(Thanks to Scotteq for saving this answer on a file so others can post it when this qustion is asked at least once a week. To the mods: can we have a sticky about this using Scotteq's file as the main post?)
In 32 bit Windows operating systems, the total addressable space available is 4GB. If you installed total 4GB memory, the system will detect less than 4GB of total memory because of address space allocation for other critical functions, such as:
- System BIOS (including motherboard, add-on cards, etc..)
- Motherboards resources
- Memory mapped I/O
- Configuration for AGP/PCI-Ex/PCI
- Other memory allocations for PCI devices
Different onboard devices and different add-on cards (devices) will result of different total memory size. e.g. more PCI cards installed will require more memory resources, resulting of less memory free for other uses.
This limitation applies to most chipsets & Windows XP/Vista 32-bit version operating systems.
If you install a Windows operating system, if more than 3GB memory is required for your system, then the below conditions should be met:
1. The memory controller which supports memory swap functionality is used. The latest chipsets like Intel 975X, 955X, Nvidia NF4 SLI Intel Edition, Nvidia NF4 SLI X16, AMD K8 and newer architectures can support the memory swap function.
2. Windows XP Pro X64 Ed. (64-bit), Windows Vista 64, or other OS which can address more than 4GB memory.
Note: According to the latest Change Log published my Microsoft, Windows Vista 32bit SP1 will display the installed amount of RAM. This is a display change only.