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Teaching an Old Laptop new tricks

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pyramid Well it is Friday and before I go ahead and spend some time relaxing and enjoying my weekend I want to discuss something that I tested and can now recommend to you the reading public. Many people already know that I am a fan of efficient use of technology and an avid hobbyist when it comes to seeking out ways to make existing technology do more at a minimum of expense. This last project was fairly simple and enjoyable and anyone familiar with their laptop and SD cards can do this with a minimum of effort and evaluate for themselves if they gain any performance increase.upload-sd-card-laptop-200X200

What I am talking about exactly? Every computer that powers up and runs XP or later uses two types of memory in order to run their programs: RAM and Virtual RAM. RAM is the stuff that you buy at the store and plugs into your computer (takes a few seconds to install). It is critical for a computer to have enough RAM in order to run programs quickly and reliably. In addition to this RAM, you have Virtual RAM. Virtual RAM is really not RAM at all but a trick in programming designed to prevent ‘insufficient memory’ errors when you run your computer. Virtual RAM are your RAM files that are placed on to a hard disk or SD card or thumb drive temporarily while you work. For example: If you have a computer that can run either Internet Explorer or Microsoft Word (but not both) in RAM and you want to run both, Virtual RAM allows you to open both programs and use them at the same time. The program that you use is stored in RAM and the other program, while listed as open, is temporarily stored in Virtual RAM. When you click on the other program, your operating system (XP, Vista) saves the currently running RAM program into Virtual RAM and at the same time, loads the program you want from Virtual RAM into RAM.

virtualMem You don’t see any of this happening as it is all in the background. What you might see is that your computer starts to run slower and slower with more and more programs open at the same time. That is because it has to keep swapping programs into memory and back into virtual memory which takes time and system resources to maintain. You can solve the problem of having two little RAM in one of two ways: Either buy more RAM and install it, or find a way to manage your Virtual RAM more efficiently. Given that most older computers (mine included) have RAM installations that will not go over a maximum of 1 GB (in my case 750MB), the only option I have is to manage Virtual RAM more effectively and optimize my laptop to run with the lowest consumption of RAM.

swap6 So what could I do to manage Virtual RAM and get a performance boost? Simply move the Virtual RAM to a faster part of the laptop. Since most laptops only come with one hard disk where you store your files and programs, your virtual ram is usually defaulted to that drive. This isn’t normally a problem unless you run out of space. The problem with speed occurs because your hard disk has to spin to retrieve the information and move the little arm (like a record player) to the spot on the disk that has it. This can take a few moments and will take longer if you are loading a program from the hard drive into virtual memory (for example: you run Word on your laptop, which has to get the copy from your hard disk and put it into RAM. When it finds that you do not have enough RAM, it has to load WORD into your Virtual RAM which is basically copying your program onto the same hard disk!) Time can be saved if you buy a faster hard disk (eg a lower seek time) or if you buy two hard disks and set one as only virtual RAM. That is what I did. I have a slot on my laptop that is for SD cards (the kind for camera pictures) and when you place a memory card into the slot, it registers it as a second hard disk. I set my virtual memory to be on this card and not on the hard disk. The difference in speed is genuine and useful as the SD card is really just flash memory and the seek time is close to zero (no moving parts, everything is quickly available). So now when I open too many programs and they go to virtual RAM, they are placed onto a faster flash drive and not double copied onto the main hard drive. This saves wear and tear on my aging system, enabling me to run it slower and yet, stay at the same level of performance. All in all a success.

How much did this memory card cost me? $8 on sale at Office Max. So for $8 I get the equivalent of tripling my RAM and shortening load times. Not a bad investment in time or money. I encourage you to do some internet searches and watch how it is done for your particular machine if you can not increase your RAM or don’t want to spend the money on a new machine or a faster HD.  I think you’d be pleasantly surprised at the results.


Written by Josecito

March 11, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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