I often get asked what kind of memory to suggest for new system builds and I used to always recommend 1GB of memory in dual channel mode for optimal performance on today’s applications. With Windows Vista due out in 2006 and time running out in 2005 my recommendations for system memory may also change for the professional users, gamers, and enthusiasts. Here is what made me reconsider how much memory to recommend.
Microsoft Windows Vista:
Back in 2001 Microsoft released Windows XP Professional and set 64 MB as the minimum amount of memory that would be supported. If you have ever run Windows XP Pro with 64MB of memory then you know how slow and bad Windows performed. When I ran my Intel P3 800MHz system with 64MB of PC-100 memory with Windows XP Pro I found myself unhappy with my user experience even though Microsoft said it would run it. Keep that in mind when you learn that Windows Vista has a basic system requirement of 512MB of memory and a strong suggestion for 1 GB of memory or more. Yes, that did say 1GB or more of system memory. Microsoft goes on to say that if your typical workload is heavy, you do a lot of image editing or development, or you run multiple applications all the time, more than 1GB is needed for you. More than 1GB of memory would more than likely mean 2GB to 4GB, which can be easily reached by using 1GB DDR2 or DDR1 memory modules.
64-bit Computer Processors:
The old 32-bit processors that we all loved such as the Intel Pentium 4 and the AMD Athlon XP, could not address more than 4GB of memory. While this was an issue the move to 64-Bit computing did away with those concerns. Did you know that the current Intel Pentium 4 (EM64T) and AMD Athlon 64 (AMD64) desktop computer processors can handle 1024GB (1 Terabyte) of memory? While the move from 4GB to 1TB is huge we still find the system limited by the operating system if it is not 64-bit.
64-bit Operating Systems:
While the 64-bit operating systems have been slow to market Microsoft is still in the process of launching Windows XP Professional x64. Windows XP Professional x64 supports up to 128 gigabytes (GB) of RAM and 16 terabytes of virtual memory, enabling applications to run/load faster when working with large data sets. Not bad considering Windows XP Professional can only address 4GB of system memory. This of course only works in conjunction with one of the 64-bit processors mentions above.
When looking at one of this years hottest game titles, BattleField 2 (BF2), it is clear that 1GB of memory hinders game performance by a significant amount. We noticed nearly a 20% increase in frames per second (FPS) in BF2 by doing nothing more than going from 1GB to 2GB of system memory at the same speed and CAS Latencies. It also proved to be beneficial (23-25% faster) in the emerging field of DVD encoding, which will only become more important as time goes on with HD DVD’s around the corner. World of Warcraft players will also notice that 2GB of memory is better than 512MB or 1GB as it is a memory intensive game also.
Nathan Kirsch’s Final Thoughts and Conclusions:
From 2003 to 2005 I have recommended 1GB of system memory for our readers building high end computers, but going into 2006 I must advise 2GB of system memory. Computer memory, like many things in life, is something you can never have too much of. You never see a forum post asking do I have too much memory or any computer company telling you not to go overkill on the system memory. While some people might say the memory companies are marketing their products to get sales and making you want something you don’t need, we find that to be untrue. I spoke with Corsair Memory about half a year ago when they started their 2GB marketing push (Posting 2GB testing results, sending out 2GB kits to reviewers, showing off 2GB kits at trade shows, and the price parity of 1GB from last year to 2GB of today) and I honestly didn’t jump on the bandwagon like many of you. Oh how the times change over just a few months!
I have personally already made the switch from 1GB to 2GB in my personal system and for image editing, encoding DVD’s, and gaming I do notice a difference. After calling around and talking with contacts at the memory and processor companies I found that nearly each and every person is running 2GB+ in their personal systems. In this day and age of multitasking with software and the future being even more demanding 2GB fits the bill nicely.
Although you are going to be spending more money now I feel an additional investment in additional memory is wise. As always when you buy memory be sure to purchase name brand memory such as Corsair, Kingston or OCZ to avoid bad quality knock-off memory modules. With memory you get what you pay for and unless Blue Screens Of Death (BSOD) are your friend and try your best to ignore the generic modules that fell off the back of a truck over in Taiwan. Also with a 2GB (2 x 1GB) memory module purchase you will have a couple memory slots open for future expansion, which is nice to have because you know there is room to add additional memory later when 2GB is not cutting it. Speaking of future expansion I hear FB-DIMM’s are coming along nicely and might even find their way into our desktop computers. If that is the case good bye 2GB-4GB memory kits and hello high density memory kits. FB-DIMM architecture overcomes the previous limitation of a two-to-four module capacity per channel, which means a system using FB-DIMM DRAM modules can have as many as eight modules without need to reduce the memory frequency (speed). That is a lot of memory considering that Samsung is working 8GB FB-DIMM modules.