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You Want 4 GB RAM on Your Notebook?

You Want 4 GB RAM on Your Notebook?
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ram scaling notebooks

The question of how much RAM you really need is discussed roughly once every two years, and with every launch of a new Windows version. While there are so-called sweet spots at any given time, factors such as the operating system and popular applications have an influence on the ideal amount of RAM as well. 512 MB RAM can be considered the minimum memory capacity to execute Windows XP or Windows Vista today. However, anything less than 1 GB will have a noticeable performance impact, as the operating system will swap data onto your hard drive—which brings down performance and battery runtime on notebooks. Given that, we looked at the opposite end of the equation: what would happen if you went for a comfortable 4 GB RAM capacity on your notebook?

While this question may appear exaggerated for most users, there is one important factor that should be brought into the equation: RAM prices have been falling continuously during the last 12 months. This mainly applies to desktop memory, but notebook DIMMs have also become extremely affordable.

Let’s look at some examples: a 2x 2-GB SO-DIMM kit (DDR2-667) can be found for less than 60 Euros in Europe or for less than $80 in the US. 2 GB notebook memory kits (1x 1 GB) start at only or $38. These prices don’t apply for the best-in-class products you can find, but for the best prices we found on brand products. If you relate the memory cost to the price of a decent laptop, you’ll realize that an investment of $40 or even $80 for 4 GB of RAM is more than reasonable, despite the fact that a 32-bit Windows operating system cannot utilize the entire amount.

ram scaling notebooks

Corsair’s XMS2 DDR2-800 DHX RAM (TWIN2X2048-6400C4DHX) has dropped from almost 150 Euros to about 40 Euros within one year. Although we looked at the German price comparison platform at Geizhals.at, these DIMMs currently start at $79 in the US.

Related articles:

Vista Workshop: More RAM, More Speed

Tom’s Ultimate RAM Speed Tests

How Much RAM Do You Really Need?

Parallel Processing, Part 2: RAM and HDD (Single vs. Dual Channel)

The New Arms Race: DDR3-1800 RAM

Hardcore DDR2 RAM by Corsair, G.Skill, OCZ and Patriot

Analysis: Vista ReadyBoost is no Match for RAM

Windows Vista’s SuperFetch and ReadyBoost Analyzed

A New RAM Hard Drive from HyperOS

Display 17 Comments.
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  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , April 29, 2008 4:42 PM
    I like the review and have noticed a better system, especially with vista 64 but wish we could get even more right now.
  • 0 Hide
    Christopher1 , April 29, 2008 8:14 PM
    The problem with getting 'even more' is that most notebook motherboards are not made to deal with more than 4GB's memory.... in fact, I think I read that there was a problem with desktop motherboards before the latest ones when you tried to put in more than 4GB's memory.
  • 0 Hide
    IM0001 , April 29, 2008 8:43 PM
    I can for some part prove that battery life does go up with 4gb of ram. I have an older Toshiba A105-S4094 which has a Centrino Duo (pre Core 2 tech) T2250 @ 1.73Ghz. It came with 1.5GB (1 X 512mb 1 X 1Gb)that I later upgraded to duel 2gb sticks. It is only 32bit atm and pre SP1 Vista Ultimate (so it only sees 3gb) but with what I have, I disabled the swap file and run most everything just fine. Performance did increase a bit and my battery life went up about 30min or so when in power save mode with wireless on during my long late classes. I would think that having the harddrive shuffle less would definitly cause the battery to last a bit longer and well looks like my hunches were right.
  • 0 Hide
    anonymous x , April 29, 2008 10:14 PM
    very nice, but i'll stick with 2 GB ram
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , April 29, 2008 11:13 PM
    "...at the German price comparison platform...." It is a AUSTRIAN platform. Let them be pride of something...
  • 0 Hide
    johnbilicki , April 30, 2008 3:42 AM
    Who in their right mind would leave virtual memory enabled? The most I've ever used is roughly 1.4GB in XP though Vista will cache things immediately after it's installed without knowing what I'll actually bother to use. This is just as bad as virtual memory!

    I'll stick with XP and my 2GB of Corsair until a version of Linux that doesn't require you to wander in to the console every five minutes comes along.

    ...one nice thing though is that the reviews consider reasonably priced equipment. I don't care about 8800 Ultras, 9800GX2s, or thousand dollar CPUs. I've got more important priorities then trying to impress people who aren't getting any work done.
  • 0 Hide
    Phrexianghoul , April 30, 2008 6:09 AM
    This may seem like a silly question, but at the rate which SSHD's are gaining capacity and speed wouldn't that make DDR memory a thing of the past? At least i hope there will come a point in which read and write times to/from a SSHD would be as fast as the latest DDR2/3 memory and beyond. And if SSHD could achieve such speeds i think it would be completely possible to remove system memory and partition of a section of the HD to serve as the systems memory. And in the event that one could do this, one could easily adjust the memory as needed. The only limitation that i see would be in the operating systems ability to handle "x" amount of memory. Now this may not work at all, but it was a thought that had occurred to me while i was reading the article.
  • 0 Hide
    JPForums , April 30, 2008 1:25 PM
    Lets explore that thought shall we.
    The fastest SSD I've seen has read/write speeds of approximately 110MBps/80MBps and an access latency of about 0.1ms.
    If significantly faster SSDs are currently for sale, please forgive me for not keeping up with storage tech the way I used to. (BTW, FusionIO is neither an SSD nor affordable outside of datacenters)

    To simplify things we'll just use the faster of the two.
    110MBps = 880 Mbps
    This is roughly the effective throughput of single channel DDR-400 on an AthlonXP chipset. (Memtest86(+))
    It is a little more than half the effective throughput of the single channel DDR-400 controller on the socket 754 Athlon 64 systems.
    It is less than a quarter of the effective throughput of the dual channel DDR2-800 controller on an Athlon64 X2.
    I don't have readily available numbers on an Intel DDR3 system, but you can see where this is going.
    (I could have put in Intel memory controller results and/or AthlonXP dual channel results, but these numbers fit better to get the general feel of things)

    These results aren't bad actually.
    SSDs may not have reached even the last generation of memory technology, but at least in throughput, they match RAM technology that was widely used to run Windows XP.

    Side note: If you use theoretical bandwidth, then SSDs can't reach DDR-400 (3200Mbps) until the interface gets upgraded to 4GHz (~400MBps).
    If the numbers seem funny to you, it's because I'm taking into account the 10/8 encoding scheme that SATA uses.

    The real kicker is the access time.
    0.1ms seems very fast in HDD terms, but on a 2GHz processor, this is about 200000 cycles of latency.
    Compare that to:
    150-165 cycles for the AthlonXPs
    125-140 cycles for P4s
    ~60 cycles for Athlon64s

    RAM is made to be accessed very often in relatively short bursts.
    Until SSDs can get the latency down, they have no hope of replacing RAM.

    If mass storage were as quick as RAM, you wouldn't dedicate part of it to be used as RAM.
    Rather, you would manipulate the files directly from the mass storage device.
    This would eliminate RAM all together, reducing overhead and potentially power consumption.
    Unfortunately, no current mass storage device has the potential to do that.
    I'm still waiting for MRAM to make its appearance.
    It used to hold promise, but after waiting so long I lost interest and stopped keeping up with it.
    Perhaps it can do what flash can not.
  • 1 Hide
    tphillips63 , April 30, 2008 1:30 PM
    That is good information but I would like to have seen 3GB numbers using a 2GB and a 1GB SODIMM.
  • 0 Hide
    notherdude , April 30, 2008 9:16 PM
    Well, if battery life goes up on a laptop that significantly would not power consumption on a desktop also improve? If so, this would be a noteworthy fact. I could easily see the extra ram paying for itself in energy savings not to mention helping the environment.
  • 0 Hide
    mmc4587 , May 1, 2008 5:33 AM
    If you wan't maximum battery with 2 or 3GB just turn off the swap-file.
  • -1 Hide
    windego , May 6, 2008 6:22 AM
    You could just turn off swap space. Then it wont use the harddrive, thus preserving battery life. I refuse to run vista, preferring Linux and xp in dual boot.

    Feeding the OS endless amounts of ram is not a long term solution to an underlying performance issue. I can run Ubuntu linux with all the fancy compiz-fusion eye candy with just 512mb and it's smooth. Vista doesn't run smooth even with 1gb; it's a real dog. I understand why everyone is avoiding it like the plague, except of course those poor unfortunates who bought into the Direct X 10 marketing fallacy, and others who bought a new machine with it preinstalled (microsoft tax).
  • 0 Hide
    Christopher1 , May 7, 2008 7:20 AM
    Just make sure that once you put in that 4GB's of RAM, that you TOTALLY disable the swap file on the hard drive. I've done that for my notebook, and it gets nearly 3 times the battery life that it did after putting in 4GB's of memory and before disabling the swap file totally.
  • 0 Hide
    sim5728 , August 2, 2008 10:14 AM
    Hi, Ive never taken a laptop completely apart before and was wondering how I would remove the keyboard to get to the second ram bay, any info and pics of the process u can give will be greatly appreciated, thx in advance :) 
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , August 19, 2008 1:02 AM
    I just recently purchased the ocz 4gb pc2 5400 (2x2gb) for d630 with winxp. I know that it can only recognize 3.5gb but my computer crashes everyweekend i take it home with blue screen. It only happens when I travel back from abilene to dallas (3hr drive) but I keep it in a laptop bag. Can I really have damaged or unseated the memory or do i just have bad memory to begin with? The install was done by dell certified techs and noticed that dell 2gb was pc5300 and ocz's were 5400, does that make a difference? Dunno if its user error with not handling laptop correctly( which i do) or just bad memory. Problem does not happen during time spent at school.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , September 4, 2008 8:32 PM
    I'm planning to upgrade my laptop's memory. Should I get two 1GB memory or one 2BG memory? Does it matter?

    Thank you!
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , September 13, 2008 3:07 PM
    just go 4gb, its only $40-70 (2 x2gb)= if u get 1 2gb stick u can have 3gb by replacing one slot