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How Much RAM Do You Need?

A simple RAM upgrade could make your laptop perform like a champ.


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ram_8gb_sh.jpgThe mainstreaming of 64-bit operating systems such as Mac OS X Snow Leopard and Windows 7 has given computer users the option to pack their notebooks with more RAM than ever before. While 32-bit versions of Mac OS X and Windows can accept up to 4GB of RAM, their 64-bit counterparts have a virtually limitless supply; you can install 8GB, 16GB, 32GB or more depending on your model.

With such a vast amount of memory now available to keep our computers running smoothly when executing tasks, the knee-jerk desire may be to pack in as much RAM as possible—but is the performance delta worth the cost of purchasing pricey high-capacity RAM kits? We decided to find out by running performance tests with 8GB of RAM.

The Gear

For this test, we returned to our Gateway P-7808u FX testbed (a system containing a 2.0-GHz Intel Core 2 Q9000 quad-core CPU and the Windows Vista Home Premium operating system), and installed 8GB of Kingston 1.06-GHz DDR3 RAM (two 4GB sticks valued at $400 each).

We then launched four programs using our custom application open test: Adobe Photoshop CS4, Adobe Reader 9, Firefox 3, and Microsoft Word 2007. We also performed each test while stressing the notebook by compressing a 4.97GB mixed-media folder in the background. Finally, we ran PCMark Vantage, a synthetic test that gauges a notebook’s performance in Vista. We ran each benchmark three times, and took the average for our results.

The Performance

With 8GB of RAM installed, the Gateway P-7808u FX opened Adobe Photoshop in 13 seconds, Adobe Reader in 7 seconds, Firefox in 4 seconds, and Microsoft Word in 5 seconds. The Adobe Reader, Firefox, and Microsoft Word times were comparable to the ones seen when we ran the tests with 4GB of RAM installed (10, 5, and 7 seconds, respectively), but Adobe Photoshop saw a near 50-percent drop when the open time went from 24 to 13 seconds. The system’s 4,886 PCMark Vantage score was just over 1,000 points higher than the 3,885 desktop replacement average, but only 10 points higher than when we ran the test with 4GB of RAM installed.

The true performance delta was seen when we stressed the system by opening applications while simultaneously compressing the 4.97GB folder. Adobe Photoshop, Firefox, and Microsoft Word all saw incredibly reduced times of 59, 13, and 14 seconds, respectively. With 4GB of RAM installed, they opened in 1:43, 40 seconds, and 44 seconds, respectively. The only application open time that didn’t see a marked speed difference was when we stress-tested Adobe Reader, which measured 43 seconds with 4GB of RAM installed, and 41 seconds with 8GB.

ram_8gb_chart.jpg

Verdict

Although 4GB of RAM may be the current standard of RAM excellence, 64-bit operating systems will allow you to cram in at least double that and, for the most part, see a strong performance boost. Price, naturally, will be the biggest prohibitive factor, but if you’re a power user who wants your machine to run as smoothly as possible, it’s definitely worth the splurge.

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