Is more memory the answer to my problems?
February 18, 2013 3:24 AM   Subscribe

I've got a four-year old PC running vista. It's got 4gb Ram and a 1tb storage. It's never been a high performer, but lately its been running really slow, especially on start up and getting really clunky when I have, say, four of five applications running. I've been considering buying more RAM to speed things up a little. Is more memory the answer to my problems?
posted by MrMerlot to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You probably won't see any increase in speed if you add more RAM. You'd be much better off buying a SSD and installing the operating system and applications on it (your personal documents, music, movies, etc can stay on the 1tb drive). You'd also probably see a major improvement by installing Windows 7 - in general, it's faster and more responsive than Vista (Windows 8 is even faster, but you may not want to choose 8 until you've had a chance to use it for a while and see if you're ok with all of the changes in the interface).
posted by helios at 3:31 AM on February 18, 2013

I don't know if you are already familiar with the Windows Task Manager and how it can monitor CPU and memory usage, but here's a short tip on how to gather some data with it just in case.

Start the Task Manager with Control+Shift+Escape (quickest way) and switch to the Performance tab. Use your computer normally for a while, and check regularly in the Task Manager how much CPU and memory is being used.

If you see that your computer is consistently low on available memory, then adding more memory might be helpful. Otherwise I am going to side with helios and guess that it will help very little.

I don't know enough about Windows or suitable programs to track what is going on during the start up, but if it seems too slow, you should look at these too. There may be various reasons for Windows starting slowly, and you can often fix them in other ways instead of adding more memory. Perhaps someone else here can suggest good ways to find out what you computer is doing, and for how long, while it starts up.
posted by tykky at 3:59 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

You probably have 32-bit Vista which probably doesn't work with more than 4 gigs of ram. If I am wrong, but more ram - it's cheap. For a real boost get an SSD.
posted by devnull at 4:28 AM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Bear in mind also that in order to address more than 4 Gb of RAM, your computer needs to have a 64-bit processor and a 64-bit operating system (4 Gb = 2^32 bits). I don't know whether you're using a 32-bit or 64-bit processor, but if it's 32-bit, then that means you'll need a new motherboard & CPU, plus an operating system reload... Honestly, if it were going to be that much trouble, I would look into a new computer rather than upgrading the old one, unless you just enjoy tinkering at that level.
posted by TazmanianDevilWorshipper at 4:35 AM on February 18, 2013

Memory almost certainly is not the problem; 4GB is a lot, and I'd bet quite a bit that you are not using all of it now. I would consider the SSD, and/or a clean-up of your environment. Things like CCleaner can help to identify cruft that's slowing your boot times.
posted by ellF at 4:39 AM on February 18, 2013

How full is the drive? Maybe free some space and do a defrag. Your downloads folder is a good place to start cleaning up some space.

Also you could check what's loading when the computer starts.

Do this by opening "Run..." (Windows key + R) then typing "msconfig" Check the startup tab. You will find that most stuff is fair game (Adobe update manager in memory? Yup, I need to update acrobat stat!!!!)
posted by mattoxic at 4:42 AM on February 18, 2013

Agree. I am using a platform in that age category with Win7 and it's zippy as hell.

When stuff like this suddenly 'happens', it doesn't recommend an upgrade, it suggests a troubleshoot is needed. Since you are asking a basic question, I'm thinking that you need some help to tweak it.

If you feel absolutely adventurous, vista to win7 may buy you a lot more performance. Memory, not so much. Tweaking? ALmost certainly will improve the experience.
posted by FauxScot at 4:44 AM on February 18, 2013

I would try the following things first.

1. Assuming you already have an antivirus program - run that. (If you do not - uh, get one pronto.)

2.. Download and run the (free!) program CCleaner. Run BOTH the disc cleanup and the registry cleanup in CCleaner.

3. Download and run the (free!) program Soluto. This will tell you about programs that are automatically loaded and running in the background when you boot up, and - more importantly - whether you can tell your computer NOT to load any of them.

Those three tweaks will probably help a lot.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:20 AM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

A clean install of windows, if possible for you, would get you the most bang for your buck. Then SSD. More ram never hurts... it'll help the DWM if nothing else.
posted by jeffamaphone at 8:56 AM on February 18, 2013

Count me as in the "fresh install" camp, assuming you have install media for your operating system and the programs you need (and be sure to make a backup of your files!). It's less messy and more thorough than running antivirus, then cleaning out the registry, then startup programs, etc. If you can do it, take the step up to 7, as you'll be able to get much better support if you go to forums for answers to questions relating to your machine (due to the larger user base). And to second an above commenter, when you notice it getting clunky, open up your task manager and sort by CPU - there's maybe some bizarre process that's hogging all your CPU cycles...Google the process name and see what it's about.
posted by antonymous at 10:11 AM on February 18, 2013

4GiB of RAM is plenty. Your PC needs maintaining, not beefing up.

Does it make a lot of fan noise? If so, when did you last blow all the dust out of your CPU cooler? If this computer is four years old and you've never actually been inside it, there's a good chance that it's simply clogged with dust and throttling back the CPU speed to avoid overheating.

If you see that your computer is consistently low on available memory, then adding more memory might be helpful.

Vista is consistently low on available memory by design.
posted by flabdablet at 4:33 PM on February 18, 2013

In addition to the lovely suggestions by EmpressCallipygos I would run a disk defrag.
posted by getawaysticks at 5:51 PM on February 18, 2013

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