Speed up computers - get more memory

Expert Guide Aug 19, 2008

Getting more computer memory can significantly boost your PC, making it faster and more stable. Here are 10 tips on how to speed up computers.

How much RAM do you have?
Just right-click the My Computer (in Windows XP) or Computer (in Vista) icon on your Desktop and select Properties from the menu. On the General tab, you’ll see the name of the computer manufacturer, the processor type and the amount of RAM

How much memory is available?
Click Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Information, and make sure System Summary is selected in the window that opens. Among the information displayed on the right-hand side, you'll find figures for the total physical memory and the available physical memory on your PC. You can get a live update on the amount of available memory by right-clicking the Taskbar, selecting Task Manager and then clicking the Performance tab.

How much memory do you need?
Aim for 1GB of RAM, which will reduce start-up and shut-down times, make software launch faster and let you switch from one program to another more quickly. Vista will run even faster with 2GB of RAM at its disposal, which is recommended as the ideal amount for most users.

Add memory the easy way
USB flash memory drives are cheap and provide lots of potential storage space. Plug one into a Windows Vista PC and a feature called ReadyBoost will employ it as extra RAM. Connect the memory drive to a spare USB port and, when the AutoPlay box opens, select ‘Speed up my System’. You can decide how much space on the drive to allocate as memory.

Identify memory modules
There are many different types of memory module – they contain the RAM ‘chips’ – and you don’t need to open your PC to find out what’s installed. Simply run the free programs CPU-Z or PC Wizard (both are available from www.cpuid.com) and they’ll give you the details. Alternatively, memory supplier Crucial provides online facilities such as the Crucial System Scanner tool.

Install more memory
For optimum performance, buy a pair of identical memory modules, such as two that offer 512MB or 1GB of RAM. If you currently have one memory module, get an identical one to make a pair. Don't mix and match sizes or types. Crucial is a good place to buy from, and provides an installation guide, but you could also try Dabs.com or Expansys.

Optimise the page file
Right-click the My Computer or Computer icon on your Desktop, select Properties and click the Advanced tab (Advanced System Settings in Vista). In the Performance section, select Settings, click the Advanced tab here and then click the Change button in the Virtual Memory section. Windows sets the size of the page file by default, but you can tweak it to boost performance. Select 'Custom size:' and make sure the initial figure is at least 1000MB. If you have two disk drives, select the first disk and set No Paging File, then select the second and create a 1000MB page file.

Memory monitors
If your PC is running slowly, you should keep an eye on the amount of memory that's free to use. Right-click the Taskbar and select Task Manager, then click the Performance tab to see the amount of memory available. If it falls below 200MB in XP, or the percentage used in Vista rises above 75 per cent, then you need to buy more RAM. Alternatively, run Auslogics System Information and view the information in the Memory Usage section.

Memory boosters
Memory boosters and memory optimisers are utilities that increase the amount of available RAM for running programs. They do this by forcing Windows to store rarely accessed data in the page file so that the memory it occupied can be used by another program. This program will subsequently load and run faster, but at the expense of programs that are minimised or running in the background. Try these free XP tools to optimise your memory: WinCleaner and RAM Optimizer.

Stop unwanted programs loading with Windows
Press the Windows key and R – or go to Start, Run – then enter 'msconfig' (without the quote marks) and click OK. Select the Startup tab and you'll see all the programs that start with Windows. Clear the ticks against any that aren't necessary. If you're not sure whether a program is needed, look it up at the Startup Applications List.