashes, and other seemingly ominous symptoms. So the next time your PC Tech asks about your memory, here is what you need to know:

Types of Memory Used- There are two types of memory or storage that your computer uses: RAM – Random Access Memory and the hard drive. RAM is a temporary memory (stored on physical “sticks” of “chips” that fit into “slots” on the motherboard) that the operating system uses to open and run applications. RAM is used to help perform the instructions the programs need to operate. RAM only holds data while the computer is on. The hard drive, however, will store data whether the computer is on or off. The memory on the hard drive is used to save information (usually on spinning magnetic “disks” that use an arm to “write” data to the drive) entered or created using the programs on the computer. A larger hard drive will not cause the PC to run faster; it will just be able to store more data.

Thus, when a PC Tech asks about your memory, he/she is usually referring to your RAM… because the more RAM you have, the faster and more effectively the computer will run. This is important when multiple programs/applications are open simultaneously; users notice the computer runs considerably slower because all the programs have to share the limited RAM to carry out their duties. Sometimes when only one or two programs are open, RAM utilization will suddenly spike or run high: This can be a sign of a virus. Excessive memory usage can also occur because installing normal applications can cause a small piece of the software (called a “process”) to run silently in the background, taking away usable memory for other applications. It’s possible to have a hundred or more processes running at once and not have many programs running. (See picture for an example.)

Look at the Red oval. This computer has 109 processes running in the background, but there are NOT 109 programs open at the same time. Instead, these little pieces/processes from installed programs start up and silently steal RAM every time the PC is turned on.

Increased RAM Needs- In the above example, the blue circle indicates this computer is using 2.75 GB of memory. The blue arrow points to this computer with 3959 MB Total memory. To convert MB into GB, divide the MB total by 1000, which calculates to 3.9 or 4GB of RAM installed. In this sitution, the computer is only using 2.75 GB of 4 GB total RAM installed. Therefore, memory utilization is within acceptable ranges. If the computer’s task manager indicates that nearly 100% of the Total RAM is being used for excessive periods of time, there is a problem that needs to be addressed immediately. For users who primarily create/edit graphics and high quality images, increasing the device’s physical RAM is almost a requirement.

Super-Size Hard Drives- In the illustration below, the blue oval indicates the status of the main operating system hard drive. With the total size of a 74.5 GB hard drive (commonly rounded up and marketed as “80 GB” by manufacturers) the drive shows 32.9 GB of free space remaining. Realistically, the drive is nearly half full, and in the event the user plans on storing more music, videos, or pictures, a larger hard drive will be needed soon. If the hard drive had over 100 GB of free space, the drive space would likely be sufficient. Nevertheless, with video rendering, high quality graphic manipulation, and intense data storage, it is not uncommon for 500 MB drives to fill quickly. (And don’t forget to have an equally large, separate backup drive in case you primary hard drive fails!)

Upgrading Existing PCs- Whether the computer or laptop is running slowly or nearing its hard drive’s max capacity, it may be time to consider upgrading the RAM and/or the hard drive. To determine if it is more cost effective to upgrade the parts rather than replace the entire device, first consider the hardware’s age. If the device is between 3 to 5 years old, maxing out the RAM on the motherboard and cloning your smaller hard drive onto a much larger hard drive is worth the cost by increased productivity. When devices are older than 5 years, the technology has changed enough to reconsider dumping money into an elderly computer. At PCTech, we usually advise clients that “if upgrading is more than half the cost to a new one, then it may be a better choice to replace your computer instead.” Particularly when an upgrade costs more than half of a new device, it’s a better return on investment to purchase a new computer (that comes with a faster processor and a warranty!) than to pay to repair an older system with a dwindling lifespan.

Need For More Speed- In most cases, the increased speed and worker productivity is worth the cost of a RAM upgrade; yet, RAM is usually the last part upgraded before the device is replaced. Why is such a beneficial modification delayed for so long? Because while upgrading the memory seems like a simple task, there are many criteria that must be met before new/more RAM will work in a computer. How much total physical memory can the motherboard accept and the operating system recognize? What type of RAM “slot” is on the motherboard? How many slots are available? What speed of RAM does the slot require? Does RAM have to be installed in pairs? Also, how does one avoid damaging the RAM when static electricity is ever present? Even with a DIY guide on how to upgrade the RAM on a PC, it is recommended that only IT professionals open the computer case to ensure the proper RAM is installed and to prevent accidental damage to other electrical components.

If you are interested in a FREE quote for a memory upgrade, or if you are in the market for buying a new computer or laptop, PCTech is partnered with DELL to bring you fast, reliable, cost effective hardware. If you’re still considering how to spend your IT budget, PCTech is pleased to provide you a proposal for a new computer and the time to setup and transfer your files to your new system.


  • Types of Memory Used
  • Increased RAM Needs
  • Super-Size Hard Drives
  • Upgrading Existing PCs
  • Need For More Speed